For 30 years, developing nations have fought to establish an international fund to pay for the “loss and damage” they suffer as a result of climate change. When the COP27 climate summit in Egypt wrapped up over the weekend, they finally succeeded.
While it is a historic moment, the loss and damage financing agreement left many details unresolved. What’s more, many critics they have lamented the overall outcome of COP27, saying it falls far short of a sufficient response to the climate crisis. As Alok Sharma, President of COP26 in Glasgow, noted:
Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, he remains on life support.
But annual conferences are not the only way to take meaningful action on climate change. The mobilization of activists, market forces and other sources of momentum means that hope is not lost.
A Breakthrough: Loss and Damage
there were hopes COP27 would lead to new commitments on emissions reductions, renewed commitments to transfer resources to the developing world, strong signals for a transition away from fossil fuels, and the establishment of a loss and damage fund.
By any estimate, the breakthrough of COP27 was the agreement to set a background for loss and damage. This would imply that rich nations compensate developing states for the effects of climate change, especially droughts, floods, cyclones and other disasters.
Most analysts have been quick to point out that much remains to be clarified in terms of donors, recipients, or rules for accessing this fund. It’s unclear where the funds will actually come from, or whether countries like Porcelain will contribute, for example. These and other details are yet to be agreed upon.
We should also recognize the potential gaps between promises and money on the table, given the mistake developed states to deliver US$100 billion per year of climate finance to developing states by 2020. This was pledged in Copenhagen in 2009.
But it was a big fight to get the issue of loss and damage on the agenda in Egypt at all. So the agreement to establish this fund is clearly a monumental result for the developing countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and least responsible for it.
It was also a victory for the Egyptian hosts, who were desirous of flag its sensitivity to the problems facing the developing world.
The fund comes 30 years after the measure was passed first suggested by Vanuatu in 1991.
not so good news
The loss and damage fund will almost certainly be remembered as the main outcome of COP27, but other developments were less promising. Among these, several struggles to retain the commitments made in Paris in 2015 and in Glasgow last year.
In Paris, nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2℃, and preferably 1.5℃ this century, compared to pre-industrial levels. So far, the planet has warmed by 1.09℃and the emissions are at record levels.
Temperature trajectories make it increasingly difficult for the world to limit temperature increases to 1.5℃. And the fact that keeping this commitment in Egypt was a hard-won fight casts some doubt on the global commitment to mitigation. Chinese in particular had questioned whether it was worth keeping the 1.5 ℃ target, and this became a key debate in the talks.
New Zealand Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw said a group of countries was undermining decisions made at previous conferences. He added this:
it really came to the fore at this COP, and I’m afraid there was a huge battle that was ultimately won by neither side.
Instead, the final text noted only the need for an “unabated phase-down of coal power,” which many seen as inadequate to the urgency of the challenge.
Likewise, the expected rules for stopping green wash and no further restrictions on carbon markets were expected.
Both this result and the lack of development of new commitments to phase out fossil fuels, could be said to reflect the power of fossil fuel interests and lobbyists. COP26 President Alok Sharma captured the frustration of countries in the high-ambition coalition, saying:
We joined many parties in proposing a series of measures that would have contributed to [raising ambition].
Emissions peaking before 2025, as science tells us, is necessary. Not in this text. Clear tracking of coal phase-down. Not in this text. Clear commitments to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energetic text weakened in the final minutes.
And as the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres lament: “Our planet is still in the emergency room”.
In the end, the exhausted delegates signed an inadequate agreement, but largely avoided the relapse that seemed possible during tense days of negotiations.
The establishment of a loss and damage fund is clearly an important outcome of COP27, even with details yet to be worked out.
But otherwise, the negotiations cannot be seen as an unequivocally positive outcome for action on the climate crisis, especially with very little progress on emissions mitigation. And while the world falters, the window of opportunity to respond effectively to the climate crisis continues to close.
However, it is important to note that while the COPs are clearly important in the international response to the climate crisis, they are not the only game in town.
Public mobilization and activism, market forces, relief and development programs, and legislation at the local, state, and national levels are important sites of climate policy, and potentially significant change.
There are countless examples. Take the international phenomenon of school climate strikesor climate activist Mike Cannon-Brookes’ acquisition of AGL energy. They point to the possibility of action on climate change outside of formal international climate negotiations.
So if you’re desperate for limited progress at COP27, remember this: nations and communities determined to stop using fossil fuels will do more to blunt the power of the sector than most international agreements could realistically hope to achieve. .