The COP27 deal does little to avert future climate catastrophes


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – Sunday’s final decision at the UN climate conference brought a breakthrough in addressing the dangers already ravaging the planet, but made little progress on emission-reduction measures that could avert even worse disasters.

It was a double-edged outcome of negotiations that appeared at times to be on the brink of failure, as many wealthy nations pleaded for bigger and faster climate action and poorer countries said they needed help dealing with the consequences of warming first, which was mostly coming from the developed world is promoted.

Even as diplomats and activists hailed the creation of a fund to support vulnerable countries after disasters, many worried that nations’ reluctance to adopt more ambitious climate plans had put the planet on a dangerous warming path.

“Too many parties are not ready to make further progress today in the fight against the climate crisis,” Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s climate chief, told weary negotiators on Sunday morning. “What we have before us is not a step forward for people and planet.”

The ambiguous deal, reached after a year of record-breaking climate disasters and weeks of negotiations in Egypt, underscores the challenge of getting the whole world to agree on swift climate action if many powerful countries and organizations remain invested in the current energy system.

UN negotiators agree to help vulnerable nations amid climate disasters

Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, said it was inevitable that the world would exceed what scientists consider the safe warming threshold. The only question is how much and how many people will suffer from it?

“It’s not just COP27, it’s the lack of action at any other COP since the Paris Agreement,” Jackson said. “We’ve been bleeding for years.”

He blamed entrenched interests, as well as political leaders and general human apathy, for delaying action to meet the most ambitious goal set in Paris in 2015, namely warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels limit level.

Analysis by advocacy group Global Witness revealed a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists among attendees at this year’s conference. Several world leaders, including this year’s Egyptian COP hosts, held events with industry representatives and discussed natural gas as a “transition fuel” that could ease the shift to renewable energy. Although burning gas produces fewer emissions than burning coal, the production and transportation process can result in the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Diplomats from Saudi Arabia and other oil and gas-producing countries have held closed consultations against proposals that would allow nations to set new and more frequent emissions reduction targets, calling for a phase-out of all polluting fossil fuels, according to several people with knowledge of the Negotiations.

“We went into the mitigation workshop and it was a five-hour trench warfare,” said New Zealand’s climate minister James Shaw, referring to discussions about a program to help countries meet their climate pledges and curb emissions across all sectors of the economy. “It was hard work just holding the line.”

Humanity’s current climate efforts are far from sufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change. A study released midway through the COP27 negotiations found that few nations have heeded a call from last year’s conference to step up their emissions-cutting pledges, and the world is on the precipice of warming well above 1.5 degrees Celsius – a threshold scientists say exceed, say, ecosystem collapse, escalating extreme weather, and widespread hunger and disease.

Study shows world has nine years to avert catastrophic warming

Sunday’s agreement also fails to reflect the scientific reality, outlined earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that the world must rapidly reduce its reliance on coal, oil and gas. Despite calls for an unprecedented number of countries – including India, the United States and the European Union – to spell out the need to phase out all polluting fossil fuels, the overarching decision merely reiterated last year’s Glasgow pact on the need for a ” gradual decline of unabated coal power.”

“It’s a consensus process,” said Shaw, whose country also supported the language of phasing out fossil fuels. “If there is a group of countries that are like that, we will not accept it, it is very difficult to enforce that.”

But the historic agreement on a fund for irreversible climate damage – known in UN parlance as “Loss and Damage” – has also shown how the COP process can empower the world’s smallest and most vulnerable countries.

Many observers believed that the United States and other developed nations would never make such a financial commitment, fearing liability for the trillions of dollars in damage climate change will cause.

But after catastrophic floods submerged half of Pakistan this year, the country’s diplomats led a negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing countries and called for “loss and damage financing arrangements” to be placed on the meeting’s agenda.

“If there is a sense of morality and justice in international affairs…then there should be solidarity with the people of Pakistan and the people affected by the climate crisis,” Pakistani negotiator Munir Akram said at the start of the conference. “This is about climate justice.”

Resistance from wealthy countries eased as developing country leaders made it clear they would not leave without a loss and damage fund. As talks went into extra time on Saturday, diplomats from small island nations met with European Union negotiators to negotiate the deal the nations eventually agreed on.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate ambassador for the Marshall Islands, said the success of those efforts gives her optimism that countries could also do more to prevent future warming — something needed to prevent their tiny Pacific nation from happening disappears in rising seas.

“We’ve shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible,” she said, “so we know we can come back next year and get rid of fossil fuels once and for all.”

And Harjeet Singh, head of global policy strategy at Climate Action Network International, saw another benefit in demanding payments for climate damage: “COP27 gave polluters a warning shot that they can no longer get away with their climate destruction,” he said .

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