COP27 Preview: Crunch Time in the Desert

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – The 27th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP27) begins on 6 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.  With just a few days to go before this crucial global event, NordSIP highlights some of the key themes being pushed to the top of the agenda.

    Are we already giving up on mitigation?

    Perhaps not entirely, but following the recent publication of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2022, which stated that there is “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place” under current international pledges, the emphasis for COP27 has shifted somewhat towards adaptation and resilience measures.

    This also shines a light on a major North / South bone of contention: the “loss and damage” debate.  COP27 will take place on the African continent, which accounts for less than 3% of historic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but stands to suffer the greatest negative impacts of climate change, along with other countries in the developing world.  The “loss and damage” in question is expected to result from climate change impacts that are already locked in and therefore cannot be mitigated or reversed.  There are also limits to what adaptation and resilience measures can achieve, beyond which inevitable damage and costs will occur.  The argument centres around the global South’s belief that in the interests of climate justice there should be concrete mechanisms in place to financially compensate the worst affected regions, financed by the global North, whose wealth was largely accumulated thanks to extensive use of fossil fuels and vast historic GHG emissions.

    Speaking to the BBC on November 2, 2002, Professor Klaus Dodds from the School of Life Sciences and Environment, Royal Holloway University of London said that COP27 will have to prioritise climate justice: “we can’t talk about climate change without talking about just transitions.  You can’t pretend that we’re all in it together.  Some countries, communities and individuals will have far greater capacity to adapt and mitigate than others.”

    Climate finance: show me the money!

    Professor Dodds also believes climate finance will play a central role at COP27.  The relatively low amount of USD 100 billion that was jointly promised as an annual contribution by wealthy nations at COP15 in 2009 was supposed to have been reached by 2020.  Progress has been slow, and the latest estimates show a shortfall of over 20%.  Professor Dodds believes that “there is a kind of carbon colonialism going on, where we try to outsource carbon or try to pretend it is someone else’s responsibility rather than our own, by which I mean the key contributors to this problem which are Europe and North America historically, but increasingly China, India and Russia.”

    Aside from the contentious “loss and damage” debate, there remains a large overall global climate-related funding gap.  According to the CDP, “for financial institutions alone, the opportunities of financing the transition to a low carbon, deforestation free, water secure future amount to some US$2.9 trillion.”  COP27 will focus on reporting and regulatory frameworks that can help facilitate the enormous flows of public and especially private capital that are still urgently needed.

    The energy crisis reframing the climate debate

    While the war in Ukraine has compelled some governments to rekindle environmentally detrimental fossil fuel projects in the short-term, there could be a silver lining in the form of a renewed focus on medium to long-term energy security via increased investment in renewables.  Reframing the approach to the climate crisis towards the pragmatic goal of energy independence and self-sufficiency could help overcome some of the “business-as-usual” approaches that have so far slowed down decarbonisation efforts in certain jurisdictions.  COP27 can help accelerate the transition of high emitting industries like concrete, metals, chemicals and transport, which account for roughly a third of GHG emissions.

    The convergence of nature and climate initiatives

    Ahead of the biodiversity-focused COP15 that will take place in Montreal, Canada from 7 to 19 December 2022, nature is also expected to feature highly on the COP27 agenda.  Natural environments are a powerful and essential carbon sink, and any climate change goals are inextricably linked with factors such as deforestation and the broader protection and restoration of land-based and maritime ecosystems.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that around a quarter of global GHG emissions are linked to land use.  COP27 will have a dedicated Nature Zone, in which further work will be expected towards the necessary convergence of the climate and biodiversity agendas.

    This increased focus on biodiversity is part of a more holistic approach to the climate crisis that many are advocating.  Food waste and plastic pollution are also crises that should be urgently addressed at COP27, the latter issue already giving rise to questions about the organisers’ controversial choice of sponsors.

    COP27 RSVP list includes some notable absentees

    In the words of Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, “a successful COP27 will take leadership.  It will take courage.  It will take boldness.  It will take leaders.  Let them understand that they are leading not just their nations, but they are leading a generation that has to essentially save and secure the long-term sustainability of planet Earth.”  With world leaders such as US President Joe Biden and France’s President Emmanuel Macron already committed to attending, it was disappointing to see new UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stating that he was too busy to go to COP27.  Having already demoted COP26 President Alok Sharma and Climate Minister Graham Stuart from his cabinet, this did not bode well for a major G7 economy that had already failed to pay up on prior climate-related financial commitments and been successfully sued for breaching its own Climate Change Act.

    On 2 November, Sunak succumbed to widespread pressure and criticism – and possibly the announcement by his political rival Boris Johnson that he would attend – and reversed his earlier decision.  Nevertheless, serious doubts will remain regarding Sunak’s genuine environmental priorities and relationship with the fossil fuel industry.  The UK’s King Charles III, a longstanding environmental campaigner, was also told by the government not to travel to Egypt.  Not be outdone, the King announced he would be hosting 200 business leaders, politicians and campaigners for a pre-COP27 reception at Buckingham Palace.  Finally, high-profile climate campaigner Greta Thunberg is boycotting the conference, describing it as “an opportunity for greenwashing, lying and cheating.”  She also objects to the host country’s human rights record.

    Top level representation from the world’s highest GHG emitters is poor.  Russian leader Vladimir Putin will not travel to Egypt, although Russian delegates are expected to attend the conference.  It also appears that neither China’s Xi Jinping nor India’s Narendra Modi will be at COP27.  Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declined, claiming that he is too busy.  Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who has overseen the worst emissions reduction record of any G7 country, is also not travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh.  One can only hope that despite their absence these leaders will at least make sure that their nations are represented by properly qualified delegates that have the power and ability to make meaningful decisions and contributions to the final outcome of COP27.

    Free speech and human rights concerns about the host country

    Egypt’s poor human rights and free speech record was cited as one of the reasons for Greta Thunberg’s boycott of COP27.  Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and climate activists are also worried that Egypt does not generally allow public demonstrations.  Sharm el-Sheikh is also quite inaccessible, with the sea on one side and a concrete wall towards the desert on the other.  The organisers have spoken of keeping demonstrations to specific areas, possibly well away from the main conference venue.  In the words of a group of experts convened by the UN Human Rights Council, “arrests and detention, NGO asset freezes and dissolutions and travel restrictions against human rights defenders have created a climate of fear for Egyptian civil society organisations to engage visibly at the COP27.”

    Twelve Egypt focused NGOs have taken the opportunity to put pressure on the local government via a petition under the banner of “No climate justice without open civic space.”  A large group of NGOs has also signed an open letter on the subject to the Egyptian government, with a particular focus on the imprisonment of British-Egyptian activist and writer Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has been on hunger strike for over 100 days.

    Egypt also has a patchy track record in terms of climate targets and commitments, having only belatedly updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which remains sorely lacking in transparency and content.  The country is rated “Highly Insufficient” on Climate Action Tracker.  Nevertheless, the fact that COP27 is taking place on the African continent is seen as positive by developing nations, and one can hope that the Egyptian government will be spurred on to make concrete climate commitments when under global scrutiny as COP27 host.

    NordSIP will be providing regular progress updates on COP27 once the event begins on Sunday 6 November.

    Image courtesy of Koko Sdcsdc from Pixabay
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard has over 30 years’ experience in the international investment industry. He has worked closely with major Nordic investors on consultancy projects, focusing on the evaluation of external asset managers. While doing so, Richard built up a strong practical understanding of the challenges faced by institutional investors seeking to integrate ESG into their portfolios. Richard has an MA degree in Management and Spanish from St Andrews University, and sustainability qualifications from Cambridge University, PRI and the CFA Institute.

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