The climate targets from the COP21 Paris Agreement are at severe risk.
We left COP26 with the “1.5 still alive” in our ears, but now more and more scientists agree that halting global warming to under 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels won’t happen. Even the lesser two-degree target is very much at risk, since the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) combined only reduces emissions to 2030 by a few percent compared to the halving every decade needed. Hopes that many countries would deliver new targets at the actual COP have until now not materialized. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it in his opening speech.
The financial promise also remains broken. World leaders typically use the COP to announce new climate funding for the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund, and other international mechanisms. This gives media attention and increases the pressure on others to follow suit. But at this COP’s high-level summit, pledges were few and small, because the logic has shifted: In many countries, being seen as generous to developing countries will not be well received. Reaching 100 billion USD in climate funding by next year, as we heard in Glasgow, seems less and less likely. Agreeing on the long-term climate financing goal, which has to be much bigger, simply because the challenge has gotten worse, won’t happen at COP27.
The Paris Agreement’s Article 6 on how developed countries can finance emissions reductions in developing countries and use this to meet their own targets, was always going to be tricky. How do we know the emissions reduction would not have happened anyway, and how is the reduction shared between countries, avoiding double counting? But I hoped we would at least see some progress. The first week at COP27 did not even give us an agreement on how to develop a workplan to develop (!) national adaptation plans (NAPs) by 2028. This shows just how deep the trenches are now and how much need to be resolved in the last days for this to be a Good or at least a Decent Cop.
All is not lost. Firstly, this is what first week often looks like – technical negotiators are bound by detailed instructions from their governments. That’s why the second week’s negotiations are led by environmental and climate ministers, with much more bargaining power and room to maneuver. Perhaps the physical conditions for negotiating will also improve; lack of food, water and meeting rooms and limited opportunities for the civil society to participate is harder to tolerate with ministers from around the world at the venue.
We also see encouraging progress around Loss&Damage. Some effects of climate change can’t be adapted to; like two-thirds of Pakistan under water or entire island-nations sinking. The EU and other developed parts of the world have argued that this can be handled by regular humanitarian aid, and that governments should remain responsible for the future of their nations. But with this COP the point of no return is passed, with the US downplaying its previous opposition and several countries providing initial funding for it, including Germany, Austria and Denmark.
Country-wise, this COP has seen the US step up in a much-needed way; the world’s biggest economy needs to lead the way. A strong presence by President Biden, John Kerry, former vice president Al Gore and leader of the House Nancy Pelosi helped, along with the biggest climate bill ever and the promise that “We WILL meet our 2030 target”, contrasting with countries like Sweden that are demanding that others understand its need to temporarily increase emissions. China’s Xi Jinping isn’t coming, he goes to G20 and APEC instead, but his coming bilateral meeting with Biden may well be the boost needed post-COP27.
The coalitions of the willing are my main hope. Most of what was achieved at last year’s Good COP in Glasgow, was agreements just outside of the formal UN rules where every country has a veto against everything. The Global Methane Pledge, where more than 100 signatories are to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, is showing impressive progress. The promise to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 has new momentum with Lula as incoming president of Brazil, with its crucial Amazon forest. The main COP26 disappointment, that fossil fuel subsidies are to be “phased down” rather than “phased out”, may even be replaced by stronger words from COP27. If so, this can still be considered a Good Cop. After all, if the Egyptians could build the pyramids, surely they can construct a solid climate agreement for the future.