A breakdown of the agenda points at COP27 reveals the precedence geopolitics and protectionism are taking over climate action, which is likely to create obstructions during negotiations for the Global South
Europe’s hottest summer, Pakistan’s devastating floods, Hurricane Ian wreaking havoc in the US, winter and summer crops destroyed in India because of heatwaves and incessant rain–2022 relentlessly reminded the world of the impacts of climate change. But while “climate chaos gallops ahead, climate action has stalled,” warned UN secretary general António Guterres.
“The actions of the wealthiest developed and emerging economies simply don’t add up,” he said. In fact, they are “woefully inadequate”, according to a recent UN report. Current climate pledges by governments across the globe put the world on the 2.8°C warming path–much hotter than the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement.
This makes this year’s COP, the UN’s annual climate meet, to be held in Egypt even more crucial. The vision and mission set forth by this year’s COP representatives highlight all the right buzzwords–adaptation, mitigation, climate finance, just transition. “As the incoming Presidency, Egypt will spare no effort to ensure that COP27 becomes the moment when the world moves from negotiation to implementation,” Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has boldly stated. But if geopolitics, not climate change, is determining the course of adaptation, mitigation, transition from oil and gas, and climate finance, implementation, especially on the scale that is required, is likely to be a tall order at COP27.
The agenda standouts
Climate finance: Another bumpy road ahead?
In 2010, developed countries had promised to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 to help vulnerable, low-income nations to fight climate change. While developed nations are confident that the $100 billion target will be met by 2023, the figure currently stands at $83.3 billion, according to OECD’s most recent estimates.
While the Paris Agreement defines this $100 billion to be the floor for climate finance targets beyond 2025, there is little further clarity on what the new number would be. With the figure set for revision by 2024, it is likely to become the new bone of contention when it comes to the provision and allocation of climate finance. India wants it to be upgraded to $1 trillion annually. But if the past decade is any indication, commitments are hardly an indication of delivery when it comes to climate finance.
A primary reason that this hesitancy has gone unchecked is the lack of a clear definition of what comes under climate finance. This lack of definition was recognised by the IPCC as well in its recent report. This has meant there is no way to track what grants and loans given to poorer countries are meant for climate change, and which ones are granted to simply gain green credits. At COP26, the reluctance to discuss long-term climate finance (LTF) was more than evident. In fact, there were attempts made last year by developed nations to push LTF off the COP agenda under UNFCCC and relegate it to the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA). Eventually, it was decided, much against the wishes of the developed world, that the discussion on LTF will continue till 2027.
Within the ambit of the Paris Agreement, too, discussions are likely to be thick with contention. Particularly significance when it comes to discussions around setting a new collective quantified goal for climate finance will be Article 2.1(c) (which seeks to ensure making finance flows consistent with lower GHG emissions) and Article 9 (which deals with the setting up of financial support mechanisms under the Paris Agreement), both of which suffer from the same kind of lack of clarity that is likely to scupper talks on long term finance.
Like last year, climate vulnerable countries, including small island nations, are likely to push for a finance facility that can at least compensate for the loss and damage caused by extreme events. This would be separate from any humanitarian aid that is given. Some funds would be diverted towards slow-onset events such as sea level rise or desertification, which would give the affected people a chance to relocate successfully. But the ball has remained in the Global North’s court on this.
The oil rush imprint
A recent report revealed the US government invested $9 billion in oil and gas projects in Africa—which is most vulnerable to climate impacts—since the Paris Agreement. Its investment in clean energy during the same period was a paltry $682 million. According to data released by CREA, the EU and China purchased the most amount of fossil fuels from Russia. With the Ukraine crisis triggering a rise in oil prices, major emitters are jostling for fossil fuel supply ahead of a harsh winter. China’s president Xi Jinping’s recent speech made it clear that the country’s priority remained energy security over climate change. His carefully worded speech implied China is unlikely to move away from fossil fuels until it is confident that renewable energy can successfully fill in the gaps. Plans for expansions of exploration, drilling, refining and transport of oil and gas have sprung up across the world.
The oil industry has made money hands over fist this year. Take for example energy majors Shell and TotalEnergies who doubled their quarterly profits to $10 billion. UN secretary general António Guterres urged rich countries to levy a tax on the windfall profits made by oil companies, and use the revenue to fund climate finance. But such temporary levies are short-term measures, at best.
Beyond the backslide in climate ambition, oil and gas expansions are threatening to expose new fault lines within the negotiating space at COP. This seems to be true in Africa, more than any other geography. While a technical committee of the African Union is pushing for an oil and gas friendly position at the COP, there is resistance from within Africa’s climate change delegation. The latest sign that oil and gas is likely to be a major factor in African nations’ negotiating position came from the Africa Energy Week where the rift within the continent’s developmental and climate priorities were clear and apparent. The Egypt Presidency, for its part, seems clear on its support for gas as a “transition fuel.”
This fraught situation presents a murky backdrop for the adoption of the “mitigation work programme”— which is supposed to set the path to scale up mitigation ambition and emission reductions up to 2030. The situation this year is a far cry from the enthusiasm that fanned the furore over the dilution of language regarding the future of coal in the final decision text from COP26.
So far, the writing on the wall seems clear—the world’s top emitters are far from committing any significant cuts to fossil fuels this year. Short-term protectionism and imminent energy security concerns, particularly in the Global North, will likely supersede any concerns regarding the longer term measures to mitigate the global climate crisis.
Adaptation determines food security
The Paris Agreement recognised the important role that adaptation will play in mitigating the effects of climate change, especially with regards to food security. Article 7 of the PA established a global goal on adaptation (GGA). This got maximum attention at COP26 where a two-year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the GGA was announced that will work to shape the GGA and its implementation till COP28. Adaptation includes building climate-resilient infrastructure, but the more immediate threat remains food security.
Across the Global South, farmers, especially, are struggling to cope with both climate change (heatwaves, changing rainfall patterns) and non-climate stressors such as population growth. According to the IPCC’s 2019 report on climate change and land, these stresses are impacting the four pillars of food security (availability, access, utilisation, and stability). It identified low-income consumers to be particularly at risk, and predicted higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will lower the nutritional value of crops. The need of the hour is investments in crop varieties that are resistant to heat and droughts, and early warning systems that can predict hurricanes and rainfall patterns. Some estimates suggest adaptation costs in the Global South could add up to $300 billion a year by 2030. This is much, much more than the $100 billion a year promised by the Global North, which still remains unfulfilled. An immediate resolution is a must, or the inter-dependencies of global food system will ensure food insecurity leaves few unaffected.
India’s stand at COP27
At the Ministerial Meeting of the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) held in October this year, Union minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav laid down India’s agenda at COP27. He expressed his disappointment at developed nations’ decision to enhance their use of fossil fuels and “and urged that the cumulative emissions of every country or carbon budget partaken, must be within their fair and equitable share”, according to the government’s press release. Yadav urged developed nations to show their roadmap to the $100 billion a year goal. The latest press release by the environment ministry reiterated the emphasis on climate finance as one of the main agenda points for India, especially with regards to clarity on its definition. Adaptation and loss and damage will be two other points of focus for India, which will look to push for funding for both. Most of the agenda points put forth in the meeting are not new, except one–the LIFE mission.
On October 20 this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Lifestyle for the Environment or LIFE mission, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to its website, the mission’s objective is to replace “the prevalent ‘use-and-dispose’ economy—governed by mindless and destructive consumption—with a circular economy, which would be defined by mindful and deliberate utilisation”.
During its high-profile launch last month, the Indian PM stated the dissolution of the binary developed-developing paradigm in climate action as one of the objectives of the mission. The mission, which interestingly found endorsements from several western heads of states and high level government officials at its launch, purports to achieve this by drawing the spotlight once again toward individual consumption and per-capita emissions. The move, if sustained, could be read as being politically savvy. What better way to respond to claims of India being developed than to show a mirror to yawning gulf in per capita emissions that separate developed countries from developing ones like India? If it manages to shift the frame of reference to one that is more favourable, even better. Either way, LIFE could very well push developed nations on the defensive.
From the little preliminary information available on the mission, emphasis is placed on individual and collective action to tackle climate change. The government released a list of 75 actions that individuals could follow in order to make a difference. Some of them include using public transport, keeping AC temperatures to 24°C, keeping electronic devices on energy saving mode and running outdoors instead on the treadmill. Yadav is likely to push other countries to join the mission at COP27.
Last year’s COP was meant to be momentous. It was held after two years of global suffering because of COVID-19, and the world was watching for some hope for a better future. What it got was a slew of net-zero commitments, the details of which still remain sketchy, and a widening gap between the Global North and South. This year is being touted as the ‘COP of Implementation’. Ambassador Mohamed Nasr, Egypt’s chief climate negotiator, said Egypt was well and uniquely placed to become “a bridge between the Global North and South”. With expectations from this year’s COP so low, one wonders if it opens up room for some pleasant surprises.