COP27 Heads into Final Stretch with Critical Issues Still in the Balance

November 16, 2022 | 5:03 pm
UN/Kiara Worth CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

It’s the middle of the final week of COP27 and this is when everything goes into high gear. Many critical issues still hang in the balance—including whether and under what conditions the United States will agree to fund climate loss and damage. Such a fund is a litmus test for the success of this COP. Agreements on other important issues are also being worked on, including greater ambition on mitigation, adaptation and climate finance.

The G20 talks that just concluded in Bali also reverberated here.  Needless to say, everyone here, including the host country Presidency, country negotiators and ministers, civil society representatives, the press, and the many UN and Egyptian staff, are working long hours. I am feeling anxious but also pushing as hard as I can for hopeful outcomes, together with many partners from around the world.

Here’s the latest state of play—but stay tuned because a lot can change quickly in these final days!

Loss and Damage is the burning issue at COP27

It has been so heartening to see that addressing climate loss and damage is THE big issue at this COP, thanks to the efforts of low-and middle-income climate-vulnerable countries and climate justice advocates especially from the Global South. The issue is getting a lot of media attention too, rightly so.

However, within the negotiations, we are still at an impasse, with a strong outcome in question. The United States came into this COP supportive of an agenda item on loss and damage. So far, however, it has refused to support the robust outcome that developing nations (using the terminology of the UNFCCC for low- and middle-income countries) are calling for, i.e., the creation of a fund with new and additional finance for loss and damage here at COP27.  Thus far, the US has only indicated support for a two-year process for broad discussions on financial arrangements for loss and damage with an uncertain outcome in 2024.

In a major shift today, European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans has indicated that the EU is open to a fund for loss and damage! This now puts increased pressure on the US to come to an agreement. New Zealand had earlier also indicated support for a fund.

In a news story yesterday, the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), which includes some of the most climate-vulnerable nations in the world, declared that securing a fund here is essential for them. They called it a ‘red line’ and that they might even consider walking away from COP27 without an overall agreement if this loss and damage fund is not part of it.

“We are not going to move away from that position—there must be a special fund to address the issue of loss and damage,” said Minister Molwyn Joseph of Antigua and Barbuda, the chair of the AOSIS group. This morning he released a statement saying “A failure on loss and damage is a failure for the world.”

Earlier this week, the co-facilitators for the Loss and Damage negotiations released an ‘elements’ paper which lists a range of options for a potential agreement. There are two widely divergent options on loss and damage: one that secures a fund or facility and one that does not. The group of countries that negotiate as a block called G77+China put out their own proposal which includes a strong vision for a fund for loss and damage under the financial mechanism of the Convention. Despite the range of individual circumstances represented in this group, it has maintained strong public unity on this issue here at COP27.

As the world’s richest country—and largest historic emitter—the US has a unique responsibility in these talks. The US could do a world of good by coming out in favor of the creation of a fund here at COP27, with the operational details to be worked out within two years. That doesn’t require any new appropriation or any action from Congress right now—it’s a decision that the Biden administration can make right here at COP27. And it also doesn’t require any admission of liability—language that the US has already secured.

Sunrise in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Rachel Cleetus

Securing ambitious mitigation outcomes at COP27

As always, sharp cuts in heat-trapping emissions are a core priority for global climate action, and to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Within the negotiations, there are ongoing talks on a Mitigation Work Program aimed at getting countries to agree to increase the ambition of their emissions reduction pledges (so-called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) and close the hugely concerning emissions gap within this decade.

For success at Sharm El-Sheikh, all nations must reaffirm their commitment to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, including aiming to keep the global average temperature rise to 1.5˚C. Building on the Glasgow Pact, they must also agree to strong language on an equitable and rapid phase down of all fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas. The science is clear that the huge buildout of fossil fuels happening right now is completely at odds with climate goals. We have to address this danger quickly or we risk blowing past 1.5˚C and even 2˚C. Providing climate finance for poorer nations to also make a rapid clean energy transition and close the energy poverty gap many face is also critical.

Unlocking progress on adaptation

Unfortunately, negotiations on adaptation seem to have stalled, especially because of resistance from rich countries on issues related to adaptation finance. This has long been a seriously underfunded aspect of climate finance, relative to finance to cut emissions, aka mitigation (and the overall pot of climate finance is of course too small anyway). It’s critical to make progress here on acknowledging and responding to the scale of the needs on adaptation finance, and not to set it up at loggerheads with funding for climate loss and damage (which refers to those extreme climate impacts and slow-onset disasters that are beyond the bounds of ordinary adaptation measures).

At COP27, we need a clear decision that calls for ramped-up, grant-based funding from richer countries for climate adaptation in low- and middle-income countries, and ensure that the funding flows are easily accessible to countries that need it most. Many countries have put forward National Adaptation Plans that now need financial support to be implemented in ways that protect people, economies and ecosystems.

Scaling up climate finance

This is a perennial challenge at these climate talks, because rich nations have largely failed to meet their existing obligations on climate finance, even as the challenges in poorer nations are getting more acute. Scaled up public, grants-based funding for mitigation and adaptation is urgently needed.

Complementary pathways are also essential (though not a substitute for public finance). That includes reforms of multilateral development banks like the IMF and the World Bank to make their mandates and lending practices more aligned with climate change while unlocking trillions in much-needed financial resources.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados has been a powerful advocate of these reforms through her Bridgetown Initiative, which is gaining increasing support here at COP27. In a powerful speech at COP27, she said: “We were the ones whose blood, sweat and tears financed the industrial revolution. Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution? That is fundamentally unfair.”

Last year President Biden promised $11.4 billion in climate finance by 2024 (a relatively small amount compared with the overall size of the US budget and the scale of the urgent needs in many poorer nations). So far, Congress has not appropriated anything close to that. As the richest nation and the biggest contributor to cumulative heat-trapping emissions, surely we can do more and do better. This should start with the current Congress taking action immediately in the upcoming budget cycle.

On Civil Society and Energy Day at COP27, activists protest against oil and gas exploration in Africa. UN News/Laura Quiñones

Crunch time at COP27

There are so many amazing things happening here are COP, including powerful public demonstrations at the venue and incredible side events at the Climate Justice Pavilion. Together with inspiring climate justice advocates from all over the world, the UCS team is participating in many of these events, and we look forward to sharing more stories in our blog series on COP27.

Over the last two weeks, US leaders have been showing their support for the climate talks at COP27, including a speech from President Biden, a visit from a Congressional delegation including Speaker Pelosi, and trips by several members of the Biden administration. Through it all, Special Envoy John Kerry, a veteran diplomat and climate advocate has also been a constant and tireless presence. The US delegation is hard at work alongside negotiators from all over the world. One important development has been the resumption of direct talks between the US and China here at COP as a result of a cautiously positive meeting between President Biden and President Xi Jinping at the G20 talks in Bali.

But now it’s crunch time for the negotiations and the US must step up. UCS is part of a global coalition fighting hard for a Sharm El-Sheikh climate agreement that is aligned with science and justice. We are pushing for clarity and flexibility, including from the United States and the EU nations, to get to the best possible outcome for the world. The United States can and must do much more on the world stage to live up to our responsibilities on climate action. We hope to see the Biden administration seize that opportunity quickly as the clock runs down for COP27.