From words to deeds: What next for climate action?

What do countries need to do ahead of COP27 in Egypt?

Expert comment Published 4 February 2022 Updated 7 September 2022 3 minute READ

Following the emotion and exhaustion of COP26, momentum behind global climate action is gathering again. Speaking at Chatham House last month, COP26 President, Alok Sharma, gave a clear message: ‘Unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine.’

Unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine.

Alok Sharma speaking at Chatham House in January 2022.

Sharma recently travelled to Egypt to meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, who Egypt has chosen as its president designate for COP27, as well as to the UAE, host of COP28 in 2024. Meanwhile, US Climate Envoy, John Kerry, hosted a Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate last week, bringing together ministers from countries representing 80 per cent of GDP, population and greenhouse gas emissions in order to ‘foster closer collaboration between leaders.’

Between now and November this year, when COP27 kicks off in Sharm el-Sheikh, a crucial window of opportunity is open for leaders. But what action is needed before then to demonstrate the intent required to act on the Glasgow Climate Pact?

Raising the ambition of NDCs

One of the most important outcomes of COP26 in Glasgow was the request for governments to ‘revisit and strengthen’ their 2030 national emission reduction targets (NDCs) before the end of 2022, rather than in 2025, as laid out in the Paris Agreement. This is crucial as current pledges put the world on track for warming of a catastrophic 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

However, an announcement in early 2022 by the UK and Egypt – and ideally other countries too – that they will strengthen their targets before the Sharm el-Sheikh summit would set a precedent for others, even those that have set ambitious targets,– to follow.

Moreover, if revised NDCs from major emitters such as the US and China were to follow, this would prove game-changing.

Implementing sectoral deals

Another important outcome of COP26 was sectoral deals. These were a flagship initiative of the UK’s presidency aimed at connecting the real-world economy to the climate change agenda through a focus on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees.’ Agreements, such as the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, grabbed the headlines but urgent implementation of such agreements is key. This is especially true as these deals sit outside of the formal negotiation processes and similar agreements have all too often stalled.

Sharma promises to ‘work with partners to turn promises into clear delivery plans’ while the MEF assures ‘a platform for concrete collective action’. A clear signal that sectoral deals and pledges truly have substance would be making delivery plans public and facilitating civil society scrutiny as early as possible.

Providing finance where it is needed

Despite contributing least to global greenhouse gas emissions, developing countries are most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Yet many climate-vulnerable countries lack sufficient finance to meet their mitigation and adaptation needs and to support their sustainable development. This has only been worsened by the economic consequences of the pandemic. In the near future, developing countries’ inability to meet their adaptation needs is likely to result in climate impacts that cascade across borders and affect communities across the world.

The Glasgow Climate Pact has committed developed countries to at least double the finance for adaptation in developing countries by 2025. Early movement from major economies would help to provide the immediate support vulnerable countries need while helping to prevent cascading global impacts. It would also play a vital role in re-building the trust undermined by the ongoing failure of rich countries to deliver on their promise of $100 billion in annual climate finance. However, in his speech at Chatham House, Alok Sharma could still only speak of being ‘on a trajectory to meet that $100 billion goal’ by COP27.

While some progress has been made on this front – US President, Joe Biden, pledged to quadruple climate finance to climate-vulnerable countries by 2024 – it is widely recognized that even $100 billion per year until 2025 will not be sufficient to meet the needs of developing countries. Trillions are needed, and for this, unlocking private finance will be crucial.

The EU, France, Germany, the UK, the US and South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Partnership, announced in Glasgow, could provide a model of how private financing and technical expertise can be deployed in partnership with developing countries while addressing the socio-economic impacts of the energy transition. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero has promised to unlock funds in the magnitude of trillions through private finance initiatives, however, clarity is needed on ‘net zero’ standards while, at the same time, work needs to be done to prevent double counting and overcome the obstacles to deploying such funds before impacts from the initiative can even begin to be felt.

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Making progress on loss and damage

Developed countries came under pressure at COP26 to provide dedicated finance to climate-vulnerable countries experiencing loss and damage caused by climate change impacts that can no longer be avoided. However, debates on loss and damage finance have been pushed to a new set of discussions – the Glasgow Dialogue – kicking off in June this year. These discussions are an opportunity for countries to reach consensus on a shared definition of loss and damage as a basis for solutions.

The UK, together with Egypt, the UEA and other major economies, can provide important leadership this year.

Indeed, in a historic first, Scotland and the Wallonia region of Belgium committed dedicated funds to loss and damage at COP26. Their progress on deploying these funds could help to allay apprehension of Global North countries towards this issue. Significantly, more such commitments would build momentum leading up to COP27 and provide urgent support to frontline communities.

At Chatham House, Sharma highlighted the crucial importance of leaders using the time leading up to COP27 to ‘build on the trust and consensus generated in Glasgow and deliver with integrity’. Throughout its presidency this year, the UK, together with Egypt, the UEA and other major economies including the US, can provide important leadership. But key to this will be showing that promises made will be kept, demonstrating that even where countries feel they have gone far, they can go further, accelerating implementation of all targets and building on a spirit of cooperation and compromise with other countries to achieve truly global climate action.