loss and damage
For nearly three decades, developing countries have sought financial assistance for loss and damage – money needed to save and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of countries devastated by extreme weather conditions. Finally reaching agreement on a fund is an important milestone. Now comes the hard part – setting up the fund and filling it with cash. There is still no agreement on how the funding will be provided and where it will come from.
The 2015 Paris Agreement included two temperature targets – to keep the rise “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and to “continue efforts” to keep the rise to 1.5°C. Since then, science has clearly shown that 2°C is not safe, which is why countries at Cop26 in Glasgow last year agreed to focus on a 1.5°C limit. Because their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were too weak to meet the 1.5 degree limit, they also agreed to return each year to reinforce it, a process known as the ratchet. At Cop27, some countries tried to break the 1.5 degree target and get rid of the ratchet. They failed, but a decision to peak emissions by 2025 was scrapped, to the dismay of many.
The final text of Cop27 included a provision to promote “low-emission energy”. That could mean many things, from wind and solar farms to nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage. It could also be interpreted as a gas that has lower emissions than coal but is still an important fossil fuel. Many countries on Cop27, particularly those from Africa with large reserves to be exploited, came to Sharm el-Sheikh hoping to secure lucrative gas deals.
A commitment to phase out coal was agreed in Glasgow last year. It was the first time a resolution on fossil fuels was included in the final text – some would say incredible for 30 years of climate change conferences. At Cop27, some countries – led by India – wanted to go further and commit to phasing out all fossil fuels. That was the subject of intense arguments until late on Saturday night, but in the end it fell through and the resolution it contained was the same as Glasgow.
reform of the World Bank
A growing number of developed and developing countries are calling for urgent changes to the World Bank and other publicly funded financial institutions, which they say have failed to provide the funding needed to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis . Reform, as discussed at length at Cop27, could involve recapitalizing development banks so they can provide far more aid to developing countries. Nicholas Stern, a climate economist and peer, has calculated that developing countries will need $2.4 trillion (£2 trillion) annually from 2030 onwards. But that’s only about 5% more than the investment they would need anyway, much of which would go into high-carbon infrastructure. He estimates that the World Bank could provide around half of these funds.
Building flood defences, preserving wetlands, restoring mangrove swamps and reforesting forests – these and other measures can help countries become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. But poor countries often struggle to get funding for these efforts. Of the $100 billion a year that rich countries have promised them from 2020 – a promise that is still not being fulfilled – only about $20 billion is going towards adaptation. At Glasgow, countries agreed to double that proportion, but at Cop27 some sought to reverse that obligation. After some struggle it was reconfirmed.
Tipping points, IPCC and health
Since Cop26, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released the key parts of its latest comprehensive assessment of climate science, warning of catastrophic impacts that only drastic and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions can avert. The IPCC was created by the United Nations to advise on scientific matters, but some countries wanted to remove references to its latest findings from the final text. Instead, a reference to the key finding of “tipping points” has been included – a warning that climate warming is not gradual and linear, but that we risk triggering feedback loops that will lead to rapidly escalating impacts. These include the warming of the Amazon, which could turn the rainforest into savannah, turning it from a carbon sink into a source of carbon, and the melting of permafrost, which releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane. A reference to “the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” has also been added. Medical professionals have begun to play a much more prominent role in climate negotiations and climate protests, making a clear connection between global warming and health.