After a fortnight of difficult negotiations at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — or COP27 — at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the participating nations agreed to set up a new fund to help developing countries address loss and damage from the severe effects of a changing climate. Such losses are inflicted on poorer countries by storms, floods, heat waves, drought and catastrophic agriculture failures.
Environmentalists criticised the COP27 meeting for not raising the alarm loud enough on the failure to implement measures that could keep global temperature rise at 1.5 oC above pre-industrial levels, and the rich world for failing to do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which it has used since the industrial revolution to raise the living standards of its people.
India asked the conference to call for a phase-down of all fossil fuels, rather than just coal, but the final document asked countries to “accelerate efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. A widely demanded target for peaking of global carbon emissions by 2025 was absent.
Although the scope of the Loss and Damage fund remains to be worked out by a transition committee over the course of the coming year, the actual institution of the mechanism is seen by developing countries as a victory. This is because the severe effects of climate change being experienced now by vulnerable countries — such as the devastating floods in Pakistan this year — are linked to the accumulated greenhouse gases emitted by the U.K., the U.S. and the member countries of the European Union (EU) during the course of their industrialisation.
At Sharm el-Sheikh, the richer countries baulked at the demand to set up a fund when the negotiations were on, apparently concerned at the possibility of legal liability claims being made by climate-hit nations. At COP27, the G77 nations, with China’s strong support, were viewed as a major bloc insisting on the creation of the fund. In the end, the EU changed its position and agreed to the new fund, but wanted some of the big carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters among the emerging economies also to be made part of the donors’ list. That was seen as a move to drive a wedge between the poorer, low-emitting nations, and China, the world’s top emitter of CO2. It should be recalled that under the Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor of the Paris Agreement, China along with developing countries was exempted from greenhouse gas mandates.
The new fund agreed in Egypt will complement other climate funding arrangements already in place, such as the $100 billion a year fund, from 2020, for mitigation action that has not yet reached the goal. Institutional arrangements were made to operationalise the Santiago Network, set up to provide developing countries with the technical assistance needed to address climate change.
The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan recalled the Paris Agreement goals and reiterated that reaching net-zero CO2 emissions calls for a staggering investment of about $4 trillion a year until 2030 in renewable sources of energy, and further $4-6 trillion a year until the end of the decade, for the world to shift to a low-carbon economy. At the end of COP27, the declaration pointed out that lack of progress on climate goals would seriously jeopardise the Sustainable Development Goals too.
Developing countries, which have submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs are together counted as CO2-equivalent emissions), need an estimated $5.8-5.9 trillion for the pre-2030 period to fulfil their voluntary pledges, according to the UNFCCC. But they are also increasingly under debt due to economic crises and the COVID-19 devastation. This makes augmented climate finance even more critical.
The Sharm el-Sheikh declaration also notes that relative to the needs of developing countries, climate finance flows are less than a third of the required annual quantum to keep global temperature rise well below 2 oC or at 1.5 oC, and in 2019–20 stood at an estimated $803 billion. For perspective, the UN estimates that the developed world mobilised $16 trillion in different financial instruments to handle the COVID-19 aftermath, while developing countries did not get debt relief.
The agenda for COP28
Going forward, COP28, to be held in the United Arab Emirates, has the important task of carrying out a global stocktake mandated by the Paris Agreement. This is a review of the progress so far on implementing the Paris Agreement. At this year’s meet in Egypt, the final declaration welcomed the suggestion of the UN Secretary General that a separate climate ambition summit be held next year, ahead of the global stocktake and the COP.
To the countries that are hardest hit by extreme weather events and failed agriculture, the current COP outcome falls well short of what is needed to limit global temperature rise over pre-industrial times to 1.5 oC. The text of the declaration notes that this target requires global emissions to fall by 43% over 2019 levels by 2030. But this is a goal too far now, since the latest UNFCCC synthesis report on NDCs shows that implementation of all national pledges will reduce GHG emissions in 2030 only by 0.3% over the 2019 level.
Some of the criticism from climate activists this year at Sharm el-Sheikh was about lack of freedom to organise protests in Egypt, high visibility at the conference for countries with deep interests in fossil fuels, a sharp increase in nuclear energy companies trying to promote their offerings using the event as an exhibition, and the incremental nature of the COP negotiations on what is now seen as an existential crisis.
Need for more inclusive policy-making
Although State governments in India are at the receiving end of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and heat waves, and have to handle the disaster and human distress, they do not make a commensurate contribution to national policy. At the city level, policy on emissions sources such as municipal waste, buildings, transport and electricity is influenced by mayors and elected representatives, but they are not asked to engage actively.
The Implementation Plan of the Egypt COP emphasises the role of women, youth and non-state stakeholders in making climate progress. Around the world, school students, youth, and even scientists have been organising protests demanding that all new investments in fossil fuel companies should end immediately.
( G. Ananthakrishnan is a Chennai-based journalist)