For the first time, global leaders agreed to establish a “loss and damage” fund, paid for by wealthy countries, to support low-income countries in the Global South that have fallen victims to climate crises and disasters.
Over 35,000 activists, climate experts and government leaders – including President Biden and 100 other heads of state – met in the resort town Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt for the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27).
The goal of these UN Climate Change Conferences is to assess progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions based on each country’s varying contributions and capabilities.
Attendees spent two weeks discussing financing climate goals, deforestation and tech-based solutions during a global energy crisis, regional wars and disputes and inflation.
The “loss and damage” fund dominated the conference, urging rich, developed countries to pay reparations for climate change-induced costs which disproportionately affect countries in the Global South like Indonesia, Uganda and Egypt.
Although the details of the fund are yet to be finalized, 27 European Union nations and the United States pledged to pay into this future fund to help countries in the low-income Global South. The EU has also argued that China, categorized as a developing country by the UN, should pay into the fund.
The infamous goal of a 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels limit on global warming finalized in the Paris Agreement at COP26 last year did not gain as much traction as the fund at COP27.
There is recognition that the 1.5 degrees Celsius target requires cutting emissions globally by 43% by 2030 relative to the 2019 level. So far, about 30 countries have strengthened their national plans to cut fossil fuel emissions.
To the dismay of some, the agreement, called the “Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan,” was widely accepted but failed to call for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, specifically gas and oil. It also lays out “low-emissions energy,” a cloudy phrase that could lead countries to turn to natural gas, which still releases carbon dioxide and methane emissions.
The plan does include a clause that calls for “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power.” It also includes formal acknowledgement of climate justice and food security, problems which have been largely ignored in previous COP conferences.
Furthermore, COP27 was also the first so far to have a dedicated day for agriculture, which contributes to a third of global greenhouse emissions.
COP27 watchers are “pleased” by the explicit acknowledgement of the need to aid low-income countries, said Brett Hartl, the Government Affairs Director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit membership organization working to protect endangered species. However, he is not optimistic about the United States’ role in addressing this inequity.
“Regardless of what the Biden administration says, all funding mechanisms must be approved by Congress,” said Hartl. “Whatever the U.S. commitment is in terms of aspiration, getting dollars to actually put into this loss and damage pot is gonna be a challenge.”
Although COP27 was dubbed the African COP by many, some activists including Makoma Lekalaka, Director of Earthlife Africa, a South African non-profit, largely volunteer-driven environmental organization, said this year was not centered around Africa enough.
“This was not an African COP, it was just a meeting held in Africa,” she said. “The cost of delaying important decisions is going to be loss of life, loss of biodiversity, and the erosion of the dignity of the people. But those who are responsible for the climate crisis that we find ourselves in, don’t seem like they care.”
This year, flooding in Nigeria killed over 600 people and displaced another 1.4 million. ore than 20 million people in the drought-hit Horn of Africa are mired in a grave hunger crisis, with the worst famine of the last half-century hitting Somalia.
Hartl said the United States cannot do much to affect international climate crises the way other global leaders can in their own countries.
“Biden has promised multiple times to address deforestation, in his campaign in 2020, but very little meaningful action has come from any of these pledges over the years,” he said. “Reality is, [Brazilian President] Lula is going to do a lot more than anything that the U.S. may or may not do.”
With the good and bad of the conference’s conclusion rising to light, the consensus is that the fight for climate mitigation is not over.
Manish Bapna, President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental organization, said cooperation will be necessary for the future.
“No single climate meeting will solve the climate crisis overnight, but the window to stem the worst of climate impacts is closing quickly,” she said. “The world must regroup and rekindle its momentum—and never look back.”