The UN Climate Change Conference kicked off yesterday, 6 November 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh. The Planet's big polluters, India, Russia and China, are absent. This year's observers include Istituto Oikos.
Over the past 30 years, climate change has gone from being a marginal issue to a global priority. During this time, sthe annual UN conferences on climate change have been milestones (as with the Paris Agreement in 2015), but they have also experienced failures: for example, at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 the goal of establishing a global climate agreement was postponed until 2015.
This year's COP27 takes place in a very complex backdrop, due to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis and the increasingly visible effects of the climate crisis. The hottest and driest summer in Europe for 500 years, a million people displaced in Nigeria due to the worst flooding ever, and the fires in California are just some of the consequences of the climate crisis that can no longer be called “emergencies”.
The need for strong climate action has never been more urgent. Despite some limitations demonstrated during past editions, the COPs are the only forum on the climate crisis where opinions and concerns of poorest countries matter as those of the world's largest economies. So this is an opportunity not to be wasted.
What is the COP?
The COP is an annual climate summit convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a UN climate organisation. The acronym COP stands for 'Conference of the Parties'. The 2022 one is the 27th and has just begun; it takes place from 6 November to 18 November 2022 in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.
What happens during a COP?
COPs start with an opening ceremony and during the following days world leaders talk about climate change, focusing on what their countries intend to do about it or the negative consequences they are experiencing. In the remaining days, topics such as finance and energy are discussed, and politicians and business leaders present their ideas and positions on commitments, coalitions and projects.
Of all the COPs, the 2015 one was a milestone, as the Paris Agreement was signed. There it was agreed that every five years countries would present their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle global warming. The first such meeting was then supposed to be in 2020, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So last year's COP26 in Glasgow became one of the most important and eagerly awaited conferences.
COP participants are representatives of governments or 'observer' organisations, such as third sector bodies and NGOs. For the first time, this year Istituto Oikos will be present as an Observer Organisation. "We strongly hope that COP27 will honour the commitment to double funding for adaptation programmes – Francesca Santapaola, Head of Communication and Education at Oikos, from Sharm el-Sheik, says – And that in addition to the progressive and fast elimination of fossil fuels, it will recognise the central role of nature protection as measure to combat climate change”.
There are 197 States organised in five regional groups: Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, Western Europe and other states (including Australia, Canada and the USA).
In parallel, outside the gates of the conference, activists often demonstrate against the commitments, deemed superficial, and the inertia of politics. This year, the fear is that civil society participation in the event may be very low due to the restrictions on demonstrations imposed in Egypt.
What happened at the last COP?
COP26 could have been a key opportunity to fight the climate crisis, that however seems to have been wasted. In fact, it was estimated that, on the basis of the commitments made by the UN leaders, the commitment to keep global warming within 1.5 °C is not achievable. On the contrary, a warming between 1.8 and 2.4 °C is conceivable (Dr Fatih Birol, 2021). As far as climate investments are concerned, it was agreed in 2009 to provide USD 100 billion per year to support the most vulnerable nations with mitigation and adaptation actions. This goal was supposed to be reached in 2020, however it is estimated that it will not be reached before 2023.
What is expected from COP27?
Industrialised countries should maintain their commitment to allocate USD 100 billion per year to the countries most vulnerable to climate crisis, with immediate effect and until 2025. In addition, a more ambitious post-2025 financial goal should be agreed in cooperation with the countries of the south of the World and the communities most affected by climate change. Adaptation and mitigation actions to the negative effects of current and future climate change will also need to be refined in the years to follow. "Investing in adaptation is not about accepting defeat and failure. It is accepting reality”, Christina Chan, director of the Climate Resilience Practice at the World Resources Institute, told at Global Citizen in 2021.
Losses and damages caused by the destructive impacts of climate change, that cannot be avoided by either mitigation or adaptation, must also be considered. These are divided into economic losses and damages, including livelihoods and property, and non-economic losses and damages, such as loss of life, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
Other key points include the phasing out fossil fuels within 2025, the reinvestment of related funding in clean and sustainable energy systems, and the carbon elimination within 2030.
But hopes that major agreements will be reached at COP27 are rather slim, for several reasons.
First of all, leaders of some of the world's most polluting countries - Russia, China and India - will not attend to the conference. These countries have the least ambitious targets on the zero-emission challenge, set to 2060 for Russia and China (China is the world's leading country in terms of CO2 emissions, which weigh 33% of total global emissions) and 2070 for India.
Then there is the issue of the host country, Egypt, a dictatorship where civil and political rights are violated and repressed. This is precisely one of the reasons why activist Greta Thunberg decided not to take part to the conference.
Also, the energy crisis caused by Russia, as consequence of the war in Ukraine, raised prices, increasingly reduced supplies, and drastically slowed down the adoption of renewable energy sources.
In the current international backdrop, it is therefore difficult to predict what the outcome of COP27 will be. What is sure is that our model of production and consumption will necessarily have to change and that an urgent commitment is required from governments around the world.
Dr Fatih Birol, E. D. (2021, November 4). COP26 climate pledges could help limit global warming to 1.8 °C, but implementing them will be the key. Taken from International Energy Agency website: https://www.iea.org/commentaries/cop26-climate-pledges-could-help-limit-global-warming-to-1-8-c-but-implementing-them-will-be-the-key
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