The COP27 Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, which took place in the midst of conflict in Ukraine and an energy crisis, concluded in late November 2022 with a number of notable developments, despite the fact that the State parties failed to commit to phasing out fossil fuels. The agreement, however, of a loss and damage fund for the first time by the State parties is a significant development in the fight against climate change. This fund, which has long been sought by developing countries, has finally been secured and commits developed nations to providing developing countries with financial support to help them recover from the physical and economic damage of climate change. The parties agreed a new plan, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, which, although not legally binding, sets out new ambitions for the international community as it attempts to fight the climate change crisis. Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, described COP27 as shifting the State parties to “implementation”.
Developing countries have previously only received financial support to help them deal with mitigation and adaptation, but the agreement of a loss and damage fund, despite the many hurdles during the talks, is a significant development which will help those countries recover from the damage which climate change causes. That said, the mechanics of how the fund will work in practice, such as when developing countries will actually receive financial support, has yet to be worked out. Developing countries will be acutely aware that the promise made in 2009 by developed countries to provide them with $100bn a year by 2020 was not fulfilled. A transitional committee has, however, been set up, which is expected to meet for the first time before the end of March 2023, and which will make recommendations to COP28 next year.
The text of the Implementation Plan also points towards significant reform to international financial institutions, including the potential for debt suspension for some countries affected by the climate change crisis. The Plan also makes clear that investment of between $4-6 trillion a year will be required to enable the global transition to a low-carbon economy. This will require a fundamental overhaul of the financial system involving all actors such as central banks and investors. State parties did commit to establishing a work programme on the “just transition”. They also reaffirmed their commitment to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate discussions between the USA and China also recommenced.
There were some notable disappointments, however, apart from the failure to commit to reducing fossil fuel usage, such as the failure to make significant progress on mitigation targets, no doubling of climate adaptation finance, and little progress on agriculture and food security, an especially pertinent topic in light of the impact of the Ukraine conflict on food supplies. Mitigation, i.e. the reduction or prevention of the emission of greenhouse gases, is central to the ability of the international community to meet the 1.5°C target. It is disappointing, therefore, that more progress was not made on mitigation at COP27 which is a central tenet of the fight against climate change. Little progress was also made on adaptation with the State parties failing to agree a roadmap for the implementation of the goal agreed at COP26 in Glasgow to double adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025. As President von der Leyen said in the aftermath of COP27, it failed to deliver “on a commitment by the world's major emitters to phase down fossil fuels, nor new commitments on climate mitigation”. An Adaptation Agenda was, however, launched.
In light of the distrust which was created amongst parties by the presidency of COP27, the UNFCCC secretariat, ahead of COP28 in the United Arab Emirates in late 2023, is likely to examine closely why that was the case and what impact, if any, that distrust had on the outcome of COP27. It is clear that COP27 has led to significant developments in the fight against climate change, such as a historic agreement on a loss and damage fund, but equally, more could have been done to help limit global emissions. Perhaps, however, in light of the significant developments made at COP26 in Glasgow last year, COP27 was always bound to disappoint. Its significant developments should not, however, be overlooked.
Mark O’Brien O’Reilly
20 December 2022
Back to ELB Blogs