Institute Insights: What Happened at COP27?

“We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible…We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator…Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact – or a collective suicide pact.”

COP27 opened with a stark warning from António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations. His words emphasised the significance of the conference and the strong impetus on the attending nations to make good progress in agreeing to climate change targets that keep global warming under 1.5 degrees.

In this article, the Institute will provide a rundown of certain key dates throughout the two-week long conference and the key outcomes, both good and bad, as well as their significance in the fight to avert climate disaster.

The Lead Up to COP27

From the outset, COP27 was branded as the COP where implementation was key and the turning point where pledges were turned into action. After a year of global turmoil in which carbon emissions are expected to reach an all-time high[1], it was hoped that COP27 would provide much needed hope on the horizon.

The other main aim of the conference, as outlined by the COP Presidency, was finance in the form of climate aid. This would help developing countries progress towards decarbonisation targets at a similar rate as wealthier ones; as well as ‘loss and damage’ finance to help those countries most affected by climate change to rebuild.

However, from the start, the conference was also overshadowed by several significant issues and controversies, namely the incarceration and treatment of Alaa Abd el-Fattah by the Egyptian state. Activists and politicians were openly sceptical from the start that any significant progress would come of the conference.

As the conference comes to an end, the general consensus is that COP27 was disappointing; not enough was achieved and the target of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees is still at risk, now more than ever. However, progress was still made and a number of achievements, both small and momentous have emerged from the negotiations.


7th – 8th November: World Leader’s Summit

Over the first couple of days, the conference heard from numerous world leaders on their climate pledges and their intentions to achieve decarbonisation targets by 2030 and beyond. Many of the speeches placed an emphasis on financial reparations, with delegates from the Global South highlighting the terrible and disproportionate effects of climate change on their countries and the crucial need for the richest nations to provide funding and reparations for their part in worsening climate change. Macky Sall, President of Senegal and the African Union, emphasised this issue by stating, “Africa contributes just 4% of greenhouse emissions but is fighting to cope with climate change.”

A key phrase at the conference was ‘loss and damage,’ placing pressure on wealthy nations to admit to their role in climate change and contribute finances to the nations experiencing the worst consequences of this. In the early days of the conference, only small steps towards this were made and wealthy nations seemed very reluctant to negotiate.

It was reported that countries from the Global South may be able go through international courts in the future to receive the money promised, suggesting a real shift in attitude and a refusal to allow wealthier nations to avoid the issue any longer. With clear evidence to show that countries are still not delivering on the $100 billion per year climate aid promised by 2020[2], actions such as this seemed necessary to force their hand.

In the early days of the conference, Austria, Scotland, Belgium, Denmark and Germany all committed to providing their share of the required finance – specifically towards loss and damage – but at this point in the conference other large key players (such as the US) seemed absent from discussions. It wouldn’t be until the very last days that significant progress was made on this issue.

During the world leader’s summit, several governments including France and the UK made calls for the invasion of Ukraine not to impede climate action. In fact, several commentators argued how the invasion highlighted just how much we need to sever our reliance on fossil fuels. This was seen as a positive step, as many feared governments would use the invasion as an excuse not to meet their promised targets and explore further ways of sourcing reserves of fossil fuels to help the unfolding energy crisis.

Several further examples of promising action towards abandoning fossil fuels arose during these early days of the conference. For example, Tuvalu became the first country to use United Nations climate talks to demand an international fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, which would phase out the use of coal, oil and gas; and Norway and Egypt announced a plan to collaborate on a plant that uses solar energy to create hydrogen.

9th November: Finance

The entire conference focused heavily on finance, but the 9th was dedicated specifically to the topic.
Nevertheless, progress on this subject seemed slow at first, with little of great significance pledged this early on.

The UK announced they were already delivering on commitments of £11.6 billion for International Climate Finance and would triple adaptation funding from £500 million to £1.5 billion by 2025.[3]

Joe Biden promised several key initiatives including a pledge to provide $11 billion annually for climate change funding by 2024.[4]

Nevertheless, by this point in the conference, overall progress on climate finance seemed modest at best. It wouldn’t be until the very end of the conference that countries would pull together to achieve unprecedented change in this area.

11th November: Decarbonisation

The 11th was another key day for the conference, with high hopes that significant progress would be made on phasing out coal, oil and gas. However, the talks were somewhat overshadowed by the fact that huge numbers of fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance, reportedly 25% more than had attended COP26.[5] Despite this, several important initiatives were announced, and a speech from Joe Biden suggested ambitious plans from the United States to cut emissions.

The UK updated their “breakthrough agenda” (originally created at COP26) with 28 new priority actions. Under the original initiative, governments responsible for more than half of the global GDP launched a series of targets and measures to reduce carbon emissions from sectors including energy, road transport, steel and farming. The new priority actions, are specifically designed to provide measurable progress over the next year, in advance of COP28. One such action is to ensure that clean power is the most affordable and reliable option for all countries by 2030. [6]

Biden announced actions designed to significantly reduce methane emissions in the US. By dedicating $20 billion to the cause, they plan to see a reduction of 87% in methane levels by 2023. The plan outlined 50 separate actions designed to reduce methane emissions over a variety of sectors, including oil and gas, waste disposal and agriculture.[7]

In general, commentators have lamented the overall progress made on stepping away from fossil fuels during the two-week conference. However, the above does highlight some positive steps in the right direction, not just in terms of fossil fuels, but also other greenhouse gases.

15th November: Energy

By this point, the conference was well into its second week and worries were increasing over what it would inevitably accomplish. By Monday 14th, key figures such as previous COP President Alok Sharma, were beginning to warn that the target of 1.5 degrees was in significant danger if discussions did not speed up.[8] Furthermore, word spread that many countries were supporting a change in the wording of targets to keep global warming under two degrees.

In more positive news, the US and China agreed to enter into climate talks again with one another, after tension between the nations resulted in an extended breakdown of communication.

The most significant progress to come from talks on this day was news that a coalition of countries including the US and Japan, will mobilise $20 billion finance to help Indonesia shut coal power plants and bring forward their peak emissions date by seven years to 2030. [9] This news was particularly welcomed due to Indonesia’s ranking as the world’s 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter.

17th – 19th November: The Final Stretch

In the final days of the conference, discussions intensified significantly, after the first draft of the COP27 Agreement was published and it seemed the conference was set to achieve very little at all. This first draft made no reference to loss and damage funds and barely mentioned a requirement for countries to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

Negotiations were said to carry well into the morning on Saturday 19th but crucially, during these talks, unprecedented progress was made on the subject of loss and damage, when it was agreed that a global fund would be set up for this purpose.[10] This funding has been requested repeatedly by the affected countries for 30 years[11] and so this marked a significant shift in developed countries accepting their part in the adverse consequences of climate change.

Conclusions

Overall, it is difficult to argue that COP27 lived up to its ambitions as the COP of implementation. Real progress on dedicated efforts to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees, and to phase out the use of fossil fuels was severely lacking.

Nevertheless, it was not completely wasted; the creation of a loss and damage fund is likely to go down in history as a turning point in climate finance and acts as evidence that difficult decisions and compromises can me made for the good of the planet.

Once again, the conference served the purpose of bringing the world’s attention squarely back to climate change and brought world leaders together to face the issue head on. Whether this is enough to avert the disaster warned of by António Guterres at the start of the conference remains to be seen. However, his warning was not entirely pessimistic:

“The good news is that we know what to do and we have the financial and technological tools to get the job done.”

As a global team we now need to mobilise these tools as quickly as possible in order to avoid a climate catastrophe.


A highly trained global team will be required to mobilise existing tools in the fight against climate change; play your part by investing in your renewable energy knowledge today.

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[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/10/carbon-emissions-from-fossil-fuels-will-hit-record-high-in-2022-climate-crisis

[2] https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/rich-countries-failed-meet-their-climate-funding-goal-2022-07-29/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-steps-up-climate-finance-support-for-african-countries

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/11/11/biden-pledged-11-billion-international-climate-aid-can-congress-deliver/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/10/big-rise-in-number-of-fossil-fuel-lobbyists-at-cop27-climate-summit

[6] https://ukcop26.org/the-breakthrough-agenda

[7] https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/US-Methane-Emissions-Reduction-Action-Plan-Update.pdf

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/14/global-heating-temperature-rise-alok-sharma-cop27-climate-summit

[9] https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/coal/us-japan-and-partners-mobilise-20-billion-to-move-indonesia-away-from-coal-power

[10] https://unfccc.int/news/cop27-reaches-breakthrough-agreement-on-new-loss-and-damage-fund-for-vulnerable-countries

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/20/cop27-agrees-to-historic-loss-and-damage-fund-to-compensate-developing-countries-for-climate-impacts