After the hype and glitz around COP26 at Glasgow, (and despite the failure of COP 26 to achieve anything of substance), COP27 at Sharm-el-Sheikh seems to have been a disappointment from the start. From worries about the COP27 app, through claims of extortionate accommodation costs, from fears regarding human rights to the absence of Greta Thunberg due to greenwashing claims, there wasn’t much of a party vibe.
And so it proved. After the now almost obligatory over-running into “time added on”, there was some brief exultation regarding apparent acceptance of the need for a “loss and damage” fund, despite the lack of logic surrounding this concept. The running coverage on the BBC website had the headline “Historic deal struck to help the countries worst-hit by climate change”, and the Guardian/Observer website said something very similar. But criticism of Egypt rumbles on, with the same website on the same day saying “Cop27 backfires for Egypt as signs of repression mar attempt to bolster image”. And a later BBC article now bears the more downbeat heading “COP27: Climate costs deal struck but no fossil fuel progress”.
Whereas COP26 in Glasgow endowed to the world a document called the Glasgow Climate Pact, COP27 seems to have bequeathed us something much more low-key. I have lazily searched the websites of the BBC and the Guardian for a quick link to the “historic deal” they celebrate, but in vain. Thus I have turned to the websites of the United Nations and COP27, but there I have discovered nothing so simple and all-embracing as the Glasgow Climate Pact. Instead, there are numerous documents (many of which seem to amount to agreements to keep on talking next year), but the key one (if something so anodyne and non-productive can be so described) seems to be the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan).
The introductory section comprises nothing more than platitudes (what lawyers might call recitals to an agreement) and does a lot of noting or also noting (four times); reaffirming or also reaffirming (twice); recognizing or also recognizing (twice); acknowledging or acknowledges (twice); and one each for recalling, guided by, emphasizing, underlines and stresses.
Then we reach what might ordinarily be described as the meat of the document, except that in this case it comprises thin gruel.
Science and urgency
There’s lots of stuff here about the importance of science, and (as regards the magic 1.5 °C that has exercised so many people) we get this:
Reiterates that the impact of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5C compared with 2C and resolves to pursue further efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.
Then there’s something about tipping points, but this section involves no obligation on any of the parties to do anything.
Enhancing ambition and implementation
This is short and to the point. There’s a resolution:
to implement ambitious, just, equitable and inclusive transitions to low-emission and climate-resilient development in line with the principles and objectives of the Convention [and subsequent Protocols, Pacts, Agreements, etc.]
There’s a thank you to the Heads of State and Government who participated in the Implementation Summit, and that’s it. Again, no actual obligation on anyone to do anything.
There’s a lot of stress here and no action (or certainly no compulsion). Three paragraphs emphasise the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, recognise that there’s an unprecedented global energy crisis (and goes on to draw the Quixotic conclusion that the answer to it is “to rapidly transform energy systems to be more secure, reliable, and resilient, including by accelerating clean and just transitions to renewable energy” during what they now say is a critical decade of action). They don’t say what that decade is (The 2020s? Ten years starting from now?). However, it’s a huge relief after all those years of telling us that we just have weeks, months or a few years to save the planet, to learn that we apparently still have up to ten years left. Finally there’s some guff that translates, I think, as to saying that how this is to be done depends on national circumstances (thus continuing to differentiate between what developed and developing countries are expected to do – so it’s perhaps not so urgent after all) and a recognition of the need for support for “just transitions” (i.e. another statement that developed countries should help developing countries to fund all this).
There are six paragraphs in this section. We are told that if we are to hit the magical limit of 1.5°C, then “rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions of 43 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2019 level” are needed. Then there’s some more stuff emphasising that it’s a critical decade, but basically letting developing countries off the hook with regard to doing much (references to equity, and “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”). This language is familiar to anyone who has kept up with the various Agreements hammered out at COPs over the years. The developing countries are hanging on tenaciously to their right to be helped and not to have to take the issue as seriously as developed countries.
There is a call to accelerate development “to transition towards low-emission energy systems…including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.” Of course, this represents no movement from the point reached at Glasgow (which was lame enough) and doesn’t actually oblige anyone to do anything.
Parties are again invited to consider further actions to reduce non carbon dioxide greenhouse gases such as methane by 2030. Which is nice. Very genteel. No stress. And there are some fine words about nature and ecosystems.
Now things get serious (only joking). There’s a lot of urging, emphasising and noting with serious concern, and a request for developed countries to contribute more dosh, but as is by now the way of things with this “historic agreement”, there’s no obligation on anybody to do anything.
Loss and damage
Here we go – the biggy, the one that has got the BBC and the Guardian so excited. But is there really anything to get excited about? In short – no.
This section consists of four paragraphs. The first notes with grave concern:
the growing gravity, scope and frequency in all regions of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, resulting in devastating economic and non-economic losses, including forced displacement and impacts on cultural heritage, human mobility and the lives and livelihoods of local communities, and underlines the importance of an adequate and effective response to loss and damage;
The second expresses deep concern (is there a difference between grave and deep in the concern stakes, I wonder?) regarding the significant financial costs here.
The third welcomes:
the consideration, for the first time, of matters relating to funding arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including a focus on addressing loss and damage
The fourth paragraph welcomes:
the adoption of decisions -/CP.27 and -/CMA.4, establishing the institutional arrangements of the Santiago network for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change to enable its full operationalization, including supporting its mandated role in catalysing technical assistance for the implementation of the relevant approaches at the local, national and regional level in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
Not knowing anything about the Santiago network, I decided to explore, and found a section on the UN website about it here. It doesn’t seem to oblige any country to pay any specific amount to any fund or to do anything in particular.
Early warning and systematic observation
There are just two paragraphs here. The first emphasises the need to address gaps in the global climate observing system, particularly in developing countries (one third of the world, and 60% of Africa, which also lack early warning systems). I found that more than a little interesting, as it highlights the gaps in our knowledge regarding climate over huge swathes of the world. Especially as it also emphasises the
need to enhance coordination of activities by the systematic observation community and the ability to provide useful and actionable climate information for mitigation, adaptation and early warning systems, as well as information to enable understanding of adaptation limits and of attribution of extreme events.
I can only repeat that this seems to contain an implicit acceptance that we don’t know as much about the climate as we (or they, anyway) think that we do.
The second paragraph reiterates the aim “to protect everyone on Earth through universal coverage of early warning systems against extreme weather and climate change within the next five years” and makes a plea for money to enable this to happen (while not obliging anyone to cough up the necessary sums).
Implementation – pathways to just transition
Just two paragraphs again in this section. The first starts with a platitude (“sustainable and just solutions to the climate crisis must be founded on meaningful and effective social dialogue and participation of all stakeholders”) and goes on to make a dubious claim which is obviously an article of faith to those gathered to listen to the sermonising:
the global transition to low emissions provides opportunities and challenges for sustainable economic development and poverty eradication
The second paragraph contains more platitudes, along the “just and equitable” and “social solidarity” lines.
As might be expected with regard to such an important topic, this section runs to eleven paragraphs. Some are quite enlightening, especially the first (and you won’t hear this being emphasised too much in the mainstream media, I suspect):
about USD 4 trillion per year needs to be invested in renewable energy up until 2030 to be able to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and that, furthermore, a global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investment of at least USD 4-6 trillion per year;
The second paragraph is pretty eye-catching too:
delivering such funding will require a transformation of the financial system and its structures and processes, engaging governments, central banks, commercial banks, institutional investors and other financial actors.
Then there’s a bit of realism (expressed in the agreement as “concern”) regarding the growing gap between the needs of developing countries and the funds actually being made available to them – a shortfall of $5.8-5.9 trillion for the pre-2030 period alone, we are told. Even more realism (expressed as “serious concern”) follows in the next paragraph, regarding the fact that the much-lauded $100billion p.a. under the Paris Agreement that was supposed to be forthcoming by 2020 for mitigation action still hasn’t been met. Developed countries are urged to cough up (but, of course, are not obliged to do so).
The rest emphasises that accelerated funding is required, that flows to date have been smaller than required (at around the 31-32 per cent level, apparently), urges developed countries to provide enhanced support, urges shareholders of multilateral development banks and financial institutions to step up to the plate, calls on multilateral development banks to contribute more, emphasises ongoing challenges, and urges developed countries to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. Only if you want to, you understand – no obligation, of course.
Technology transfer and development
Some nice words here about “the first joint work programme of the Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network, for 2023–2027, which will facilitate the transformational change needed to achieve the goals of the Convention and the Paris Agreement” and an invitation to parties and stakeholders to co-operate with them.
It is noted that developing countries have capacity gaps and needs, and calls on developed countries to provide support.
A short paragraph about “the importance of the periodic review of the long-term global goal under the Convention”.
Ocean, Forest, Agriculture
The three following sections (under each of the above headings) seem to appear for the sake of completeness and good-housekeeping. There’s a lot of welcoming, encouraging and recalling, but no obliging or insisting.
Enhancing implementation: action by non-Party stakeholders
Basically a high five to the 30,000 hangers on who joined the party.
And that’s it.
I’m pretty sure that the hype surrounding COP27 was most certainly not justified. I’m somewhat mystified as to why it took so long to agree to something so meaningless. Perhaps some people were hanging on in the hope that something meaningful might be agreed, but gave up when they realised that wasn’t going to be the case.
Oh well, here’s to the party at Dubai next year.