Geopolitical problems must not hamper progress at COP27

With so many issues urgently needing attention, it is vital countries put aside their differences and fund the solutions to worsening global climate impacts.

Expert comment Published 4 November 2022 3 minute READ

Although global attention on COPs fluctuates from year to year, ultimately all of them are important, even those where big decisions are not expected. One of the reasons for this is that the coming together of all parties can act as push mechanisms for new political leadership on climate to emerge, in sometimes unexpected ways.

At COP26, the US turnaround on climate following the election of President Joe Biden provided hope and momentum. For COP27, it appears likely Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil could be the star attraction, with the potential to inject new urgency into the process. 

Brazil’s narrow bucking of the global trend towards more right-wing, less climate-committed leadership – as seen in Sweden and the UK – has raised hopes for positive outcomes from the summit. It will be interesting to see if US and Brazilian leadership might be greater than the sum of their parts, especially in the context of souring US-China relations leading to the downfall of the surprising alliance formed at the last COP.

Although the negotiating framework of COP27 does not have a major delivery mandate, its overall success and impact will be judged on delivery in key areas.

Progress must be made on the politically sensitive issue of Loss and Damage. The Glasgow Climate Pact includes a specific section on the requirement for a two-year dialogue to discuss funding arrangements for this, and the Egyptian presidency of COP27 has highlighted it would like to see significant progress too.

Anticipating the fact that COP27 is unlikely to see a slew of raised ambition on the table, the incoming presidency has emphasized implementation over new pledges

Some G77 members, such as members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), are calling for there to be a decision to establish a facility in principle at COP27. There is some reluctance for this – particularly from some developed countries – but if it does not go ahead, clear progress must be made to define how and when it will be established and the involvement of international financial institutions.

Adaptation finance needs to plug gaps

As COP27 will be an African COP, there are high hopes adaptation will receive much-needed attention. The Glasgow Climate Pact urges developed countries to double adaptation finance by 2025 but much more is needed. The IMF estimates developing countries require $2.5 trillion of external financing annually until 2030 to meet both the Paris Agreement and the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Climate risk is as much an issue of vulnerability as it is of climate hazard, and the IPCC classes around half the world’s population as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to climate change. Current adaptation actions are making a difference but most are essentially ‘firefighting’ by prioritizing immediate and near-term risks.

Progress is uneven and there are adaptation gaps where truly transformational action is needed. Adaptation lacks a clearly defined goal – unlike mitigation’s 1.5 and two degree warming thresholds – and the two-year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation (GGA) which was agreed at COP26 seeks to remedy this. Parties at COP27 should work to enhance understanding of the GGA and to improve the process and measures of progress.

Move from targets to implementation

Since Glasgow, it is disappointing that only 24 countries have provided revised NDCs (national determined contributions) – plans to achieve decarbonization targets by 2030 – and that the majority of these did not raise ambition.

Perhaps anticipating the fact that COP27 is unlikely to see a slew of raised ambition on the table, the incoming presidency has emphasized implementation over new pledges, calling for a move to ‘specific, measurable, impactful initiatives to be delivered and implemented on the ground.’

This move is vital because, although many countries have stated an ambition to reach net-zero emissions by or around mid-century, the United Nations (UN) notes many net-zero targets remain uncertain and postpone into the future critical action that needs to take place now. Ambitious climate action, implemented well before 2030, is urgently needed to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

The role of the vulnerable countries is evolving as is the extent to which they will be setting the pace and the mood for COP27

This said, a huge emissions gap remains and, given the failure of the call for new NDCs, hopes of tackling this gap at COP27 are in part pinned on the agreement of the ‘mitigation work programme’ process which aims to urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation pre-2030. A draft decision on upscaling ambition could be adopted and progress is a crucial element of global governance in keeping 1.5˚C alive.

The good news is that the clean energy agenda has demonstrated political and economic resilience in many parts of the world. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, more than 80 per cent of new global capacity additions in 2021 were from solar (50 per cent) wind (25 per cent) & hydro (seven per cent) compared to only 15 per cent fossil fuel generation.

Increased political strife can be sidelined

With significantly higher fossil fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine, the economic advantage of renewables is even more apparent. However, remarkable geopolitical shifts of 2022 such as a deterioration in both US and European relations with China can have a significant effect on the mood music and outcome of COP27.

The role of the vulnerable countries is evolving as is the extent to which they will be setting the pace and the mood for COP27. They are aligned with China and India in challenging rich countries to step up their game on loss and damage, while on mitigation they are working with the European Union (EU) and the US in driving larger emissions reductions.

Geopolitical problems must not hamper progress at COP27 2nd part

With multiple political and economic curve balls thrown at leaders and citizens alike in 2022, it would be easy to be enveloped by the events of the ‘year of the polycrisis’. And the intensified geopolitical strife between China and the US does pump up the volume of discordant background music which is far from conducive to collective problem solving.

But 2022 is also the year of the lived experience of extreme climate impacts, whether geophysically or geopolitically. With energy and food shortages and a cost of living crisis, as well as growing certainty of the science giving ever more clear warnings of the dangers and impacts of rising global temperatures, those at COP27 know the world is living through a fallout brought on by severe climate impacts scientists have long been warning about.

They also know, or should, that COP27 cannot afford to underwhelm. Time and tempers are running too short, and temperatures climbing too high, for further protracted debate and delay.