COP27 represents a step forward, but not to everyone’s satisfaction

[Article originally published in El País]

After the arduous and difficult negotiations that took place until the early hours of 20 November in Sharm-El-Sheikh, the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), the supreme body of the 198-state United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has concluded. To assess its results in a comprehensive manner, it is necessary to carry out a careful reading of the decisions taken under the omnibus decision, called the Sharm-El-Sheikh Plan of Implementation. At present, it is only possible to do so on a preliminary basis.

We must look at both the main issues on the COP27 agenda – loss and damage, mitigation, adaptation, a new quantified and collective global goal on climate finance and long-term climate finance – and its working procedure: it is negotiated by consensus and in groups that don’t always reflect the current situation. There are countries that negotiate as developing countries, but that are themselves participating in the G20, i.e. they are emerging economies, some of them very strong. While COP27 was meeting, the final declaration of the G20 meeting in Bali included a commitment to make efforts to limit the increase in the global temperature of the planet to above 1.5 degrees Celsius. This objective of the Paris Agreement was in danger of disappearing from the omnibus decision, as were other commitments contained in the Glasgow Climate Pact, including a call for the COP 15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity to adopt the so-called Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework in December, which is necessary for the fight against climate change.

Loss and damage was one of the central themes of this COP, having been put on the agenda at the request of developing countries. Simultaneously, the Environmental Integrity Group (Georgia, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Monaco, Republic of Korea and Switzerland) proposed to include the goal of “Limiting global warming to 1.5°” on the agenda. This proposal was rejected by the G77, due to the pressure of major emitters such as China and Brazil, as well as Saudi Arabia. Although the proposal was approved without much hype, it illustrates the negotiating dynamic that when attempts are made to make progress on mitigation commitments, certain countries demand funding.

The EU has agreed to the establishment of a loss and damage fund for the most vulnerable countries with certain conditions, including a commitment to phase out the use of all fossil fuels, initially brought to the table by India. This mention has disappeared from all the texts due to opposition from Saudi Arabia and the oil and gas producing countries. Although it seemed impossible, an agreement was finally reached on Saturday to create such a fund for particularly vulnerable countries. Now it will be necessary to agree on its establishment, functioning and multiple other elements. The idea is to create a diverse donor base that includes countries such as China, oil-producing countries, as well as the private sector. Another agreement was in relation to the institutional structure of the Santiago Network to Avoid, Minimise and Address Loss and Damage, that was created to provide technical assistance under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts created at COP19 in 2013.

In terms of mitigation, various countries have announced their intention to increase their commitments. For example, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, has pledged to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 35% by 2030 compared to the previous 22% to which it had committed, although without explaining how this will be achieved. Similarly, Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, stated that the EU can now commit to a 57% reduction in GHG emissions, in line with the European Climate Law, which foresees at least a 55% reduction.

In terms of the global adaptation goal, the negotiating working group has agreed to develop a framework for action that will include indicators and targets. The negotiating working group, which was co-chaired by Third Vice-President Teresa Ribera and the Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology of the Maldives, have agreed to approve the final draft at COP28 next year.

In terms of the climate finance target for mitigation and adaptation, a working programme for 2023 has been approved, with the view of adopting a more ambitious target at COP29. However, the working programme is also intended to make bring a solution to the to non-compliance with the funding target of USD 100 billion per year (approximately EUR 96 billion), adopted at COP15 in Copenhagen.

It should be noted that the Sharm-el-Sheikh Plan of Implementation includes in its preamble the recognition of the right to an adequate environment as recognised by the UN General Assembly on 28 July. It also quantifies the investment needed for the deployment of renewables by 2030 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at $4,000 billion per year, in addition to more than $5,800-5,900 billion for developing countries to implement their climate action plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

COP27 represents progress, although not to the satisfaction of everyone. This is the only existing multilateral process to address climate change. Despite its slow pace, the progress that is being achieved today would have seemed unthinkable less than a decade ago. An example of this is the agreement to create a fund for loss and damage that carries with it an implicit recognition of responsibility. The COP28 to be held in the United Arab Emirates will have to decide matters such as the operationalisation of such a fund, the global adaptation goal, as well as determine the collective progress in fulfilling the purpose and long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement. In the meantime, other international fora and civil society will continue to drive climate action, all playing a key role in implementing the decisions adopted each year by the COP. In other words, “together for implementation”, the motto of this COP27.

Ana Barreira

Ana Barreira is a lawyer and founding Director of the International Institute for Law and Environment (IIDMA), an organisation that this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. She is co-president of the energy and environment section of the Madrid Bar Association.