COP27: world stage for impactful climate change?

Biggest threat, as we enter COP27, is widening gap between eloquent rhetoric and real climate action

Waqas Idrees November 07, 2022
Design: Ibrahim Yahya


“The world is still falling short of the Paris climate objectives, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C,” noted the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its recent Emissions Gap Report, published on October 27, 2022.

According to the flagship report, the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) or pledges taken by countries since last year have been “woefully inadequate” and make negligible difference to the emissions predicted for 2030. This lack of progress puts the globe on track for a 2.8°C temperature hike, far above the Paris Agreement goal. In addition, unprecedented amounts of emission reduction, between 30–45%, are required to limit global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C, respectively.

With COP27 set to begin on November 6 in Egypt, the UNEP report sets the stage for one of the most critical climate dialogues, especially in the context of a year marked by international political turmoil, global inflation, severe climate catastrophes, and worldwide energy crisis, all of which have distracted leaders and complicated efforts to address climate change.

COP27 will build on the outcomes of COP26, which included the signing of the Glasgow climate pact requiring signatories to present stronger action plans within a shortened timeframe, and the agreement on the Paris rule book outlining how signatories to the Paris accord will structure their NDCs to reduce emissions.

The main objectives of COP27 are to restrict the global temperature rise to well below 2°C while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C, enhancing capacity to adapt and create resilience, and mobilising funds for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.

Despite lofty objectives, COP conferences have devolved into a display of hypocrisy over the years, as politicians, business magnates, and lobbyists make impassioned pleas and promises of doing more on the world stage, only to break their commitments immediately after the display concludes. Like many summits, they allow global leaders to take respite from domestic difficulties and boost their self-esteem before a more “sympathetic” international audience.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his comments on the UNEP report and the upcoming COP27, remarked, “Commitments to net zero are worth zero without the plans, policies, and actions to back it up… our world cannot afford any more greenwashing, fake movers or late movers. We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”

To have any meaningful impact, COP27 should focus on the following 3R global climate strategy, an approach coined by the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG): ‘Reduce’ (emissions), ‘Remove’ (GHG emissions), and ‘Repair’ (the planet) to achieve the subsequent key results.

1) Ensure pledges translate into implementation. A 2021 analysis of the efficacy of climate pledges in the finance sector found that global banks provided around $740bn in financing to coal, oil, and gas companies, despite the fanfare of climate pledges by multiple lenders and borrowers. Therefore, COP27 should hone in on a concrete ‘policies-to-action’ dialogue, identifying opportunities for countries, especially those responsible for cumulative global emissions stock, to not only announce further policy changes but implement stringent accountability standards to ensure that pledges are doing enough to reach the agreed Paris accords.

2) Ensure the availability of climate finance for countries most impacted by global warming. In previous conferences, many coal-dependent developing economies felt cornered since, to them, an emphasis on coal while excluding oil and gas would have a disproportionate impact on their economies. These nations feel pressured to transition from fossil fuels to renewables without financial or technological assistance from developed countries. Some nations, like India, have used a ‘fairness argument’ by agreeing to revise their NDCs but condition their implementation on foreign contributions. The crux of the fairness argument is that the cumulative stock of global emissions was produced by developed nations that benefited from the industrial revolution. These nations can now enact climate-friendly policies while reaping the benefits of having the money. Hence, they should bear the principal responsibility for solving the problem they created.

Therefore, to increase support for vulnerable countries and promote trust between nations, the promised climate action flows from larger economies for developing countries must be prioritised. The conference needs to ensure that the Paris rule book is properly implemented and that the private sector is mobilised to contribute more efficiently. According to a recent estimate by the World Resources Institute, approximately $600 billion in climate finance is required by 2025 to combat climate change.

3) Focus on nature-based solutions or geoengineering. It has become painfully clear that as important as adaptation is, we can no longer adapt our way out of the climate crisis. Ultimately, we must cut emissions, and nature-based solutions present a unique opportunity for us to do so. These solutions involve conserving, restoring, or better managing ecosystems to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere. COP26 took a historic step in recognising the need for nature-based solutions, and it is expected that COP27 will focus on further investment and funding in this space. Currently, nature-based solutions receive less than 10% of all climate funds. Recent research shows that if deployed effectively, nature-based solutions, alongside other decarbonisation efforts, can ensure that climate goals are met.

Pakistan’s participation in these conferences has generally been minimal, with the country seldom serving on the working groups or drafting committees. However, given the devastating floods the nation experienced this year, and the fact that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been made the vice-chairperson for the COP27 in recognition of his support for an urgent climate action plan, Pakistan is ideally positioned to join other climate-impacted developing countries in seeking reparations, an issue that developed nations have repeatedly pushed down the agenda in previous conferences. However, potential recipient nations, such as Pakistan, should not expect that after COP27, they will receive a massive and imminent infusion of reparations to bail them out of their budgetary and foreign currency issues. As seen by the onerous GCF criteria, reparations, as and when released, are likely to be given under stringent documentation and compliance protocols covering the nature of usage, evidence of project completion, and adherence to performance standards.

The biggest threat, as we enter COP27, is the widening gap between eloquent rhetoric, virtue signalling, and real climate action. According to Greta Thurnberg, “As it is, the COPs are not working unless, of course, we use them as an opportunity to mobilise.”

In two weeks, we shall see if COP27 was able to capitalise on this opportunity. Otherwise, the global climate strategy will need a fourth R: ruination.

The writer is a Fulbright alumnus, passionate about sustainable energy consumption and climate change



Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2022.

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