Even as diplomats and activists at the summit, known as COP27, applauded the creation of a fund to support vulnerable countries after disasters, many worried that the reluctance of nations to adopt more ambitious climate plans had left the planet on a dangerous warming path.
“Too many parties are not ready to make further progress today in the fight against the climate crisis,” European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans told weary negotiators on Sunday morning. “What we have in front of us is not a sufficient step forward for people and the planet.”
The misguided deal, reached after a year of unprecedented climate disasters and weeks of tense negotiations in Egypt, underscores the challenge of getting the whole world to agree on swift climate action when many powerful countries and organizations remain committed to it. current energy system.
UN negotiators reach agreement to help vulnerable nations with climate disasters
Rob Jackson, a climatologist at Stanford University and president of the Global Carbon Project, said it’s inevitable that the world will exceed what scientists consider a safe warming threshold. The only questions are how much and how many people will suffer as a result.
A study published midway through the COP27 negotiations found that few nations have met a requirement from last year’s conference to boost their emissions reduction pledges, and the world is on the brink of burning more carbon than it can afford, pushing the planet down. a threshold that scientists say will lead to ecosystem collapse, an increase in extreme weather, and widespread hunger and disease.
Jackson blamed entrenched interests, as well as short-sighted political leaders and general human apathy, for delaying action toward the more ambitious goal set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Celsius). Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
“It’s not just COP27, it’s the lack of action at every other COP since the Paris agreement,” he said. “We have been bleeding for years.”
This year’s conference took place amid unfavorable circumstances. The continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a global economic crisis and sent governments scrambling to provide energy and food for their citizens. The two largest emitters in the world, the United States and China, did not speak to each other.
Developed nations had yet to provide financial support to developing countries that was already several years behind schedule, undermining the collective trust needed to secure a meaningful deal.
Civil society activists, who normally serve as a moral compass in UN negotiations, also faced unprecedented limitations on their ability to protest due to the host country’s strict restrictions on public gatherings. Press conferences highlighting the link between human rights and the climate crisis were interrupted by shouts about jailing political prisoners in Egypt.
Meanwhile, several world leaders, including the Egyptian hosts of the conference, used the event to promote their supplies of fossil fuels and forge new energy deals. COP27 President Sameh Shoukry called natural gas “a transitional energy source” that could facilitate the shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
A private meeting of African leaders during the conference showed how difficult it is for developing nations to give up exploiting lucrative fossil fuel reserves, especially when they have trouble attracting investors for other, more sustainable projects.
“Africa needs gas,” said the president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, as the room erupted in applause. “We want to make sure we have access to electricity. We do not want to become the museum of poverty in the world”.
But this year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that to hope to meet the 1.5 degree warming target, the world cannot build any new fossil fuel infrastructure. Although burning natural gas produces fewer emissions than burning coal, the production and transportation process can leak methane, a potent climate pollutant.
In closed-door consultations, diplomats from Saudi Arabia and other oil and gas-producing countries rejected language calling for phasing out all polluting fossil fuels, according to several people with knowledge of the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity. to discuss private deliberations. Many of those same countries also opposed a proposal that would open the door for nations to set more frequent and ambitious emissions reduction targets for individual industries and across their economies.
“We went to the mitigation workshop and it was five hours of trench warfare,” said New Zealand Climate Minister James Shaw. “It was hard work just holding the line.”
Although an unprecedented number of countries, including India, the United States and the European Union, called for the COP decision to reflect the need to phase out polluting oil, natural gas and coal, the general agreement only reiterated the pact of the last year in Glasgow on the need for an “unabated phase-down of coal power”.
“It’s a consensus process,” said Shaw, whose country also backed the language to phase out fossil fuels. “If there is a group of countries that are like, we will not tolerate it, it is very difficult to achieve.”
China, the world’s largest annual contributor to planet-warming emissions, remained in the background for most of the conference. The country did not join a coalition of more than 150 nations to commit to reducing methane, which is about 80 times more polluting than carbon dioxide, any time soon. Its diplomats also opposed suggestions that the Chinese government should join developed nations in providing financial support to the most vulnerable countries.
Delegates also rejected a proposal by the EU and its allies that would have required all countries to start reducing their global warming emissions by 2025.
Outside the trading rooms, an analysis by advocacy group Global Witness showed a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists among attendees at this year’s meeting. Climate justice activist Asad Rehman recalled meeting an industry executive on one of the conference shuttle buses who told him that the COP was the best place to make deals.
“People think that we are coming to these negotiations and we are talking about the climate. We are not,” said Rehman, executive director of the anti-poverty nonprofit War on Want, which has called on the UN to institute a conflict of interest policy at climate conferences.
“The reality is that these climate negotiations are talking about the political economy of the future,” he said. “Who will benefit and who will not? Who will survive and who won’t?
The world has nine years to avoid catastrophic warming, according to a study
However, the landmark agreement on a fund for irreversible climate damage, known in UN jargon as “loss and damage”, also showed how the COP process can empower the world’s smallest and most vulnerable countries.
Many observers believed that the United States and other industrialized nations would never make such a financial commitment for fear of liability for the trillions of dollars in damage that climate change will cause.
But after catastrophic flooding left a third of Pakistan underwater earlier this year, the country’s diplomats led a negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing countries to demand that “funding deals” be added to the meeting’s agenda. for loss and damage.”
“If there is any sense of morality and fairness in international affairs… then there should be solidarity with the people of Pakistan and the people affected by the climate crisis,” Pakistani negotiator Munir Akram said in the opening days of the conference. “This is a climate justice issue.”
The resistance of the rich countries began to diminish when the leaders of the developing countries made it clear that they would not leave without a fund for losses and damages. As the talks dragged on until the end of Saturday, diplomats from the small island states met with EU negotiators to broker the deal the nations finally agreed to.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, said the success of that effort gave her optimism that countries could also do more to prevent future warming, which is needed to prevent their small Pacific nation from disappearing into the rising seas.
“We have shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible,” he said, “so we know we can come back next year and get rid of fossil fuels once and for all.”
Harjeet Singh, head of global policy strategy at Climate Action Network International, saw another benefit of demanding payment for climate damage: It could be what finally convinces major emitters to stop making the problem worse.
“COP27 has sent a warning shot to polluters that they can no longer get away with their climate destruction,” he said.
And while many questioned whether Sunday’s deal would make a difference to the overall warming trajectory, US special climate envoy John F. Kerry worked toward a final deal even as he was forced into self-isolation. after contracting covid while in Sharm el-Sheikh. He — predicted that he would.
“Every tenth of a degree of warming averted means less drought, less flooding, less sea level rise, less extreme weather,” Kerry said. “It means lives saved and losses prevented.”
Timothy Puko and Evan Halper in Sharm el-Sheikh and Brady Dennis and Michael Birnbaum in Washington contributed to this report.
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