The 22nd edition of the Spotlight focuses on the most significant climate event of the year 2022 – COP 27. The UN flagship event on climate change hosted by Egypt this year delivered on the Loss and Damage Fund. Still, it failed to address the insufficient climate pledges and requisite actions for mitigating the effects of global warming.
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Burning the Forest and Planting the Seeds
How COP has maintained its optimism in the face of disappointment
The two-week-long 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) culminated with the inclusion of loss and damage funds for least developed countries (LDCs) and small island nations. These countries, which are most vulnerable to climate change, will be compensated for climate disasters through this fund. This is a welcome move as countries least responsible for global warming suffers the most losses in billions of dollars.
But the negotiations over loss and damage completely overshadowed the fact that there is not much done to keep the hope of 1.5 0C alive, which many climate experts believe is long past gone. A report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests that current climate pledges are insufficient to limit global warming within desired limits. The world is on track for a temperature rise of 2.4-2.6 0C by the end of this century. Still, the action-driven approach is missing from these conferences.
Moreover, the loss and damage fund’s ability to support developing nations will entirely rely on wealthy countries following through on their financial commitments with real initiatives. Historically, climate finance promises have consistently failed to convert into actual actions, which also brings this fund under skepticism. Western leaders have repeatedly broken their promises, ignoring the urgency of the climate crisis at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, making several bold but empty promises a decade later at World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. They defaulted on the commitments made at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to provide US$100bn of climate finance annually by 2020 for developing countries. This gives rise to the notion that the commitments made at COP27 will either not be kept or may only partially be kept without a binding agreement and compliance mechanism.
Other than financing, there are a few unresolved issues with the fund, which lacks clarity on provisions and resources:
- Climate disasters will continue to increase and intensify yearly even if all available mitigation strategies are implemented immediately. This could lead to a financial vortex wherein additional funding would be required each year for a single country or community on account of climate damages without making any actual climate progress
- The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has propelled the global north toward energy security. The US Inflation Reduction Act, EU’s fit for 55 and REPowerEU are nationalist programmes that have the potential to disrupt the global supply chain systems. How these policies can coexist within the global framework of climate change and assist less developed countries without a biased division of finance is a big concern
- A shift in funding priorities may divert the focus away from the fast and subsidised transfer of technology along with corrective measures essential for climate mitigation and adaptation
- Even if a sufficient flow of finance is maintained, the efficiency of its mechanism is currently questionable. Assigning a monetary value to the loss of lives, permanent destruction of arable land, deforestation, etc., would pose several challenges. Additionally, the disbursal of funds would have to be in an equitable manner – a daunting task for LDCs
In another development, John Kerry, the US Presidential Envoy for Climate, who led the country’s delegation at the COP 27, proposes a scheme to finance countries trying to shift away from fossil fuels. Under this scheme, state power companies can generate carbon credits by deploying renewable energy. Industries can buy these credits to offset carbon footprints and the money pooled in can be used to finance other countries. The scheme is an effective solution for generating funds but does not address the fundamental issue of carbon emissions.
Carbon pricing/taxing can only be effective to a certain extent, beyond which it is leverage for industries to conduct business as usual. An effective approach would be to curb emissions as much as possible, phase out the subsidies enjoyed by the fossil fuel sector and use them to finance and expand climate-oriented technological interventions within and across borders.
COP 27 also witnessed the pressure mounting on China and India, the first and the third biggest carbon emitters, to convert commitments into actions. The LIFE (Lifestyle for Environment) campaign and long-term low emission development (LT-LED) strategy are good initiatives but would require immediate on-ground execution. India’s renewable energy goals are well in place and in motion. In addition, the country needs mass-scale adoption of technologies, such as green hydrogen, alternate battery chemistry, carbon capture, and possibly nuclear, to fulfill its climate commitments.
Several other joint initiatives by the participating countries included US$230mn support to the Global Goal on Adaptation Fund; the formation of the Global Offshore Wind Alliance; 30x30 Ocean campaign; Mangrove Alliance for Climate (MAC); Sharm El-Sheikh Methane Reduction Roadmap; Global Shield against Climate Risks initiative; AWARE (Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience) Initiative and; Climate Responses for Sustaining Peace (CRSP). Despite the righteous intentions behind each endeavour, the success of these campaigns would depend upon unrestricted financial channels, collaboration levels, progress tracking, and evaluation.
Following this year’s event, it is quite evident that the goal of 1.5 0C is out of the question. Countries across the globe must acknowledge this and speed up collaborative efforts to at least keep the 2 0C alive. Developed countries would play a more prominent role in this in terms of assisting developing countries. Therefore, it is critical that these countries deliver on commitments, whether on financial matters or technical support and must be held accountable if they do not.
Unless an unbiased global consensus is formed on adaptation and mitigation policies, the climate issues are bound to compound each year. The idea of net zero by 2040, 2050 or 2070 must also be re-evaluated on whether it is a target that requires immediate action or a timeline that specifies how long a country can continue to pollute without repercussions.
A noteworthy achievement of COP over the years has been that it has provided a platform for climate discussions to go from academic and activist communities to national parliaments, which is a progressive sign. The momentum must continue to force governments to address climate change with greater transparency and avoid additional delays. The high degree of youth participation at COP 27 was especially encouraging since it can help implement climate policies more quickly and effectively without getting entangled in domestic and international politics.