(Photo from COP Civic Space)
From Nov. 6 to Nov. 20, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known better as COP27, took place in the coastal Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The event saw over 100 heads of state attending and over 35,000 participants. The annual gathering focuses on policies to prevent and limit the damage inflicted by climate change.
This year’s landmark deal was the formation of a fund to provide for developing countries which incur damages due to climate-driven natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and wildfires. Pakistan’s Minister of Climate Change Sherry Rehman lauded the decision, calling it a “down payment on climate justice.” This year, the country faced devastating floods that submerged nearly 30% of its land area.
The United States and European Union are set to become the main sources for the fund. However, some have argued that China, which hosts the world’s second-largest economy, should also contribute, although it is considered a developing country. The details of the funding are yet to be worked out, with other potential ideas including a tax on fossil fuel companies and contributions from financial institutions.
Also in focus was the Paris Agreement, signed in December 2015 at COP21 by 194 parties. This treaty seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius at the maximum. However, seven years later, forecasts show that this goal does not reflect reality.
The Emissions Gap Report, released by the United Nations Environment Program, forecasts that the rise in average global temperatures will reach 2.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century with current laws. If the promised mitigation strategies are implemented, this rise will be limited to around 2.4–2.6 degrees Celsius — still far above the goal of 1.5 degrees.
Additionally, the report found that in order to limit a temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, global greenhouse gas emissions would need to be cut 45% before 2030. To this end, the United Nations Environment Program announced the launch of a satellite-based warning system to detect methane leaks around the globe. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to over 25% of global warming, according to the International Methane Emissions Observatory.
Overshadowing the conference was the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has sent several members of the European Union scrambling for energy sources. For example, Germany signed a deal with Egypt to purchase liquified natural gas. Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Center for Science and Environment, called the optics poor.
“Before the crisis, rhetoric from the higher-income countries was that nobody was going to fund fossil-fuel projects in lower-income countries,” she said. “But now everybody is asking us to increase supply.”
Former United States Vice President Al Gore also commented, saying that the “dash for gas in Africa is a dash for gas to be sent to wealthy countries.”
This hesitation was clear in the text of the conference, which reiterated the text of last year’s COP26 in calling for “efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” However, oil and gas were noticeably not included in this statement, despite a proposal by India that was supported by the United States and European Union.
COP27 promises to leave a mixed legacy. Although some concrete steps were taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change, particularly for developing nations, preventative actions were mostly excluded. COP28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates, whose president, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, promised to supply oil and gas “for as long as the world needs it.”
In fact, the goal of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius was also at stake. European Union officials threatened to walk out, with the union’s climate chief Frans Timmermans stating, “We do not want 1.5 Celsius to die here and today. That to us is completely unacceptable.”
Some argue that allowing petro-states, or nations with economies reliant on the export of oil and gas, to host climate conferences is unwise. Although only around 7% of Egypt’s economy depends on the sale of fossil fuels, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, this number jumps to 52% for the United Arab Emirates, slated to host the conference next year.
However, small victories took place on the sidelines. At the Group of 20, or G20, summit earlier this year, Indonesia signed a $20 billion contract with the United States, Japan, Canada, and countries from the European Union to accelerate its pathway to renewable energy. South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa also unveiled a just energy plan to invest in electricity, new-energy vehicles and green hydrogen.
Despite these developments, the most significant takeaway from the conference was a moratorium on dramatic proposals to tackle carbon emissions and limit global warming. Only time will tell whether the transition to net-zero carbon emissions will occur in time — if at all.
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