COP27 Commences – What’s at stake?

Dane Armstrong

This week the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) commenced in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Lasting almost a fortnight, the event is the annual forum where countries come together to put in place, or at least discuss putting in place, plans to meet collective climate goals.

Eswatini’s delegation of representatives has been there since last weekend, and they will be sharing their updates after the conclusion of the event.

You can follow live COP updates or daily highlights and wrap-ups on some of these great channels: Daily Maverick, the Guardian, Climate Tracker and Carbon Brief.

Eswatini’s delegates at COP27

For optimists this event symbolises the immense progress we continue to achieve; i.e. our ability to collectively come together and put the climate crisis firmly on our national and international agendas. For pessimists, the forum is a hot-air event, albeit with supposed noble intentions, that epitomises humanity’s inability to agree on details beyond generalised statements of intent. The reality is, indeed, a mix of both.

As time runs out for global action, this year’s conference is yet another “final chance” to raise, and expedite, global ambitions and actions – particularly around issues of funding and financing.

Here are some of the key focus areas and discussion points at this year’s forum (Spoiler alert: very few of these discussion or action targets will be met).

Meeting the target of limiting heating to 1.5C

At last year’s Cop26 in Glasgow, countries agreed to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The proposed pledges on emissions cuts were nowhere near enough to meet this goal, however, so they agreed to return this year with strengthened commitments. Unfortunately, very few have done so, so it’s fair to say that there is almost zero chance of meeting the 1.5C goal. The UN estimates that this year’s improved plans that have been submitted will bring down temperatures by about 0.1C. – a positive baby step it must be said, but we are still heading for a disastrous 2.5C of heating on current policies.

Fulfilling promise of $100bn a year on climate finance

Since 2009, poor countries have been promised $100bn (£87bn) a year from 2020 to help them cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of extreme weather. This target has not come anywhere close to being met, and with socioeconomic difficulties at home for most Western countries it is hard to see how their priorities will ultimately shift as required. The claim that “there is no money” is hard to believe when considering the record profits being collected by the fossil fuel industry lately.

The rich (western, northern) world has caused the climate crisis, but the poor (southern, eastern) world – with tiny emissions in comparison – will be hit the hardest. The longer rich countries fail to fulfil their promises, the longer the developing world will have to fend for themselves, ultimately losing faith and trust in the very development partners that claim to care.

Adaptation Funding

Most climate finance is currently going to help middle income countries with mitigation projects to cut emissions, such as wind and solar farms. What is most needed, however, is help with ways to adapt to the extreme weather developing nations are already seeing, such as regrowing forests, building flood barriers and putting in place early warning systems. Only about a fifth of climate finance is currently for adaptation, and nations promised last year to double that.

The Egyptian Cop27 presidency launched an action plan for adaptation as a key focus of its first week, so it definitely looks like there will be significant progress – but the main target of doubling adaptation finance will not, however, be met yet this year.

Loss and damage

One of the biggest issues at Cop27 is loss and damage. This term (perhaps more palatable to the developed world than reparations) refers to the moral and empirical need for those that caused the most damage historically to help those that stand to be the worst affected. The global south needs urgent, radical help with the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis. Examples include the record droughts threatening nearly 150 million people with severe hunger in Africa, and the record floods that hit Pakistan this September. Poor countries say they need funding for rescue and reconstruction when such disasters strike, but rich countries have so far been reluctant to come up with any way of funding this (with Scotland and Denmark being lone examples).

Loss and damage is firmly on the official agenda for this conference, but it will not be settled here unfortunately. Countries have only embarked on the process of setting out what loss and damage means and how help for poor countries can be structured. While a few countries have come up with funding, discussions on how to find the hundreds of billions needed will carry on long after delegates leave Egypt.