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Will COP27 result in real change?

COP27 Egypt

            Over the first weekend of November, four Extinction Rebellion protesters locked onto an oil barrel outside JP Morgan’s Glasgow office to highlight what they see as the failures of COP26.  Meanwhile in Egypt, fresh turf was laid and petunias planted along the empty 4-lane highways approaching Sharm El-Sheikh, irrigated by precious scarce water, the sweeping boulevards free of protesters, and the police present everywhere, with roadblocks, patrols and surveillance.

            Over 45,000 people attended COP27, from government representatives to youth activists, indigenous communities to oil lobbyists. But its carbon footprint started badly, with 36 private jets landing at Sharm el-Sheikh for the summit, plus 64 in Cairo, 24 of which came from Sharm el-Sheikh.  One surprising delegate to COP27 was BP Chief Executive Bernard Looney, in the Mauritanian delegation, or perhaps not so surprising, given BP’s major investments in that country.  Scotland was present as co-chair of the ‘Under2 Coalition’ of states, regions and sub-national governments which have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Protest at Home and in Egypt

            As part of over 40 events in the UK and Ireland, Scotland held a Global Day of Action, with a march in Edinburgh.  Protests in Egypt were only possible in the UN-controlled space of the Blue Zone.  Some protesters claim to have been harassed and intimidated, with some alleging they were excluded from attending altogether.  The Green Zone was kept completely free of outsiders. 

What happened after COP26?

            COP26 last year aimed to reduce the worst impacts of climate change, cutting CO2 emissions, and reducing coal use, but results since then have been mixed.

            The USA passed climate change laws which could reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, but then President Biden released 15 million barrels of oil onto the market and granted new leases for oil and gas.  The UK is backtracking on last year’s anti-fossil-fuel sentiment, pushing ahead with new oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and planning to open a new coal mine in Cumbria.  

            Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and threats to gas supplies, the EU extended the life of coal-fired power plants, increasing emissions by 2% in the first half of 2022.  India was aiming for 50% of installed energy to be renewable, but is now planning to reopen 100 coal mines.  Brazil saw a 48% increase in deforestation in 2021, continued mining and investment in oil and gas in 2021, and is predicted to increase oil use by 70% by 2030.

            Australia promised emissions reduction by 43% by 2030 but today remains in the top 5 coal producers in the world.  By 2021 nearly half the forests in eastern Australia had been destroyed. China burns half the coal burned in the world but is paradoxically a big investor in renewable energy.  It aims to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and is investing in tree planting.

So what about COP27?

            It is unclear if the three aims of mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, are expectation or just hope.

            The final conference agreement featured new commitments on enhancing a clean energy mix and low-emission energy, but leave ‘low-emission energy’ undefined so it could include nuclear energy.   Or it could mean hydrogen, which the EU assesses to be a low carbon energy source which can be produced from natural gas with the emissions captured and stored underground. 

             Or it could even mean gas on the grounds that gas produces lower emissions than coal and oil.  But the new agreement is in any case not legally binding.

Loss and Damage Fund

            This may be the biggest achievement of COP27, aiming to provide funding to compensate for loss and damage in vulnerable countries.  The conference reaffirmed its commitment to limit temperature rise to 1.5C over pre-industrial levels and cut emissions, but this requires a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 against the 2019 levels.

            Scotland was last year the first nation to pledge loss and damage funding of £2 million at COP26, followed by Denmark, the first nation-state to commit funding, with New Zealand also chipping in.  This year Scotland has pledged a further £5 million.

            A transitional committee to oversee funding rollout was agreed, with the first meeting scheduled early in 2023, and the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage should become operational for technical assistance to vulnerable countries.  The Global Shield Financing Facility was launched at COP27 to provide funding to countries suffering climate disasters, and $US 105.6 million new funding was agreed for low-lying and low-income states, funded by Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Wallonia in Belgium.

Adaptation and Mitigation

            Rishi Sunak confirmed Boris Johnson’s promise last year of £11.6 bn to encourage countries to move away from fossil fuels over 5 years.  In fact it was not new money but came from the £11.4bn annual aid budget, and as much as £3.5 bn of it is already being used to care for migrants and refugees in the UK.  The UK government must spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income on aid, but this was reduced to 0.5% last year and may not be increased.  UK funding on adaptation measures for climate-affected countries will be tripled to £1.5 bn by 2025.

            COP27 saw governments agree on the way forward on the Global Goal on Adaptation, going forward to COP28 next year and the first Global Stocktake.  The Adaptation Fund received new pledges of more than $US230 million.  Its Adaptation agenda sets a goal of 2030 for enhancing resilience for the most climate-vulnerable areas, and it is aimed to double adaptation finance next year at COP28.

            The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan requires investment of at least $US 4-6 Trillion yearly, involving governments and the private sector including banks.  Other initiatives include a five year Action Plan for Climate Empowerment and promotion of climate technology solutions in developing countries.  The United Arab Emirates will steward the First Global Stocktake of how many of the measures agreed at Paris have been implemented.  A mitigation programme was introduced to start immediately after COP27 and last to 2030.

            Countries will also participate in 25 new collaborative actions in power, road transport, steel hydrogen and agriculture. The UN announced a US$ 3.1billion plan to bring early warning systems to everyone on earth within 5 years.

             A high level Expert Group will formulate guides for industry, finance and cities and regions to ensure the credibility of their Net Zero Commitments.  The Just Energy Transition Partnership in conjunction with the G20 summit, commits $US20 billion in the next 3 to 5 years to accelerate just energy transition.  Forest protection will be helped by the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership which aims to unite government, business and communities to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

              Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Greens were disappointed that there was no progress on committing to phasing out or even phasing down fossil fuels, and pointed out that despite the new Loss and Damage Fund, the actual funds remain low.

             So having not exactly over-achieved this year, it is on to the United Arab Emirates in November 2023 for COP28.

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