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COP27: The summit made a small step forward – yet massive challenges remain

Nov 21, 2022

This year’s UN climate summit, COP27, marked the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. November 6-18, presidents, ministers, and officials gathered alongside other representatives in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss and deliver actions on critical issues central to climate change. Faced with a growing energy crisis, greenhouse gas concentrations, and increasing extreme weather events, COP27 seeks renewed solidarity between states to deliver on the Paris Agreement.

COP27 was dominated by calls for wealthy states to fulfill their pledges to finance the green transition of poorer countries. Representatives from almost 200 states agreed to set up a climate fund, meant to help more vulnerable countries cope with effects and disasters deriving from climate change. While this will reinforce the trust between the rich Global North and the poor Global South,  it is still unknown how much capital will be distributed, and which states will participate. Hence, it will likely take some time before the fund sees the light of the day. 

The participants also agreed on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to nearly half of its current volume by 2030. Moreover, US President Biden and China’s President Xi agreed to resume their climate cooperation during the G20 meeting in Bali, taking place on November 15-16. China withdrew from the cooperation when US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this year. Resumed climate cooperation between the US and China is not only a positive sign given that they are the world’s biggest polluters, but also for international stability overall, amid an era of increasing tensions, trade war and decoupling.

Several larger states have significantly tightened their climate pledges. Australia’s new government promised a 43% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. The US has adopted a historic climate package. Brazil’s new president Lula has vowed to implement a green transition. India has accelerated its transition to renewables to reduce transmissions to 50% by 2030. However, many states have neither developed nor put forward a plan for reducing emissions – 169 out of 193 appear to have neglected to fulfill their pledges from last year’s summit.

An attempt to address the largest source of emissions causing global warming turned out a failure, as several states, including China and Saudi Arabia, blocked the bid of phasing out all fossil fuels (not only coal). This means that although the participants reaffirmed the global warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will be difficult to keep it.

Another notable aspect was Russia’s annual report to the UN, in which Moscow included emissions from Crimea and other annexed areas in Ukraine. If the UN was to include the stated Russian emissions in its global compilation, Russia would receive an official UN document which indirectly recognizes occupied Ukrainian territories as Russian. Such a document would ultimately legitimize Russia’s unlawful claims.  

Overall, COP27 did not succeed in delivering extensive action to combat climate change. It was marked by intense lobbying by fossil fuel representatives, as around 600 showed up to the summit. Next year’s summit will likely see more of the same, as it will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates – also known as one of the world’s largest oil exporters.

Nevertheless, the climate fund was a breakthrough. Yet it seeks to reduce the damage made by global warming, rather than tackling its root causes. The lack of ambition among world leaders is likely a result of a period of accumulated crises –  high inflation, a looming recession, and an ongoing war in Europe – all following a full-blown pandemic.