• Major breakthrough on loss and damage funding for vulnerable developing countries suffering the most from the effects of climate change.
  • Agreements on mitigation measures only include a coal phase down (instead of a phase out) and ignore emissions from the use of gas and oil.
  • Mitigation commitments from Paris and Glasgow were renewed but not strengthened or ambitions increased
  • To be able to reach net zero emissons by 2050 about US$4 trillion per year needs to be invested in renewable energy

The COP27 summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh made history when developing countries secured a new fund to support the victims of climate disasters.

Yet this was tempered by a wider agreement – the “Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan” – that excluded any mention of winding down the use of fossil fuels. It also provided little indication that nations were serious about scaling up efforts to cut emissions.

For the first time in UN history, protesters were allowed to march inside the venue, avoiding the attention of the host nation’s security forces.

Long-term global goal

COP27 concluded the two-year second “periodic review” of the long-term global goal of the UN climate regime, namely limiting warming to well-below 2C and pursuing efforts on 1.5C.

After two weeks of often contentious discussions, the COP27 decision reiterates this target and says that staying below 1.5C would “avoid increasingly severe climate change impacts”.

It notes that the world is “not collectively on track” to limit temperatures in line with this target. Furthermore, it notes that “some parties” have failed to meet their pre-2020 commitments.

COP29 in 2024 will decide whether to hold a third periodic review.

The first periodic review, held during 2013-2015, was a key input to COP21 in Paris, where the global temperature target was updated to include 1.5C for the first time.

The text also nods to the fight over who should take first responsibility for cutting emissions, calling on developed countries to “provide enhanced support” to help others. It states:

“[The COP] notes that parties have different responsibilities, national circumstances and capabilities to contribute to achieving the long-term global goal, while the impacts and risks associated with warming are unevenly distributed, and in this regard, also notes the need for enhanced efforts towards achieving the long-term global goal, taking into account ambition, equity, just transition and the best available science.”

One important line in the agreed text is to note that the Paris limits are “assessed over a period of decades”. Scientists have long argued this point and now it has been formally recognised.

Action for climate empowerment

Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) aims to empower all members of society to engage in climate action through six main mechanisms – education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation.

A new “Glasgow ACE work programme” was agreed at COP26 and negotiations at COP27 centred on a report from its first year. They also agreed a new four-year “action plan” on the ACE agenda.

This plan “focuses on immediate action through short-term, clear and time-bound activities”. It includes activities such as identifying good practice for bringing the ACE agenda into the work of the UN climate regime and into national climate plans and policies.

Gender and climate

COP25 in Madrid had seen parties launch a five-year “gender action plan” (GAP), intended to “support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates in the UNFCCC process”.

The plan is an extension to one agreed at COP20 in Lima, Peru, which “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective”.

At COP27, the ongoing action plan was to be reviewed and its activities potentially amended. Disagreement centred on the provision of additional resources to support implementation.

The agreed text “underscores” the need for gender balance in the UNFCCC process and “invites” future COP presidencies to nominate women as “high-level champions”.

It also “invites” parties to promote gender balance in their national delegations. (Carbon Brief analysis has found that around two-thirds of delegations at recent COPs have been male.)

The COP27 cover decision also “encourages” parties to “fully implement” the action plan.

Protests, access and harassment

Concerns over protester safety, access, surveillance and harassment cast a large shadow over proceedings in Sharm el-Sheikh – with several delegates privately telling Carbon Brief that it was the “worst COP ever” for activists and civil society.

In the months leading up to COP27, activists and developing-country delegates raised concerns about sky-high accommodation costs.

According to a letter seen by Climate Home News, the Egyptian Hotel Association ordered hotels to set a price of at least $500 per night for a room in a five-star hotel – almost five times the usual cost – at least $350 a night for a four-star hotel and $120 for a two-star.

Activists and journalists alike faced further accommodation problems once arriving in Egypt. Several told Carbon Brief that they arrived at their hotels and were immediately asked to pay additional room fees, forcing them to seek accommodation elsewhere.

Bloomberg reported that “as many as 80 young activists were crammed into dirty rooms full of cigarette ends, some without locks, and were awoken in the middle of the night by hotel personnel asking for their identification”.

Responding to concerns over hotels, Wael Aboulmagd, special representative for the Egyptian COP27 presidency, told a press briefing that his office was “aware” of incidents and was “asking people to bring cases to us as rapidly as possible so we can interfere”, while also looking to get to “the root of the issue”.

Elsewhere, Politico reported on concerns from cyber security experts that Egypt’s COP27 summit app – which offered information such as meeting times and venue maps – could be used to spy on delegates.

When downloaded on an Android phone, the app allegedly has the capability “to hack private emails, texts and even voice conversations”, according to experts who reviewed the app for Politico.

Responding to reports of the COP27 app being used for spying, Aboulmagd told journalists that it was an “[un]substantiated” allegation and that he had been informed it would be “technically and physically impossible” for the app to be used for such purposes.

Safety concerns – along with strict protest laws in Egypt – had a dampening effect on demonstrations held outside of the COP27 venue, which are usually a major feature of UN climate summits.

However, history was made at COP27 on the first Saturday – the traditional protest day – when activists were granted permission to march inside the delegates-only area of the conference (the “blue zone”) for the first time ever at a UN climate summit.

A crowd of several hundred people – (much smaller than the 100,000 people that descended on Glasgow during COP26) – marched across the blue zone’s outside area carrying placards mainly focused on funding for loss and damage and keeping the 1.5C temperature goal within reach.

The procession was led by Sanaa Seif, sister of Egyptian-British jailed activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah. Seif spoke numerous times at COP27 to call for her brother’s release, including at an event where she was heckled by an Egyptian MP – who was escorted out of the room by UN security.

Others at the front of the procession included Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a climate-justice activist from the Philippines, Asad Rehman, the UK activist who directs the anti-poverty charity War on Want, and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an Indigenous environmental activist from Chad.

Speaking privately to Carbon Brief, civil society sources suggested that they had been encouraged by the UN to apply for permission to march inside COP27’s blue zone amid difficult conditions for protesters in Egypt.

In a statement to Carbon Brief, the UNFCCC confirmed that the decision to allow protesters to march inside the blue zone was unprecedented, but did not comment on why it was made.

Several other days at COP27 saw small-sized protests take place outside plenary halls and meeting rooms.

In the conference’s first week, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate gathered with other young protesters to call for global-north leaders to commit to ending fossil fuels. She told a small huddle of journalists:

“Leaders from global-north countries responsible for the vast amount of emissions heating our planet are already breaking promises made just months ago at COP26.”

Russia’s war

As widely anticipated, Russia’s war in Ukraine featured heavily in speeches, discussions and side-events at COP27.

At the conference’s world leaders summit, several countries insisted that the war must not derail efforts to tackle climate change by rapidly moving away from fossil fuels. (Russia is a major fossil fuel producer and has restricted supplies as an act of war, raising fears about energy security in many countries.)

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak told the summit that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “abhorrent war in Ukraine” was “not a reason to go slow on climate change”, but “a reason to act faster”.

Striking a similar tone, French president Emmanuel Macron said the country would “not sacrifice our climate commitments under the energy threat from Russia”.

And during his special address to COP27 later on in week one of the summit, US president Joe Biden told delegates that Russia’s war in Ukraine “only enhances the urgency of the world’s need to divest away from fossil fuels”.

This is despite evidence showing that countries globally have made a “dash for fossil fuels” since the start of the war in February.

An analysis by the research group Climate Action Tracker released during COP27 found that several regions, including Europe, North America, Africa and Australia, have ramped up new fossil fuel production and infrastructure projects since the war began. 

If all of these new projects go ahead, they would use up 10% of the world’s remaining “carbon budget” for keeping global warming to 1.5C – the aspiration of the Paris Agreement, according to the analysis.

Also speaking at the world leaders summit, UN executive secretary António Guterres said that the “war in Ukraine has exposed the profound risks of our fossil fuel addiction”. He added:

“But climate change is on a different timeline and a different scale. It is the defining issue of our age…Today’s urgent crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing. If anything, they are a reason for greater urgency, stronger action and effective accountability.”

In a virtual address to COP27, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for the creation of a platform to assess the impact of war for climate change and the environment – and for perpetrators to be held responsible. He told the conference:

“We are all thinking about how to generate hundreds of billions of dollars to help developing countries protect themselves from climate change. Under these conditions, how can anyone cause additional, insane damage to nature with their invasive military ambitions? Such ambitions deserve only punishment.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Ukraine’s assistant environment minister Svitlana Grynchuk described Russia’s war as an act of “ecocide”.

The Guardian added that Ukraine has estimated that rebuilding its damaged towns, cities and industry will alone cause the release of 50m tonnes of CO2. (For reference, this is more than twice the annual emissions of Kenya.) The Guardian also published footage of BBC climate editor Justin Rowlatt being ejected from a press conference when trying to ask at a Russian side-event if the country would pay for the environmental damage caused by its attack on Ukraine.

Road to COP28

Next year, the COP will be hosted by the UAE, one of the world’s largest oil producers. The event in Dubai has been pushed back and will now take place in the first two weeks of December. 

Tejas Sawant
Author: Tejas Sawant

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