2022 has been a year of extreme weather events worldwide, resulting in humanitarian disasters with thousands of deaths and hundreds of displaced communities. Fortunately, help is in sight for poorer nations to mitigate the resulting damage and to build up climate change resilience. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) concluded on November 20 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with the establishment of a historic loss-and-damage fund to help poorer nations tackle climate change.
Nevertheless, the conference fell short on goals to fight global warming and make progress on commitments to phase out fossil fuels. These goals were expected to limit a possible global temperature rise this century to “well below 2 degrees Celsius [above pre-industrial levels] and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees.” This is one of the key objectives around which the 2015 Paris Agreement was formed at COP21, and so it has become shorthand for the success of every subsequent climate summit.
This latest round of UN climate talks gathered more than 35,000 people from almost every country in the world. The two-week meeting was held against a backdrop that included an energy crisis propelled by the war in Ukraine and scientific data reiterating that the world is not doing enough to tackle carbon emissions and protect the future of the planet.
Today, national pledges to tackle climate change could lead to around 2.4 °C of global warming this century, far above safe levels.
According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022, limiting global warming—preferably to 1.5 °C—is the only way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but this would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. Today, national pledges to tackle climate change could lead to around 2.4 °C of global warming this century, far above safe levels. “Humanity has a choice: Cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact—or a Collective Suicide Pact,” United Nations Secretary- General Antonio Guterres said in his COP27 opening remarks.
Historical Agreement on ‘Loss and Damage’
As the world gets hotter, extreme weather events such as more intense and frequent heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods already threaten human physical and mental health, but some socially and economically disadvantaged groups face the greatest risks.
According to data from the Sixth IPCC report, in more vulnerable regions of the world—such as the small Oceanic Islands, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Central America, West Africa, and Central Africa—mortalities caused by extreme weather events were fifteen times higher in the last decade than in regions more adapted to climate impacts. That’s why developing countries have been seeking financial assistance to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of areas devastated by extreme weather.
This year, for the first time, this issue was on the official COP27 agenda. By the end of the meeting, more than 190 countries agreed to establish a fund for loss and damage. “This represents a significant step forward in the global fight against the climate emergency,” said Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme.
But the final text of the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan remained vague, with no guidance on how much money the fund needs or who will pay into it.
No Progress on Fossil Fuels ‘Phase Out’
The burning of fossil fuels accounted for 86% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2011 and 2021, according to the IPCC. Last year at the COP26 in Glasgow, countries committed to phasing down the use of coal. It was the first time a resolution on fossil fuels had been included in the final text, but environmentalists and scientists subsequently criticized it for not meeting the goal of the Paris Agreement.
The COP27 final text disappointed, with no progress to include a commitment to phasing out all fossil fuels.
This year, many people expected countries to go further and include a commitment to phasing out all fossil fuels, but the COP27 final text disappointed, with no progress on this issue. Some observers said the lack of progress on fossil fuels was not a surprise, given that a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists—636 people, according to advocacy group Global Witness—attended this year’s event
No Aggressive Move To ‘Keep 1.5°C Alive’
Science has proven it is still possible to meet the 1.5 °C target, beyond which disastrous climate impacts are believed to lie. But to achieve that goal, countries need to act aggressively and quickly, while reducing GHG emissions by 50% by 2030. Although this issue was debated until the very last minute, the final UN COP27 climate summit text fell short on efforts to lower GHG emissions and did not mention additional curbs on fossil fuels. Reduction of greenhouse gases remains voluntary.
Ambiguous Resolution on ‘Low-emission Energy’
The final text of the COP27 implementation plan emphasized the need for a rapid reduction in global GHG emissions “through increase[s] in low-emissions and renewable energy,” but little was offered in the way of specifics. Experts say the elasticity of the language keeps the door open to some fossil fuels, such as natural gas, being considered part of a green energy future. Critics say that while natural gas is a cleaner-burning resource than coal and liquid petroleum, it still emits large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of both CO2 and methane.
Overall, COP27 accomplished something historic with the new loss-and-damage fund. If it is properly financed, the most-vulnerable countries will have gone home as the winners. But fighting symptoms is not enough, and many observers chided this year´s climate summit for failing to deal with the factors causing climate change.
Experts say the world is running out of time to avoid the worst-case scenarios of global warming. According to Natalie Unterstell, president of the Talanoa Institute, a climate policy think tank in Brazil, “it is necessary that governments and their diplomats assume ambitious commitments” to advance technological and financial change and increase public support for decarbonization in their countries.
*Jaqueline Sordi is a Brazilian journalist and biologist, specializing in science and environmental journalism. She has a master’s degree in environmental journalism at UCLA and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in communications at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.