Loss and Damage fund is a historic moment
COP27 will go down in history as the UN climate change conference where the Loss and Damage fund was agreed. After decades of pushing, this is a momentous victory for climate-vulnerable developing countries.
The shift in the conversation – and in the positions of developed countries – since COP26 is remarkable. It is critical parties continue to build on the positive momentum created in Sharm as challenging discussions on how the new loss and damage fund will work – and who will contribute to it financially – ensue.
Overall COP27 was a hectic, sometimes chaotic, event. The COP advanced some matters but on others failed to drive ambition towards the sort of climate action required to keep alive the possibility of restricting climate change within the envelope of the Paris agreement.
Loss and Damage progressed but, especially in week two, the risk was of going backwards in this COP relative to COP26 in Glasgow. The final cover declaration managed to avoid the worst, but also avoided the best.
Notably disappointing was that, although food systems were much in debate unlike in previous COPs, there was still significant political resistance to fully adopting a systems approach. Globally, food systems emit about one-third of all greenhouse gasses, while poor diets – in rich and poor countries alike – are arguably the single biggest factor in ill-health and early death.
COP27 maintained a firm focus on supply-side solutions to tackle food insecurity, avoiding the politically more contentious demand-side issues of ensuring nutritious and sustainable diets for all.
Start of implementation phase demands renewed urgency
It has often been said climate action is moving from target-setting into the implementation phase. What COP27 shows is that, as the implementation phase begins, integrity and accountability will be ever more critical, as the voices of the vulnerable economies and the youth remind the world time and time again.
This compromised outcome is also a reminder that the delivery of climate action begins at home, as does the bread-and-butter politics of money and influence. It is significant the link between fossil energy and climate impacts has now been openly made in the international arena, regardless of whether it appeared in the final cover agreement.
As the dust settles, there will be many questions and reflection over tactics chosen by different parties and actors, and much to be learned that can help those pushing for more breakthrough moments at COP28.
There was insufficient progress on the energy transition both in and around COP27. Few countries followed through on their promises to increase the ambition of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), although Australia and the European Union (EU) were rare exceptions among the developed countries.
Higher fossil fuel prices, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, can and should have resulted in an accelerated energy transition. Yet the language in the final decision around carbon reductions and energy at best repeats the language of COP26 and does not reflect the renewed urgency of the situation, stemming from accelerating climate impacts and the weaponization of fossil fuels in Russia’s conflict.
At COP28, parties to the UNFCCC will finalize a Global Stock Take which will include a review of national progress in meeting carbon abatement targets. This will be a key moment and unfortunately is likely to highlight once again how much faster the world needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel discussions show failure of imagination
Overshadowed by the pain of developing country fuel importers and European attempts to replace Russian gas, discussion of fossil fuels was fraught. The text, which called for accelerating the ‘phasedown of unabated coal’ use for the first time only last year, failed to expand to include oil and gas, despite calls to do so from India, the US, EU, and UK. Gas use also appeared to gain a pass via the inclusion of ‘low emission’ energy alongside renewables.
Given that extracting and burning oil and gas accounts for 40 per cent of all annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and leaders agree on the need for ‘deep, rapid and sustained’ emission cuts, that language is beyond logical argument. However, current dependencies, fears of stranded investments, and a failure of imagination won out.
Stronger than usual oil and gas industry presence led to a higher number of meetings focused on decarbonization of the sector. Major producer countries such as Canada and Saudi Arabia were keen to emphasize technologies to ‘clean up’ rather than phase down their fuels as the future.
Not all developing country governments with hydrocarbon reserves see the ‘phase down’ text as conflicting with their economic interests. Large oil and gas exporter Colombia supported the inclusion of ‘all fossil fuels’ and Kenya, a country which had been pursuing oil and coal prospects, became a friend of the high ambition Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance which seeks a ‘managed phase out of oil and gas supply’.
A vocal contingent of African civil society meanwhile railed against health and ecology-damaging oil and gas projects and investments that would lock them into a high emissions future.
With stronger resolve to reorient finance towards net zero both in Sharm el-Sheikh and at the concurrent G20 summit in Bali, the practicalities of economic adaptation to the shift out of fossil fuels – including just transition for workers – rose up the agenda. These issues will overtake the wrangle over wording in the run up to COP28.
Adaptation must now move to the forefront
There are three pillars of climate action: mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. This year progress was made on mitigation and loss and damage but, to avoid wild spiralling of the latter, adaptation must have its day in the sun in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at COP28 next year.
Adaptation lacks a concrete goal, akin to the 1.5 degree limit, and few countries have set out plans to adapt to climate change. Momentum will come when the promised ‘global goal on adaptation’ (GGA) is finally defined, to help mobilize finance and spur implementation.
The Glasgow-Sharm-el-Sheikh (GLASS) work programme to achieve this has so far lacked focus. At COP27, parties decided to define a framework to measure the goal’s achievement and enable reviews of progress over the next year.
Some concrete progress on adaptation was seen at the COP: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for worldwide extreme weather early warning systems within the next five years, while the Adaptation Fund received more than $230 million for the most climate-vulnerable in 2022.
The call from Glasgow to double adaptation finance was repeated, but overall, progress was muted, when parties really needed to come together for implementation of this crucial element of climate action.
Not enough done for agriculture and food security
It is welcome that the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture – adopted in 2017 as the first and only formal UNFCCC agenda item focusing on agriculture and food security – has concluded in a decision to implement a new four-year work programme focused on implementing solutions.
While this has an objective of promoting holistic approaches to addressing climate impacts both on and from agriculture and food security, it disappointingly falls short of taking a food systems lens that includes all activities and actors from farm to fork.
There is now a small window of opportunity until March 2023 for governments and civil society to shape and broaden this agenda for the next four years. If not in the negotiating halls, then certainly in the myriad side events and discussions focusing on the issue, this year’s COP has clearly demonstrated a growing appreciation of the imperative of tackling food systems in their entirety.
An overarching and integrated approach to sustainable food production, distribution, and retail; nutrition and dietary shifts; and addressing food loss and waste will be vital to making comprehensive headway in addressing climate change and other planetary and social challenges.
It is important the parties at COP28 in the UAE seize this rising momentum to become the first climate negotiations to make tangible progress on transforming food systems towards sustainability, equitability, and resilience.
Rainforest leadership challenges traditional aid
Thiago Kanashiro Uehara
COP27 served well as a business fair for entrepreneurs wishing to benefit from new carbon markets. But forests, peatlands, and nature-based solutions did not receive the attention they deserve in guaranteeing climate security.
The good news is the COP26 pledges on forest finance, for the Congo basin, and for indigenous peoples (IP) and local communities’ (LC) forest tenure are pretty much alive, with disbursement rates at decent levels, albeit rarely directly to IP and LC-led organizations. The bad news is the financialization of forest governance and voluntary sustainability standards in global supply chains are solution ‘myths’ and were exposed by scientists as such at the conference.
On the second day of COP27, there was a last-minute launch led by the Global North, with Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron announcing the ‘forests and climate leaders’ partnership’. One week later, at the G20 Bali summit, ministers from Indonesia, DR Congo, and Brazil announced a South-South rainforest leadership alliance – referred by some as the ‘OPEC of forests’ – challenging traditional forms of top-down international aid.
The climate crisis is one symptom of the inequality crisis engulfing our world at present. The African COP represented a step forward in addressing climate justice, an improvement over COP26 in Glasgow, where the issue was virtually denied.
The time has come for Global North constituents to work together with self-fashioned ‘solution countries’, such as the DRC now and Brazil after 2023. An ‘implementation COP’ will be successful only after establishing a new framework of co-leadership in climate action based on principles of justice and strong sustainability.
Outcomes of an African COP
Africa’s contribution to the global energy transition cannot be at the expense of its own industrialization.
While pledges of increased financing for adaptation and the landmark establishment of a fund for loss and damage are important steps, the reality of under-disbursement and delivery of promised funds is causing many African leaders to rethink their engagement with multilateral climate initiatives.
African leaders are intent on advancing their own strategies for energy generation and adaptation that deliver on national priorities of job creation, sustainable growth, and environmental protection.
Many countries strategies involve exploiting gas reserves. But with mounting global pressures against further hydrocarbon extraction, African leaders need to demonstrate to international partners that these operations are part of a long-term transition away from other fossil fuels and contribute towards poverty alleviation.
Leaders need to be coordinated in their demands to international partners on how to phase out over time as well as de-risk potential stranded assets. President Ramaphosa’s unveiling of the investment plan for the South African Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) was a significant mark of progress to unlocking the $8.5 billion pledge for lowering the economy’s reliance on coal.
While progress has at times faltered over the past year, it has been critical that South Africa articulate its own needs and desired energy mix, rather than this be internationally prescribed. It has also demonstrated to other African nations that bilateral not multilateral initiatives may offer a fast-track route to green finance.