Nearly 200 countries sent representatives to the United Nation’s 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) that concluded negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Nov. 20. But, the summit, in the view of many observers, did little to advance policy initiatives that concretely address the current climate crisis. Although there was progress on reaching a deal on the creation of a “loss and damage fund” to support poor nations after they suffer climate-linked extreme weather events, there is widespread concern that governments’ unwillingness to adopt more ambitious policies has left the planet on a path to ever-rising temperatures.
The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year said that to have any hope of limiting increased temperatures to 1.5-degrees Celsius, set in the 2015 Paris agreement, the world cannot build any new fossil fuel infrastructure and global carbon emissions need to be cut 43 percent by the year 2030.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jamie Henn, a climate activist, strategist and director of Fossil Free Media, a nonprofit communications lab. Here he assesses what he calls the good, bad and ugly outcomes of the COP27 Egypt climate summit.
JAMIE HENN: I think it’s useful to, you know, sort of follow through the good, the bad and the ugly of what came out of COP27. Let’s start with the good. The good news is that for the first time after well over a decade of advocacy and organizing by vulnerable countries, developing countries and their civil society allies, we got what is being referred to as a loss and damage fund.
This is based on the idea that developing countries who played zero to no role in causing the climate crisis are bearing the brunt of its impacts. Countries are losing, some of them up to 20 percent of their GDP year after year through climate disasters. We saw in the last year terrible disasters unfolding around the world, particularly in places like Pakistan, which faced devastating flooding.
All of that came to bear at this COP where developing countries really stood up and said, enough is enough. You know, we’re not going to go forward with these negotiations unless we see the creation of a fund which will begin to compensate countries for the incredible loss and damage that has been caused by climate change. So that fund was created.
Now, it wasn’t filled. And so there’s quite a bit of more work to be done. But the very act of its creation is a landmark moment. It is a rare occurrence in international diplomacy that we see the creation of new mechanisms like this or new really entire ways of thinking about the type of funding that needs to be provided around the world.
And so that’s a real breakthrough that we can talk more about. But it was a recognition that we’re now in an era where the climate negotiations aren’t only about preventing future damage, but really grappling with the damages that are unfolding around the world.
Which brings me to the bad of this COP. You know, this COP was really meant to try and preserve the international community’s efforts to meet the target that was set in Paris of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For reference, we’re just over one degrees now and we’re already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change around the world. And scientists warn that beyond 1.5 and towards 2 degrees, those changes will become ever worse and in many places irreversible. They’re limiting warming to 1.5 is really critical. That target is slipping out of reach, however. While it’s scientifically possible to meet each year that goes by without meaningful new commitments to accelerate the type of action that countries are taking, it becomes further and further out of reach.
And so there is a hope that this COP would produce new commitments from individual countries and a new buy-in from the entire international community that we were aiming towards 1.5. And specifically, that we would talk about the root cause of the climate crisis, which is the ongoing burning of fossil fuels. All of that language ended up being struck from the text at the end of the negotiation.
There is no reference to phasing out fossil fuels, as many countries and advocates had hoped for. And so that target appears further out of reach and that’s going to really inform what needs to come next.
And the final piece, The Ugly, really applies to how this process went down and how it took place. It was ugly on a number of different aspects.
First, of course, is the Egyptian presidency. Each negotiation, each COP hosted by the host country — in this case, that country of Egypt. Egypt has many things to do claim, you know, many great things to claim to its name. But one of them is not its human rights record. Egypt has cracked down on civil society over the last number of years and before, it has imprisoned human rights defenders, imprisoned environmental activists, a number of whom were on hunger strike throughout this COP.
And Egypt, as a host country, really cracked down on civil society participation throughout the talks. What they didn’t crack down on was fossil fuel lobbyists, a record number of whom showed up at this process. And so there’s real concern that the U.N. process and the international climate talks are beginning to be, I shouldn’t even say beginning, but are beginning to be maybe fully taken over by the fossil fuel industry that’s always had a presence at these negotiations to the detriment of participation by civil society and by advocacy organizations.
And I think we saw that in the outcome where, as I said, references to phasing out fossil fuels and taking measures that would begin to cut into the industry’s bottom line were stricken from the text.
So that’s a long way of saying it was a complicated process. There were good aspects that we should celebrate. There were bad aspects that are true failings of our international community. And we really need to take a close eye to how this process functions going forward if we want to see the type of progress that we need.
For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Tunein + Alexa, Castbox, Overcast, Podfriend, iHeartRadio, Castro, Pocket Casts, RSS Feed.