Was COP27 One Step Forward And Two Steps Back?

For almost thirty years, the United Nations (UN) has been holding global climate summits called COPs, which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. In COP27, countries gathered at the conference in Egypt to take steps towards fulfilling the world’s climate goals as agreed upon under the Paris Agreement (COP21) and COP26 in Glasgow. Environmental activists hoped that the COP27 would deliver new rules on emissions reduction, a collective commitment to move away from fossil fuels, and the setting up of a loss and damage fund. While a landmark decision was made to set up a loss and damage fund, many analysts concluded that the summit did not deliver significant progress in addressing the global climate crisis. To make sense of what this means for green efforts going forward, it is necessary to delve deeper into some of the decisions, or lack thereof, that were made during COP27.

One Step Forward: Establishing A Loss & Damage Fund

One significant step that was taken towards achieving global climate targets at COP27 was the agreement to set up a fund for loss and damage where developed nations would remunerate developing countries for the effects of climate change, such as droughts, floods, cyclones amongst other natural disasters. This was a major win for the developing countries and environmental activists because getting the issue of loss and damage on the agenda in Egypt has been an oncoming battle. To provide added context, the fund only came into fruition 30 years after the measure was first suggested by Vanuatu back in 1991. Hence, the agreement for the establishment of this fund was a momentous decision in acknowledging the fact that loss and damage is an inevitable consequence of climate change. It also recognised that the developing countries who suffered the consequences the most are those who have done the least to cause the problem. Finally, there is a mechanism in place to start providing some form of compensation and assistance to those countries which are on the front line of climate impacts.

One Step Back: The Struggle To Be Committed To Limiting Global Warming Rates

In spite of this, there were some developments that spelled trouble for global climate objectives. This included heated exchanges to keep commitments made in Paris in 2015 and Glasgow last year. In Paris, countries settled on an agreement to limit global warming to below 2℃ and to 1.5℃ this century. But as of today, the planet has already warmed by 1.09℃, and emissions are at record levels according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To complicate matters further, temperature trajectories make it an uphill battle for the world to keep temperature rises to 1.5℃. Furthermore, the struggle to ensure this commitment was upheld in Egypt cast a shadow of doubt over the global commitment to mitigation. In particular, China brought up whether the 1.5℃ target should continue to be a key climate goal and this became a hot button issue that was keenly contested in the talks.

Another Step Back: Absence Of Renewed Commitment To Phase Out Fossil Fuels

The COP27 climate summit was marred by a lack of progress on several key issues, including positive action to halt the practice of greenwashing and new rules on carbon markets. Most notably, there was no new commitment to phase out fossil fuels, which had been raised in the prior summit in Glasgow. Oil-producing countries were especially resistant to any moves to do so, and their influence was evident in the final text of the COP27 talks where only the need for a ‘phase down of unabated coal power’ was agreed upon. It is a cause for great concern for analysts, given the urgency of the challenge posed by climate change. This controversial decision can be argued to be largely due to the power of fossil fuel interests and lobbyists, who were able to water down the final text of the summit’s agreement.  It is clear that more needs to be done to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry if we are to adequately address the climate crisis and underscores the need for stronger action to protect the environment. As a result, the summit failed to live up to its potential as a major step forward in the fight against climate change.

The Big Picture View Of COP27’s Outcomes

Overall, while the international response to the climate crisis took a significant step forward with the agreement on the loss and damage fund, the lack of progress in other areas such as mitigating emissions means that the COP cannot be seen as an overarching victory pertaining to positive action taken to tackle the climate crisis.

Ultimately, while COPs are important in the international response to the climate crisis, they are not the only avenue to address the climate crisis. Public mobilisation and activism, market forces, aid and development programs, and legislation at local, state and national levels are all catalysts for significant climate change policies to be enacted too. It’s important to note that while COPs can be seen as an unambiguously positive outcome for action on the climate crisis, very little progress has been made on mitigating emissions. In this light, the twenty-seventh COP can be seen as part of a broader effort to build an effective global response to the climate crisis.