Perhaps the words that resonated in the collective memory the most after the last Conference of the Parties were: “Blah blah blah” – Greta Thunberg’s verdict of the 2021 COP26 assembly. Many hoped this year’s COP would bring more than yet another set of unrealistic promises and expensive handshakes preceded by thousands of miles of intercontinental travel. Before anyone jumps into criticism, though, it is worth remembering that the crucial aim of COP is to set policies and summarize achievements done so far – as such, the body doesn’t have too much power over individual countries policies. It is up to government officials to act and bring COP discussions to action after the conference.
What were the key talking points at COP27? Here is our summary of the issues we’ve been giving a closer look at in November 2022:
1. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C – is it still possible?
Over the last two weeks, the headlines spread from hopeful “the clock is ticking, but we still have time” to rather gloomy “forget 1.5°C and brace for the overshoot”. Shortly before the COP27, a group of UN-backed scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that the world will likely pass the 1.5°C threshold by 2030. Humanity’s only chance of reaching the 1.5°C goal is to reach a peak in emissions in or before 2025, as per the IPCC report, which is rather unlikely considering the fact that they haven’t even slowed down.
This year’s Emissions Gap Report states that “we are far from the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C. Policies currently in place point to a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century” . We have already breached 1.2°C, and the consequences are easy to see worldwide.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “is 1.5°C feasible?” but rather: how much lower can we go next year? What political decisions should we make to turn the tide of climate change? The effects of overshoot will be catastrophic and impossible to revert for decades, if not centuries, but we might need to get ready for a temporary overshoot period before our economy can be remodeled and shaped according to the IPCC guidelines. Any discussion concerning the overshoot shouldn’t miss the fact that it is a question of life and death for low-lying nations, such as Maldives, Kiribati, or Tuvalu. Adapting to the overshoot in their cases requires billions invested in resilient infrastructure that will guard off the rising sea levels for centuries.
Reducing the emissions and halting the temperatures rise is a question of commitment that goes to governments, businesses, and organizations, but just as much to individuals. How much can you sacrifice to contribute to climate action?
2. Climate justice – the consequences are not spread equally
Following the last point: not all regions suffer climate change on the same level. The climate justice principle assumes that countries of the reach developed North which contributed to the current atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases the most, should compensate for it to the countries of the global, developing South, which suffer the most.
“What I’m looking forward to, first of all, is an acknowledgment that the industrialized world that became wealthy as they are today was as a direct result of their use of fossil fuels and coal,” said Philip Davis, prime minister of the Bahamas. This probably summarizes the issue in the best way. Gaston Brown, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said at COP27 that his country accounts for maybe 0.5% of global emissions, and he was also asking for climate justice (a Climate Analytics report suggests an even lower number of 0.35% for the entire Caribbean region). Yet, the area is facing an existential threat by rising sea levels caused by global warming – an issue it has contributed to only marginally.
Climate justice was one of the pivotal talking points in COP27 and led to the discussion of the concept of “lost and damage” – three words probably repeated the most often over the last two weeks in Sharm-el-Sheikh.
3. Lost and Damage
The world slowly started to acknowledge that the countries that benefited the most from the industrial revolution and burned the most significant amounts of fossil fuels should compensate the regions most affected by climate change.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out: “If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan, the loss is there. ” Pakistan has recently suffered a drought that destroyed one-third of the country, and it is constantly troubled by the whole range of climate-related issues, such as droughts, food shortage, storms, etc. It ranks 147th in the vulnerability score, which measures a country’s exposure, sensitivity, and ability to adapt to the negative impact of climate change. As Sherry Rehman, the country’s climate change minister, said: “What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan. That dystopia that came to our doorstep will come to everyone. ”
Bluntly accepting that some countries hold responsibility for climate change on a bigger scale than others is one thing. The other is that this statement should lead to setting new financial pledges, seen as reparations by some, and this is where the hard part starts. How to determine a country’s responsibility? How to translate it to actual sums of money it should allocate for climate reimbursements? And lastly: which countries should get such financing, when, how, and in what amount? This is where big money in climate finance comes to question.
4. Climate finance – who pays whom?
America pledged USD 11 billion in international climate aid. Germany will put USD 170 million toward a so-called global shield: a program to support the most climate-vulnerable countries. The World Bank Group delivered a record USD 31.7 billion in 2022 to help countries address climate change .
While these sums might make you dizzy, they might still be far off the target needed to level the playing field. Take the example of Pakistan mentioned earlier. After the catastrophic flooding, the country received a USD 1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Yet the total damage caused by the flood covering around 1/3 of the country’s territory is estimated at approximately USD 32 billion. The country is now not only severely damaged but also in debt.
Climate finance relies strongly on loss and damage concept. The fact that the latter one still misses a clear definition doesn’t make things easier. The topic is still in the stage of infancy and has only just started to pick up. COP27 is the first time it got seriously discussed, and what it will bring is yet to be revealed.
5. Just energy transition and methane reduction pledges
The G20 summit, which took place in Bali simultaneously withCOP27, brought some profitable deals. The Just Energy Transition Partnership will accelerate the power sector emissions reduction to reach the projected net zero by 2050. Much financing is required to remodel the energy sector, and the JETP is one of the ways of realizing the principles of climate justice and climate finance.
JETP will support Indonesia’s energy transition with funding from more prosperous nations, such as UE and partner countries. The program aims at mobilizing “an initial USD 20 billion ( EUR 19.4 billion approximately) in public and private financing over a three-to-five-year period, using a mix of grants, concessional loans, market-rate loans, guarantees, and private investments.” JETP follows South Africa’s USD 8.5 billion agreement made during the last year’s COP26.
Additionally, the UN plans to launch a new program to boost methane leak detection and spur companies and governments to curb these potent greenhouse gas emissions. The methane Alert and Response System (MARS) is based on a pledge signed by 119 countries to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. UNEP’s International Methane Emissions Observatory will share information about the leak. It is up to the responsible organization or business to find the leak’s cause and fix it.
6. Carbon markets
The topic of the universal, intergovernmental carbon credit market for countries has been set up in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. If the article were a child, it would already attend school, yet officials still haven’t gotten close to setting up an actual, functioning carbon credit market obligatory worldwide.
The mechanism should support countries on their way to net zero by offsetting the unavoidable carbon emissions through projects run elsewhere in the world. A unified system would prevent double counting of the carbon credits and provide transparency to an otherwise troubled system functioning today.
With all the justified criticism coming from all sides, including the recent John Olivier’s Last Week Tonight show, we need to remember that we cannot avoid carbon offsetting unless we stop emitting GHGs. Economies worldwide need time and money to transform, and in this transition period, offsetting (on top of reduction) is our best bet. The talks about the carbon market during COP27 will drag on beyond this year’s summit.
As the IPCC scientists predicted in their latest report, one of the biggest challenges impeding global climate action is that other subjects might cloud it and push it out of the headlines. The climate narrative is particularly tough in times of war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, soaring inflation, the food chain crisis, and all other issues troubling humanity. It is impossible to choose “the most important problem” that we should focus on now. With all the flaws and unfinished talks, COP27 main aim is to set the world on the right track – we can only hope that the officials taking part in the summit will bring it all to life after coming back home from Egypt.
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