Negotiations at the 27th Conference of the Parties on climate change in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt have extended two extra days (to Sunday 20 November) as officials desperately tried to broker an agreement. Contention centred on three connected fronts – developed nations pledging ‘loss and damages’ for developing nations, developing nations in turn making more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets, and the language used around fossil fuels, Russia and Saudi Arabia in particular hesitant to commit to a phasing down or out of oil and gas.
Some of what came out of COP27 has been:
- A fund for loss and damages was agreed, though details will have to be finalised at the next COP, in the United Arab Emirates next year. This is nevertheless a significant step, as it has been a central demand of developing nations, who see the issue as one of justice – developed nations have by far contributed the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions since pre-industrial times, while developing nations (along with others) are bearing the brunt of the impacts from climate change, typically having less capacity to deal with adverse impacts. The EU, UK and USA (which began the summit rejecting the prospect of such a fund) relented on the final weekend, though remained concerned that financially powerful countries, such as China, might be the recipient of funds.
- Richer nations seeming to have failed to secure commitments from developing nations to set more ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emissions targets, though COP28 may feature them. There was no update on the ‘cover text’ regarding the ambition to keep the global average surface temperature rise to 1.5oC.
- A proposal, led by India and supported by many other nations, to extend COP26’s commitment to ‘phase down’ the use of coal to also include phasing down oil and gas was defeated, leaving the language around fossil fuels the same. Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s chief climate negotiator, said that the “deal is not enough” on cutting emissions, saying that negotiators had “fallen short”.
- The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership was launched, a follow-on from the commitment made by 140 countries at COP26 in Glasgow to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030. This aims not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use change, but also help increase forestry as a carbon sink – a measure that will help many countries and companies reach their net-zero targets, by accounting for ‘residual’ emissions. (If done properly, reforestation and afforestation will also help the second of the United Nations Environment Programme’s three planetary crises, that of biodiversity loss.) By 14 November, 27 countries, accounting for two-thirds of global GDP and one-third of the world’s forests, had joined the Partnership. Separately, the Forest Data Partnership “launched a call to action for companies, public institutions and NGOs to join forces in catalysing and operationalising better data on the world’s land and forests.” Meanwhile, Brazilian president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pledged to end deforestation of the Amazon.
- A new five-year work programme was agreed for promoting climate technology support to developing countries. This includes participation in technical events, a joint monitoring and evaluation system, exchange of technical data and information, the creation of technology roadmaps, and assistance with digitisation.
- Fifty more countries signing up to the Global Methane Pledge, meaning that 150 have now joined. The pledge aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. China and India, the two largest national emitters of methane, have not joined the pledge, although China’s top climate negotiator attended a ministerial meeting; neither has Russia, another major contributor.
- While not strictly related to combustion, an interesting development was also the support from finance groups such as the World Bank, Africa Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund for ‘debt-for-nature’ type deals, where countries are able to refinance some of their debts at lower rates provided they protect sites of high biodiversity within their countries. As an example, Ecuador has been negotiating such a deal involving the Galapagos Islands recently.
- For the first time, oil and gas industry representatives were invited to official events at the summit with more than 600 attending. This is a 25% increase in numbers from the Glasgow summit in 2021, where oil and gas representatives attended side events. Saudi Arabian minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir told the Financial Times that the 1.5oC target was achievable, but that “we don’t see this as a discussion about fossil fuels.” He also told journalists that it is possible to “achieve carbon neutrality while producing fossil fuels, and we’re proving it in Saudi Arabia”. Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said that tree planting, carbon capture and storage, blue hydrogen and a “circular carbon economy” are components of such carbon neutrality. It is true that they can be if there is enormous change to existing and new assets, but the presence of the oil and gas industry was controversial.
After two weeks of frenetic activity, the participation of around 200 countries and compromise by seemingly every nation on the issues they most valued, COP27 can be seen as a mixed success. The loss and damages component is a major breakthrough amongst smaller steps forward, although the lack of strengthening of targets is a significant failure.