It has been a tumultuous 12 months since the last summit, Cop26, in Glasgow. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to global energy shortfalls, triggering cost of living crises in rich countries and leaving some poorer nations on the brink of famine.
There has also been a wave of disasters triggered by the climate crisis – from devastating flooding in Pakistan and western and central Africa, to wildfires and deadly heatwaves across Europe, and Hurricane Ian’s decimation of Florida. A deluge of new scientific reports warn that the world remains far off-track in preventing further dangerous temperature rise.
Cop27 needs to be a “down payment” for climate solutions, says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, but can it live up to what’s needed? Here’s five things to watch out for at the summit.
Where the rubber hits the road
At the Egypt summit, the watchword will be “implementation”.
“The purpose of it is to make sure the promises that were made in Glasgow are actually being pursued at the pace they need to be pursued,” US special climate envoy John Kerry noted last week.
Focus will be on the so-called “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) – each country’s emissions-reduction plan that goes towards cutting the global carbon footprint by 45 per cent by 2030, and reaching net zero by 2050.
At Cop26, countries committed to coming to Sharm el-Sheikh with more ambitious targets for this decade – necessary if there’s a chance of meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5C or “well below” 2C.
Yet, only 24 out of 194 countries have submitted new or updated NDCs since the Glasgow summit – totalling a cut of less than 1 per cent of projected global emissions in 2030, the UN Environment Programme reported last week.
There will also be discussions on how countries should be measuring emissions to ensure a level playing field, the UN said this week. These will need to be hammered out before Cop28 which will see the first Global Stocktake of how far the world has come in achieving its climate goals.
Show me the money
Climate change is wreaking havoc across the Global South – often in places which have contributed little to global warming, and are least able to cope with its fallout. It has led to intensifying calls from poorer countries to richer nations for financial support to help them cope.
Take Pakistan, for example. Climate change played a role in this summer’s devastating flooding which impacted 33 million people and caused an estimated $40bn in damage. However, historically the country has contributed just 0.4 per cent of the fossil fuel pollution causing the climate crisis, compared to 21.5 per cent for the US, 16.5 per cent for China and 15 per cent for the European Union.
Conversations about money will center around a few major issues. Firstly, there’s the “Green Climate Fund”. Rich countries had pledged to begin providing an annual $100bn to poorer nations by 2020 but that target has been missed (it’s at around $83bn).
Also expect to hear vociferous calls for “loss and damage” (L&D). In UN-speak, that term refers to the consequences of the climate crisis that go beyond what people can adapt to.
By 2030, the economic cost of L&D is estimated anywhere from $290-$580bn in developing countries, according to the climate non-profit, The Heinrich Boell Foundation. By 2050, the cost is estimated at $1-1.8trillion.
The Alliance of Small Island States – a group of countries vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme storms – will propose a “response fund” for climate victims, Climate Home News reported.
However, while rich countries are increasingly acknowledging the importance of dealing with loss and damage, they will likely pushback hard on talk of legal liability.
Africa, front and center
This is an African Cop and will put the continent, and particularly host nation Egypt, in the spotlight.
Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change, and the least resilent in recovery, all while only being responsible for only 2-3 per cent of global emissions.
African leaders have called for more loss and damage funding but also want developed nations to collectively double the money that goes towards to helping them adapt to climate change already taking place by 2025.
More than 600 million Africans still live without electricity and focus will be on how to close that gap - but by “leap-frogging” fossil fuels in favor of clean and renewable energies.
1.5C.... still alive?
Expect a lot of talk about 1.5 degrees Celsius – the warming limit that was established by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The planet has warmed around 1.2C in the past 150 years, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels.
The Glasgow Climate Pact focused on keeping that target alive – but “with a weak pulse”, as the UK President, MP Alok Sharma, described it at the time. If the Glasgow commitments were all achieved, then the global temperature could be held at 1.8C, the influential International Energy Agency (IEA) subsequently revealed.
However last week, a series of damning reports found that countries’ current combined pledges put the planet on a crash course for 2.5C warming, and there is currently “no credible” pathway in place to rein in global temperature rise to 1.5C.
“We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN’s Environment Program. “Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.”
The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dominated global conversations since March with the climate crisis taking somewhat of a backseat as national governments focus on soaring inflation, rising costs and making sure there’s enough fuel reserves to get through the winter.
First the bad news. As Europe particularly has focused on replacing its reliance on Russian gas, there has been a backslide into using coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. This has been most notable in Germany but it’s not the only place. Global emissions overall are likely to rise once again this year - albeit more slowly than in the past.
But the Ukraine war could signal the turning point towards clean, renewable energy in the medium to long-term after the IEA recently found that the global demand for fossil fuels is set to peak or plateau in the coming decades.
The agency found that coal use will decline in the next few years and natural gas demand will also reach a plateau by 2030. Increased numbers of electric vehicles will also mean that the need for oil will level off in the mid-2030s.
“Energy markets and policies have changed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, not just for the time being, but for decades to come,” said the IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol.
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