What are the key issues at COP27?

Examining what is on the agenda for COP27, a critical test of whether the international process can respond to the increasing climate crisis.

Explainer Published 2 November 2022 6 minute READ

What is COP27?

COP27 takes place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and marks 30 years since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted and seven years since the Paris Agreement was agreed at COP21.

An annual event, the ‘Conference of the Parties’ or ‘COP’ brings together the governments which have signed the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement.

World leaders, ministers, and negotiators come together to agree how to jointly address climate change and its impacts. Civil society, businesses, international organizations, and the media ‘observe’ proceedings to bring transparency, as well as broader perspectives, to the process.

With the strapline, ‘Together for implementation,’ COP27 will be an African COP, and the first of two COPS in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. COP26 in 2021 was jointly hosted in Glasgow, Scotland by the UK and Italy, who continue to hold the COP presidency until COP27 begins. COP28 will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2023.

What are the key issues under discussion?

Since 2015, under the legally-binding Paris Agreement treaty, almost all countries in the world have committed to:

  • Keep the rise in global average temperature to ‘well below’ 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels.
  • Strengthen the ability to adapt to climate change and build resilience.
  • Align finance flows with ‘a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.

The Paris Agreement has a ‘bottom-up’ approach where individual countries decide what action they will take.

Together for implementation,’ COP27 will be an African COP, and the first of two COPS in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

For mitigation (limiting the extent to which the climate changes) countries communicate their emissions reductions targets, and how these will be achieved, in ‘nationally determined contributions’, or ‘NDCs.’ Current NDCs cover action to 2030, and ambition should be raised every five years under the Paris ‘ratchet mechanism’.

For adaptation (adjusting to current and future climate change impacts) the equivalent of the mitigation ‘NDC’ is the National Adaptation Plan (NAP), detailing approaches to reduce vulnerability, build capacity to adapt and resilience, and to integrate climate adaptation into policies and planning at a national level.

Under the Paris Agreement, NAPs are to be submitted and updated ‘periodically.’ There is no formal five year ‘ratchet’ mechanism for adaptation.


Why is COP27 important?

The world’s leading scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that the world is now in extraordinarily dangerous territory. Every small delay to proportionate action on mitigation and adaptation is a move closer to irredeemable damage to the climate and its ability to meet human needs.

Around half of the world’s population is ‘highly vulnerable’ to the impacts of climate change, with those in highly vulnerable regions already 15 times more likely to die due to floods, droughts, and storms compared to regions with very low vulnerability.

Our shared planet is changing for the worse and we can only address that together through this international system.

Alok Sharma, President, COP26

Radically transformative action is needed within this decade on both mitigation and adaptation. This urgency is recognized in the convening of countries at COP27.

COP27 is a rare opportunity for parties and observers to come together and grapple with a challenge that is impacting all of humanity. While the COP takes place in the context of a global ‘polycrisis,’ climate action and cooperation can provide effective ways forward on food, energy, nature, and security, and a vital nexus of international dialogue and cooperation on these issues.

What does COP27 hope to achieve?


COP26 was the first test of the Paris ratchet mechanism for raising mitigation ambition through NDCs. Emissions cuts promised ahead of COP26 remained insufficient to limit global warming to the agreed levels, and the summit ended with The Glasgow Climate Pact calling for countries to put forward strengthened targets within the year. 

This call for revisions in 2022 adds another ‘tooth’ to the Paris ratchet, ahead of the next scheduled NDC revision in 2025. While COP27 was not originally a major milestone on the Paris Agreement calendar, the unfinished business of Glasgow means it will now be a critical test of whether the international process can respond to the increasing urgency of the situation.  

As COP27 rapidly approaches, few countries have answered the call to submit new, revised or updated NDCs, and those that have mostly failed to strengthen targets.

The UNFCCC’s latest assessment shows that as of late September 2022, mitigation commitments in NDCs would, if implemented, increase emissions by 10.6 per cent by 2030, in strong contrast to the 45 per cent emissions reduction needed to align with a 1.5°C pathway. Under current pledges, the world would be likely to see a catastrophic 2.5°C warming by the end of the century.

According to the IPCC, in all scenarios in line with 1.5°C or 2°C warming limits, global emissions must fall between 2020 and 2025. In reality, emissions are still rising, with atmospheric levels of the three main greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) all reaching new record highs in 2021.

Every fractional degree of warming translates into escalating climate impacts for vulnerable communities across the world, and moves the planet closer to irreversible ‘tipping points’ at which unpredictable destabilization will occur.  

Although the COP27 host Egypt and outgoing COP president the UK have submitted revisions, neither has increased ambition. Australia, facilitated by a change in government, is the only country to have increased ambition since COP26 so far.  While the US has come forward with major legislation to support climate action (the ‘Inflation Reduction Act’) this will, if fully implemented, only lead to a 40 per cent cut in emissions, with work remaining to close the gap to the NDC pledge of 50-52 per cent reduction by 2030. 

Hopes of tackling this gaping gap in ambition are pinned on the agreement of the ‘mitigation work programme’ process at COP27, which aims to urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation before 2030. It is hoped a draft decision on upscaling ambition will be adopted at COP27 as progress will be a crucial element of global governance for closing the emissions gap this decade and keeping 1.5˚C in reach.

There will also be a reality check for the UK COP26 presidency focus on specific sectoral mitigation action – framed as ‘coal, cars, cash, and trees.’ COP27 is an important moment for assessing progress on the flurry of plurilateral deals agreed at COP26, on issues from fossil fuel phase out to reducing methane emissions and ending deforestation.


COP27 is taking place in a highly climate-vulnerable country on a highly climate-vulnerable continent.

Adaptation has long received less attention and less finance than mitigation. At COP26, efforts to change this included the Glasgow Climate Pact, urging developed countries to at least double adaptation finance as well as the launch of a two-year work programme on the global goal on adaptation (GGA).

Following another summer of extreme weather, including in the Global North, the urgency of adaptation to climate change is increasingly obvious to those who have the most finances and technological capacity to implement change.

The GGA seeks to help countries to adapt, increase resilience to climate change and reduce their vulnerability through, and complementary with, sustainable development.

Unlike the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C or 2°C goals mitigation goals, the GGA lacks clear definition, an ‘endpoint’ and a ‘ratchet mechanism’ for ambition. Progress on defining the GGA at COP27 would help increase ambition and momentum on adaptation.

Vulnerable countries have long been calling for support to adapt to climate impacts, but as climate impacts are not limited by national borders, adaptation should be of greater international concern. Following another summer of extreme weather, including in the Global North, the urgency of adaptation to climate change is increasingly obvious to those who have the most finances and technological capacity to implement change.

First-hand experiences of failed harvests and heat stress at home, and increasing experience of transboundary climate change impacts spilling across borders, may have pushed the climate crisis up the public and political agenda in developed countries. Many will be hoping to see a keener understanding of the need for adaptation from a wider array of countries at COP27, and for greater support to facilitate implementation of adaptation plans. 


A significant point of frustration and anger among developing countries at COP26 was the failure to deliver on promises of regular climate finance.

The Central Banks of the wealthiest countries engaged in $25 trillion of quantitative easing in 13 years. Had we used this to purchase bonds that financed the energy transition, we would be keeping within 1.5°C.

Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, COP26 World Leaders’ Summit

At COP27, developing countries will hope to see the fulfilment of historic promises, such as the $100 billion annual climate finance which developed countries were meant to deliver each year, from 2020 to 2025, but which so far has not been met. 

Although rich countries are facing financial challenges at home with prospects of recession, rising energy and food prices, and citizens struggling to cope with the cost-of-living crisis, it is important climate finance for developing countries is not deprioritized.

The IMF estimates developing countries need $2.5 trillion of external financing annually until 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. Because the impacts of climate vulnerability are not contained within countries’ borders, financing global mitigation and adaptation is in the self-interest of all.

Loss and damage

Loss and damage refers to destructive impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided either by mitigation or adaptation. Developing countries, which contribute least to climate change, are seeking financial support towards the cost of loss and damage from developed countries whose current and historic activities have largely contributed to the climate crisis.

Despite resistance from developed countries, COP26 saw some breakthroughs on loss and damage, including establishment of the three-year ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ on the issue, and symbolic pledges of £2 million and €1 million respectively from Scotland and Wallonia – a region of Belgium – to address loss and damage, breaking a taboo over the issue among rich countries. Since then, Denmark has committed 100m DKK ($13m) in loss and damage finance.

Loss and damage is on the provisional agenda for COP27. Developing countries will be hoping to see the topic formally adopted as part of the COP27 agenda, and to see concrete decisions on funding arrangements at the conference.  

The G7 and The Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group plan to launch the ‘Global Shield’ initiative to enhance financial protection for loss and damage, at the conference. These actions will go some way to improving trust and paving the way for future discussions. 

Global stocktake

The ‘global stocktake’ (GST) is the mechanism to assess the world’s collective progress towards fulfilling the Paris Agreement, happening in a five-yearly cycle in sync with the Paris mitigation ambition ‘ratchet’. It will assess progress on mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation and support. It also considers the social and economic consequences of measures taken and efforts to address loss and damage. COP27 will host one of three ‘Technical Dialogues’ (TDs) as part of the 2021-23 GST.

The outcomes of the GST are intended to inform NDCs, negotiations, and enhance international cooperation for climate action with the aim of increasing ambition. 

The technical dialogue (TD) is a conversation among parties, experts, and non-party stakeholders which aims to develop a shared understanding of progress and provides an opportunity to engage with emerging findings ahead of GST outputs at COP28 in 2023. 

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What is the geopolitical context to COP27?

Although the geopolitical context in which COP26 took place was far from stable, the world has since seen further significant fractures with implications for international cooperation at the heart of the Paris process. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and tensions between the US and China, may hamper collaboration at COP27. Success will be strongly contingent on goodwill between all parties, which is currently under increasing strain. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and tensions between the US and China over Taiwan, may hamper collaboration at COP27.  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and subsequent international condemnation, has also destabilized key multilateral platforms such as the G20. The war’s impact, playing out in food and energy insecurity and dramatic price rises, have pushed climate change down domestic political agendas across the world and reignited demand for fresh fossil fuel projects to reduce reliance on Russian gas. 

While countries tend to justify such projects as urgent responses to war-induced shortages, they run the risk of locking in new fossil fuel exploitation for years to come. 

Furthermore, one of the surprising outcomes of COP26, the US-China climate accord, has since been undone, following the visit of the leader of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. Although the accord was not groundbreaking in its content, it gave a signal of cooperative intent which provided a vital boost to faith in cooperative efforts to combat the common challenge of climate change.

The UK presidency has provided dedicated leadership at and beyond COP26, but recent political turmoil has precipitated a demotion of climate change as a UK political focus, with COP president Alok Sharma losing his place in cabinet and the UK prime minister only finally committing to attend with just a few days to go. This may well set a precedent regarding the prioritization of COP27 and of climate change by other nations which also have pressing domestic priorities to manage.

Chatham House and COP27

Chatham House will provide a forum for debate and dialogue and will be present as an observer organization at COP27. Our focus will be on the thorny international challenges of resource security and just transition.

Explore our work on aligning food systems with climate and biodiversity targets, loss and damage and just transition in Africa, and sign up for our virtual pavilion on cascading climate risks.  

This article was first published on 24 August and updated on 20 October and 2 November.