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COP27: On the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator

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By Helen Faulkner


Published 08 November 2022


The first of two days of the World Leaders Summit at COP27 was marked with dramatic – at times bleak – warnings. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN and well-practised at hard hitting speeches on the issue, said that the world is “on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”. He noted that “Humanity has a choice: co-operate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact”.

The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi focused on actions going beyond words. He said countries needed “rapid concrete implementation of genuinely concrete actions to reduce emissions”, encouraged further support on adaptation and funding for developing countries, and urged leaders to take into account the priorities of the African continent.

The Russian-Ukraine war cast a long shadow across proceedings. The Egyptian President called for it to end, and others, including President Macron and Rishi Sunak, reiterated that it was not a reason to go back on climate commitments.

Sunak’s speech focused on the achievements of COP26. He reaffirmed support to continue climate funding, but faced criticism for making the perhaps obvious statement that acting on climate was the “right thing to do”. 

Loss and damage

Finance has already become a key theme of COP27, in particular funding for loss and damage, which has emerged as one of the most contentious issues. While steps were first taken at COP19 in 2013, little tangible (or, rather, financial) progress has been made since. All eyes are on whether an Egyptian presidency can now provide the platform for real change.

COP27 has been coined by many as “Africa’s COP” - a recognition of the injustice inherent in climate change and the hope that a COP hosted by a state in the global south might put climate justice at the forefront of action. While Africa has contributed among the least to climate change, it has already experienced significant, disproportionate loss and damage attributable to it. For example, there has been a 34% reduction in agricultural productivity since 1961 as a result of climate change, and in 2019 alone there were over 3.4 million new weather-related displacements in sub-Saharan Africa. The flooding in Pakistan earlier this year was another reminder of the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

African-based businesses are suffering too. The severe flooding in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa in April 2022 caused significant economic disruption, with the Toyota factory located in the region (a significant local employer) closing for four months after suffering severe damage to its plant. 

Despite this, Senegalese President and President of the African Union Macky Sall said that African countries supported the just green transition and were committed to the Paris Agreement. Al Gore hailed the potential for Africa to be a “renewable super power”, albeit highlighting the difficulties the global south faced in accessing cheap finance to fulfil such potential.

Loss and damage was highlighted by others, in particular the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley. She agreed that state actors needed to do the right thing, but went further, and called on oil and gas companies and those that facilitate them, to be brought to a special convocation between now and COP28 with a view to contributing to loss and damage.

Can progress be made?

The call for finance to address loss and damage is distinct from finance to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Developed countries promised to provide US$100bn of finance annually by 2020 to address the latter (although it was established at COP26 that developed countries had failed to meet this goal, and that it would not be met until 2023).

There were robust calls at COP26 for a ‘Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility’. This was watered down to a ‘Glasgow Dialogue’, an agreement that each year relevant organisations and stakeholders would meet to discuss arrangements for funding to avert, minimise and address loss and damage. The discussions since then have focused on technical assistance (including risk insurance facilities) instead of funding.

Modest progress has been made through unilateral commitments from several governments and non-governmental parties. Scotland committed £2mn at COP26. This was followed by a commitment of €1mn from the regional Wallonia government in Belgium and US$3mn from philanthropies (including the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the European Climate Foundation and the Global Greens Fund). At the New York Climate Week held in September this year, Denmark promised US$13mn.

These commitments have raised hopes for real progress. Crucially, loss and damage funding arrangements have for the first time in COP negotiations been adopted as a formal agenda item.

There are also some signs that the global north is beginning to realise that finance for loss and damage cannot be pushed down the road for much longer. President Macron said that “we must come to terms with the idea of financial solidarity”.

So, hope is still alive but it is still to be seen whether this will be realised at the levels or in the form being sought by developing countries. Concern among the global north to avoid any agreement which could open them up to claims of liability and compensation is a major drag on progress. In addition, the competing pressures on government spending everywhere means there is likely to be a desire to keep the focus on technical support and the role that can be played by the private sector and international institutions. The pressure will continue to build on the private sector and the insurance sector will be key.