Let’s talk about…COP27

COP27: Getting caught up in the politics and economics of climate action

Following some last-minute deals and frenzied negotiations, COP27, the 27th annual UN convention on climate change, has now concluded. This year’s conference took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with representatives from all around the word convening in the coastal city over the past two weeks in the hope of further tackling the climate crisis.

Undoubtedly the headline outcome of this year’s conference was the commitment to establishing a ‘loss and damage’ fund. This landmark agreement will see developed countries provide funding to poorer countries who’re stricken by climate-related disasters.

The significance of this fund should not be undersold; poorer countries have consistently suffered the brunt of the damage of the climate crisis, despite causing comparatively little environmental damage than richer nations. A fund like this is needed to address the inequity between countries – both in terms of cause and consequence.

And so, it’s much welcomed that after a tense negotiation session that surpassed the Friday evening deadline by forty hours, COP27 managed to deliver a truly landmark decision, the likes of which vulnerable countries have been calling for for decades. Last year during COP26, I wrote about richer countries’ responsibility to provide financially so that poorer countries don’t continue to suffer the consequences of developed countries’ environmental damage, and so, a year on, it’s great to see an agreement like this making it through the negotiations and being put in place.

Unfortunately however, COP27 failed to maintain the same momentum for progress in other regards. In particular, the conference’s final cover text made scant reference to delivering on the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement, nor were there adequate commitments made when it comes to the phasing out of fossil fuels. Put bluntly, failure to deliver on these issues will put lives, ecosystems, and infrastructure in direct risk, with or without a loss and damage fund, and it is disillusioning and disappointing to see such inaction prevail in the face of the worsening crisis.

COP27 indeed saw landmark progress being made, but over the course of negotiations, the conference also exposed just how much of a stranglehold economic and political factors continue to have on climate action. The frenzied, overrun talks alone point to this; countries remained divided for days on critical issues such as lowering emissions and the loss and damage deal, with high-emitting and oil-producing countries reluctant to agree to fossil fuel commitments. The influence of such countries, tension between developed and emerging economies, and blatant over-prioritisation of financial factors, all served in the end to undermine the overall action that could conceivably have been taken to combat climate disaster.

Again, COP27 was by no means an out and out disappointment; it just only delivered on one aspect of the issue. Yes, after a multi-decade fight, vulnerable countries will finally be provided with the financial assistance to alleviate damage done by climate change, and this is truly significant, but this doesn’t negate the lack of explicit commitment to reducing the emissions that cause the problem in the first place.

It’s almost as if, in the mind of too many developed countries, the climate disaster is regarded as a problem only tangibly affecting poorer countries. Developed nations have not yet had to grapple with the same environment fallout as poorer ones, and even when/if they do, they have access to better infrastructure and financial supports to help them recover. It sometimes seems as though this has allowed developed nations to shrug off the impending reality of the climate crisis and the action that needs to be taken.

Developed countries can afford to regard climate action as an issue that primarily affects them politically or economically – it’s why they are always the ones calling to water down climate commitments – but for poorer countries, climate action is a not an economic consideration, it’s a humanitarian necessity. Developed countries need to start seeing it this way too. Their committed participation is needed in the fight against climate change if we want to see meaningful progress, and it cannot only be in the form of bandaid-ing over the loss and damage incurred so far as a result of climate change; the issue must be tackled at the roots.

The pandemic showed us just how successful global cooperation can be (at least when an issue affects developed countries’ citizens), so we know it’s possible to combat this more effectively. That said though, the pandemic also supposedly showed us that we didn’t always need to travel for meetings and conferences, and yet, being held in-person, COP27 likely saw carbon emissions in excess of last year’s 100,000 tonnes as a result of flying in delegates from all around the world.

There remains a long way to go when it comes to combating the climate crisis, and though it was extremely disappointing to see a lack of reference in the COP27 final text when it came to the 1.5C target and reducing fossil fuels, the significance of the landmark loss and damage agreement suggest that we are, at the very least, heading in the right direction.