The curtain closes on COP27, the world climate summit that animated public debate for a fortnight, creating a watershed in the history of climate negotiations.
Even before the outcome, COP27 will go down in history for what it meant: media attention and widespread interest from the general public.
This is a trend started during the last edition, COP26 in Glasgow. In that case, however, the international spotlight was justified by quite a different scenario: COP26 was the first edition of the negotiations after a two-year pandemic pause and the first climate diplomacy meeting after the uprising of the climate movements (e.g. Fridays for Future) worldwide.
COP26, even before it started, was named 'the COP of the century'.
This year's COP instead, based in Sharm el-Sheik (Egypt) was born in a geopolitical scenario that was far less favorable: the impact of the war in Ukraine, the consequent worsening of the energy crisis and, last but not least, the forfeit of some key figures both from the world of activism (Greta Thunberg) and of major world leaders (Russia - unsurprisingly - China and India, who only sent representative delegations).
It was an edition set to go unnoticed, though much was piling up on the agenda. In technical jargon it was described as an 'implementation COP'.
Yet this COP overturned the forecasts, keeping us glued to its proceedings and following its narrative with a new interest, atypical for global negotiations. It shaped its position into the mass discussion, and used a narrative at times akin to those of a football match, with winners and losers, goals scored, fans and extra time.
Perhaps the concomitance with the FIFA World Cup did not help to steer clear of this parallelism. However, a COP remains a high-level and highly technical annual diplomatic event and it is therefore essential to explain its purpose and mechanisms.
What is a COP?
'COP' refers to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also known as the UNFCCC).
Established in 1992, the UNFCCC is the UN convention that lays the foundations for multilateral and global action to cope with climate change and its impact on ecosystems and human life.
Operational parts of the UNFCCC include the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement(2015), both of which were negotiated at their respective COPs.
Each year, the summit brings together all countries party to the Convention to negotiate global climate action targets, present individual country's plans and report on progress.In simple terms, we can describe the COP as the supreme decision-making body of theUNFCCC.
What were the decisions in agenda at COP27 and what was achieved in the two weeks that have just passed?
The main purpose of this year's conference was to implement the Glasgow Climate Pact, the final document of last year's conference, in which the signatory countries committed to
"accelerate efforts towards a gradual reduction in coal-fired power", to "phase out" fossil fuel subsidies, and to take action to guarantee the 1.5°limit.
The outcomes of COP27
Certainly COP27 had an unexpected outcome, perhaps far better than what was initially expected from a "lame" implementation COP. It is equally true that the Cover decision reached is not strong, nor is it sufficient, and much more could have been done; the gaps in global climate action remain huge.
Loss and Damage Fund
Nevertheless, we can speak of an historic, bittersweet result, which stands out above all for the decision to create a Loss and Damage Fund. This instrument establishes the right to compensation for the aftermaths of climate change in the countries most affected. Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's Minister of Climate, commented on the agreement: 'the establishment of a fund,' she said, 'is not philanthropy" but a 'forward-looking investment inour common future', a mechanism with the potential to become the greatest example of global cooperation.
This result was also possible thanks to the negotiation strategy followed by the European Union, which achieved an important result by forcing China into an uncomfortable position,with the request for its inclusion within the industrialised countries. This means the transition from 'developing' state (aid recipient) to full-fledged world superpower (including the resulting duties and obligations). This victory is mitigated in the final analysis with the lack of progress on an agreement on measures relating to the mitigation and containment of emissions,
Global Financial revision
Another important step forward was taken on the financial front with the recognition of the need for an overhaul of the global financial system. This process also includes the initiative known as the Bridgetown Agenda, as it was initially promoted by Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados. The strategy aims to unlock the finance needed for climate initiatives by increasing and simplifying access to climate finance and ensuring that it has a meaningful impact and fosters the resilience of countries vulnerable to shocks.
The topic of food systems also deserves a mention: for the first time at a COP, agriculture is named and included in the cover decision through the adoption of a four-year programme.
Youth and future generations
Last but not least, the inclusion of young people and new generations, which finds ample space in this edition and in the final document. However, the request for the establishment of a youth participation mechanism, which would guarantee greater foresight in involvement and the capacity for concrete impact, remains unheeded.
No progress on mitigation
Greatly absent are decisions on emissions and mitigation, despite this being one of the main items on the agenda. The outcome document is devoid of any ambition to phase out fossil fuels,every demand for this was blocked by the oil-producing states. The situation thus remains
dangerously unchanged, postponing action to COP28, based in the United Arab Emirates, and further thinning the chances of achieving the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
The international reaction
Both the European Union and the United Nations therefore cautiously celebrate the results achieved: 'COP27 marks a small step towards climate justice, but much more is needed for the planet. We have treated some symptoms, but we have not cured the patient,' comments Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission. She is echoed by the lukewarm comment of Antonio Guterres: 'This COP has taken an important step towards justice. It will clearly not be enough, but it is an indispensable political signal to rebuild broken trust. Our planet is still in a state of emergency. We must drastically reduce emissions now - and this is an issue that this COP did not address. To have any hope of meeting the 1.5° we must invest in renewable energy and end our dependence on fossil fuels."
As always, more could (should, perhaps) have been done.
In conclusion, the real defeat of this COP is its focus: there was a one-sided focus on the effects of climate change (loss & damage) and not, rather, on its causes (emissions). If we really want to change the course of history, we need to revolutionise this approach and initiate a change of mindset from reaction to forward-looking prevention. We need to raise the bar of ambition and commitment by building accountability and monitoring mechanisms for all stakeholders,institutional and otherwise, of climate change and transition.
We bring home a mutilated victory, a limp step towards climate justice, yet we need to be aware that 1.5° should not be a target but the minimum, the basis for survival, but certainly not the stepping stone to prosper as a society and build a sustainable and equitable future for all.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.