Rich World Is Pressed to Help Vulnerable Countries Cope with Climate Change
Catastrophic floods in Pakistan, drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, and violent storms in Asia and the Americas. Sweltering heatwaves in Europe, triggering wildfires, and war in Ukraine sending energy costs soaring.
These form the backdrop to COP27, the United Nations climate-change summit that opens on Sunday, November 6, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The conference will bring together nearly 200 countries to debate their proposals to fight global warming, efforts that United Nations agencies have warned are so far “woefully inadequate”.
Their task is to make progress on limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to aim for 1.5C, the objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement in 2015. The planet has already warmed by about 1.1C above pre-industrial levels.
U.N. reports in the past few days have underlined the sheer scale of the task ahead. They say plans submitted by governments so far would lead to temperature rises of between 2.1C and 2.9C by the end of the century. Their best estimate is 2.5C.
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that greenhouse gas emissions must fall by about 45 percent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels to give a chance of keeping the world at 1.5C.
Pressure on U.S. and Europe
When thousands of national leaders, climate experts and activists gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, a key issue will be calls from the most vulnerable states for a fund to help them cope with the impacts they already face from climate change.
In the sometimes-opaque language of the U.N. climate process, this is known as “loss and damage.”
“I think there will be a lot of pressure on the U.S. and the European Union, in particular, to move on creating a new fund, creating new resources addressing loss and damage,” said Alex Scott, an analyst at E3G, an international climate think tank.
“We can’t tell at this point how that’s going to end up,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of resistance coming from the U.S and the E.U.”
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Delegates left the last climate summit, COP26 in Glasgow, late last year just about keeping alive the Paris objectives.
Since Glasgow, Russia has unleashed war on Ukraine, and much of the developed world has focused on combatting the devastating effects the conflict has had on energy costs, inflation and slowing economic growth.
Turning Promises into Actions
So, what are the prospects of success at COP27, and what are the key issues?
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has pledged it will be the summit that moves the world on to really carrying out promises for action.
“I think there will be a lot of pressure on the U.S. and the European Union, in particular, to move on creating a new fund, creating new resources addressing loss and damage. We can’t tell at this point how that’s going to end up. I think there’s a lot of resistance coming from the U.S and the E.U.”Alex Scott, an analyst at E3G, an international climate think tank
“I am positive that all parties and stakeholders will be coming to Sharm el-Sheikh with a stronger will and a higher ambition on mitigation, adaptation and climate finance, demonstrating actual success stories on implementing commitments and fulfilling pledges,” El-Sisi said in his welcome to delegates.
For small island states that face being overwhelmed by rising seas and countries like Pakistan that have had devastating floods this year, overcoming resistance to creating “response funds” for loss and damage will be at the top of the agenda.
Wealthy nations, fearing they could face open-ended demands for finance, agreed at Glasgow only to continue a dialogue about loss and damage. This time, that will likely not be enough. Progress over loss and damage is widely seen as a litmus-test for success at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Mitigation and Adaptation
Vulnerable countries argue that the rich world, particularly the United States and Europe, are responsible for most global-warming gas emissions since the start of the industrial age. In contrast, they have emitted little but suffer the most.
Pools of public and private finance from the developed world are largely aimed at ways to mitigate against climate change. That means cutting global emissions drastically through decarbonising and switching to renewable energy sources.
“I am positive that all parties and stakeholders will be coming to Sharm el-Sheikh with a stronger will and a higher ambition on mitigation, adaptation and climate finance, demonstrating actual success stories on implementing commitments and fulfilling pledges.”Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
A smaller amount goes to adaptation, or helping countries prepare for the dangers that lie ahead.
Even here wealthy nations have fallen short. They promised to provide $100 billion a year to fight climate change by 2020 and twice that by 2025, but they will not now reach the first target until 2023.
The third main plank of the discussions will be over promises countries make toward cutting emissions and work towards a net-zero future. Nations were charged at Glasgow with updating their plans and targets this year. But so far, only 24 have complied, and few of those have tightened their pledge.
Egypt did update its nationally determined contribution, the name given to a country’s climate-fighting promises. But despite taking over the COP presidency, Egypt’s plan was rated “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific analysis put together by two non-profit institutes.
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“It would have been good to see a pledge closer in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement because that sort of ambition is sadly needed at this stage,” CAT analyst Mia Moisio said after Egypt updated its plan. “Many countries have failed to show leadership, and it would have been good to see more.”
African Venue Sharpens the Focus
E3G’s Scott, speaking in an interview, said Egypt had faced an uphill struggle during months of geopolitical chaos to articulate a clear message on how the global summit would play out, but things have come together more recently with Germany and Chile being signed up to lead negotiations over loss and damage.
The fact that the summit will take place on the African continent will also help, she said, since it is the region likely to suffer some of the most devastating effects of a warming planet.
“I think it taking place on the frontline of climate impact and climate risks is really focussing minds, and I think that is really helping to create the political space to really think carefully about the question of financing loss and damage, and helps to provide the impetus to get it onto the agenda.”
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Read more about the COP27 climate conference and efforts to address the effects of climate change in Climate and Environment, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on this topic.