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Published 18 November 2022
The legacy of COP27 hangs in the balance as the negotiations on the final communique became fraught, exposing some major divisions.
The Egyptian presidency wants to see COP27 go down as a breakthrough moment for the Global South, with the fears and concerns of those countries most impacted by climate changed addressed with more than just fine words.
Loss and Damage
This has thrown the spotlight on the demands for tangible action to address "loss and damage" through substantial financing for those countries that have contributed least to carbon emissions but feel the worst consequences. As they are also among the world’s poorest countries, they have demanded money from the developed nations that have contributed the most to global warming.
This year's agenda included the issue for the first time at a COP summit and as we predicted it has become one of the dominant issues of the fortnight.
Up until the early hours of this morning, it appeared there was little prospect of progress. The United States, European Union and other industrialised economies said they were open to discussion on channelling such funding through existing programmes, but did not want to put new money on the table specifically to address loss and damage. The fear is of opening the floodgates to demands for more from governments and major polluters.
Developing countries tried to play down these fears: "For those countries that are that are worried or anxious about liabilities and judicial proceedings, I think we can work around all those anxieties," said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's climate minister.
The potential breakthrough came early this morning when the EU broke ranks and offered to contribute €100mn to a new loss and damage fund. European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans launched the proposal on behalf of the EU saying it agreed to establishing a loss and damage fund.
This has thrown the spotlight on the US, UK and other major economies to fall in behind the EU but there is a long way to go. The US will be very reluctant to contribute if China is not also forced to contribute. This will put China’s status at COP talks into play. It has up to now avoided any obligation to provide climate finance to the poorest countries, despite being the world’s biggest emitter and second biggest cumulative emitter, and the world’s second-biggest economy.
Under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the rulebook for COP summits, countries are strictly delineated into developed and developing, and China is still classed as developing under the treaty (mainly because of its relatively low GDP per capita). The US and the EU have grown increasingly frustrated at the way China has used this status to avoid contributing to a range of climate change initiatives.
The place of fossil fuels is also proving tricky, as it did last year in Glasgow when coal was included in the final communique but only after a compromise to call for "phasing down" rather than "phasing out" of coal. In Sharm El-Sheikh some countries, led by India, want this commitment – poorly worded as it is – extended to all fossil fuels. This seems less likely to make progress in the fraught negotiations.
Keeping global warming to 1.5°C
The biggest headlines could be grabbed by the potential watering down of the pledge from COP15 in Paris to keep global warming to 1.5°C. India and China have joined the ranks of countries concerned it is no longer scientifically feasible and that pledging a target which cannot be achieved would be foolish and hang a millstone round the neck of subsequent COPs.
The draft text has come in for ferocious criticism from climate campaigners for only aiming to keep warming "well below" 2°C and to make best efforts to keep it under 1.5C.
Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, summed up their mood: “As climate impacts and injustice accelerate, lives, livelihoods, cultures and even whole countries are lost, the latest draft cover note from the COP27 Presidency pushes the pedal to the metal on the highway to climate hell.”
Unless the wording on the 1.5°C target is toughened up, this could leave COP27 marked out as a step backwards in the battle against climate change.
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