"Half of the global population are ‘highly vulnerable’ to the impacts of climate change."
Over the last fortnight, we were following the developments of the annual Climate Conference COP27 which was hosted in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Here we've provided a simple explanation of why COP27 is so unique and important, what we can draw from the conclusions of the event and how you and I can help to flatten the curve of the rising average climate temperature.
A background to COP and what makes COP27 so significant.
Upon opening the event, the UN secretary general Guterres said that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator” and urged world leaders to “cooperate or perish”. This daunting statement set the scene for a conference which defines the action the world takes next, to meet the 1.5℃ target.
As legally agreed in 2015 at the Paris conference, almost all countries in the world agree to keep the rise in average global temperatures below 2℃, ideally 1.5℃. The Paris agreement takes a bottom-up approach, where countries can dictate how they strive to keep to this pact. However, it is proven that today in 2022, we are not on track for this 1.5℃ rise, in fact we are reaching a much greater climate temperature increase, which would be catastrophic and irreversible. The countries that would feel the impacts of this are countries mainly in the Global South who are very low emitters.
The event that Greta Thunburg did not attend and labelled as a forum for “greenwashing” is unique in that it was nicknamed ‘Africa’s COP’.
It was hoped that COP27 would cast a light on the burden that the Global South carries from the world’s leading emitting countries and companies. This event gave a platform to countries in the Global South to highlight the injustices of climate change. COP27’s agenda included opportunities for these countries to be heard and to ask for what they need which in short, is the promise of a ‘Loss and Damage’ fund.
Loss and Damage reparations were a leading discussion point this year and an extremely prickly topic at that. The ‘Loss and Damage’ initiative is dedicated funding to countries that have been hit or are at risk of being hit by climate change disasters that they can't avoid and can’t respond to. Although several countries including the UK were opposed to this being at the top of the agenda due to the potential risks of ‘signing a blank cheque’.
Countries such as Barbados, the Maldives and even China campaigned to claim Loss and Damage reparations, although this stirred up the conservation, and perhaps explains some countries’ reluctance to contribute, as many believe that China, as the world’s leading emitting country, should be paying into the fund, not receiving it.
It was unclear until the final hours of the conference whether the Global South's wishes were to be granted.
What else happened at COP27?
As the event played out, huge emphasis was placed on the ‘language’ used in clauses, which can be argued as a way of richer and highly polluting countries avoiding targets and clauses that they had already agreed to. There is a great deal of pressure on countries such as Australia, India and China (huge coal producers) to use more specific language and targets, particularly when relating to coal; who would prefer to use the term ‘fossil fuels’.
Other controversy at the event spanned to the food being served, with animal activism group Animal Rebellion, stating that the beef and creamy salmon being served to VIPs is a “slap in the face”. It is understandable that activists should feel this way, with expectations that leaders should ‘lead by example’.
Conclusions drawn from COP27
Negotiations that lasted 36 hours after the event was meant to draw to a close, concluded in a major Loss and Damage agreement. The Loss and Damage agreement is the most momentous decision reached at COP27 and it is a hugely notable win where the world is finally acknowledging the victims of the climate crisis. This is the first step in achieving climate justice.
Until the final hour, rich countries continued to dispute the language and terminology of clauses and agreements decided in previous conferences and in the Loss and Damage discussions. Nevertheless, this monumental agreement was reached. In UN secretary general Guterres’ closing speech, he said “clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust. The voices of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be heard”.
What can we do?
It is difficult to know how, on a micro level, we can make a difference in curbing the increase in global average temperatures. However, we think these are the most important:
What happens next?
There is a great deal of work to be done by every nation and every person in meeting the 1.5℃ average global climate increase, agreed at the Paris conference and last years COP26 in Glasgow. In terms of mitigation, countries must strive everyday to reduce their emissions, and in terms of compensation, the Loss and Damage fund is a huge step towards climate justice for those low emitting countries who suffer greatest from the impacts of climate change. It is very poignant that this year's COP was hosted in Africa.