COP27: What happened?

Anna Triponel

November 22, 2022

The COP27 talks have concluded, and we have our COP27 agreement. Let’s run you through where we landed. But first, some essentials. 

Some COP essentials

  • COP = Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • This COP27 is the 27th meeting of the parties to this convention, the UNFCCC
  • It is the main UN climate change summit in the world and hosted by different countries every year
  • Last year (COP26), it was in Glasgow (we were there!). This year (COP27), it was in Sharm El Sheikh. Next year (COP28), it will be in in Dubai
  • The core of it remains the official negotiations amongst the parties. But since COP25 (the Paris Agreement), the COPs have attracted more and more participants from a range of sectors. This year there were over 45,000 participants in Sharm El Sheikh, and it was the first year to oil and gas companies were invited to participate in the official COP27 programme of events
  • This year’s COP ran from November 6th to November 18th, but last-minute negotiations meant that the summit continued until this past Sunday (20th)
  • There are 197 parties, representing countries, and the agreements the parties sign as legally binding on the parties.

So where did the parties land this year?

(See here and here for the press release and full papers)

The loss and damage fund

‘Loss and damage’ in essence refers to where there have been climate impacts that are disastrous, irreversible, and that could not be prevented. The concept was first raised over 30 years ago by Vanuatu and other small island countries whose very existence is at risk from climate change.

The COP27 agreement is that a new structure will be set up for loss and damage to help poor countries manage the effects of climate change. It will be set up before next year’s COP. Governments agreed to new funding arrangements as well as a new dedicated fund, to support developing countries in responding to loss and damage. 

A transition committee (comprised of 24 countries) will be created (to meet before March 2023) to provide recommendations on both the new funding arrangements and the fund. The fund will not ascribe legal liability to any payments (which helped the U.S. agree to it).

No phase down of fossil fuels

There was a fierce diplomatic fight on what the position would be with regard to fossil fuels. 

On the one hand, governments committed to the process (EU, US, Australia, etc.) advocated to include a commitment to phase down all fossil fuels in the agreement. 

This was fiercely rejected by other governments (in particular Saudi Arabia, but also Russia and others). The talks got so bad that the European Union threatened to walk away on Saturday if the agreement was not enough to “keep 1.5 alive” — the rallying cry from last year’s COP26.

The concession is widely viewed as deeply disappointing. The agreement speaks about the need for “low-emission” energy. So continued production of fossil fuels is acceptable, if it’s paired with carbon capture technology. 

Those of you who followed the Glasgow agreement will recall a similar disappointment when the Glasgow Climate Pact was watered down at the last minute on coal, when “phase out” of coal, was replaced by “phase down.”

Some reactions

We highlight here some quotes that capture well the sentiment here: 

  • “Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now — and this is an issue this COP did not address. … A fund for loss and damage is essential — but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map — or turns an entire African country to desert.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres
  • The COP27 result is “not enough of a step forward for people and planet. … We should have done much more. Our citizens expect us to lead. That means far more rapidly reduced emissions.” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans
  • “This Cop caused deep frustrations but it wasn’t for nothing. It achieved a significant breakthrough for the most vulnerable countries. The loss and damage fund, a dream at Cop26 last year, is on track to start running in 2023. … Elsewhere in Sharm el-Sheikh, it was a silent and fearful Cop for many activists. The legacy of those fighting for civic space and human rights will endure.” Laurence Tubiana
  • “COPs were designed to get countries to agree and they did that in 2015. … What the world needs now is action to reduce emissions and as a result the COPs are no longer fit for purpose.” Tom Rivett-Carnac, Former UN climate official
  • “When the history of the climate crisis is written, in whatever world awaits us, COP27 will be seen as the moment when the dream of keeping global heating below 1.5C died. … The 1.5C goal may not yet be physically impossible to achieve, but COP27 has shown it is politically impossible. … The scientific warnings before COP27 could not have been louder: we are on the brink of irreversible climate breakdown. Behind closed doors at the summit, however, the fossil fuel states forced other countries to fight tooth and nail merely to preserve the inadequate status quo.” Damian Carrington, The Guardian Environment Editor.
  • “[M[ake no mistake: we have kept the hope of 1.5 alive.” John Kerry, Joe Biden’s climate envoy
  • “Cop27 has kept alive the goal of 1.5C. Unfortunately however, it has not delivered on a commitment by the world’s major emitters to phase down fossil fuels, nor new commitments on climate mitigation.” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission
  • “I wish we got fossil fuel phase-out. The current text is not enough. But we’ve shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible. So we know we can come back next year and get rid of fossil fuels once and for all.” Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate envoy from the Marshall Islands
  • “Today, the international community has restored global faith in this critical process that is dedicated to ensuring no one is left behind" Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda's health and environment minister
  • The new fund “marks a new dawn for climate justice.” Yeb Saño, head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Spotlight on lack of efficiency of the COP negotiations

Diplomats have questioned the efficiency of the negotiations, with last minute changes and little time for substantive changes, resulting in an agreement that many are not happy with. Simon Stiell, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has stated that he will provide recommendations to the United Arab Emirates ahead of COP28 for how to strengthen the negotiation process. Reflections are being shared on what a more effective process could look like, ranging from having the Bonn-based UN climate secretariat more actively track pledges and/or host the annual events, and/or reforming the current two-week format. See here and here for more on this. We also found this overview compiled by the Science Media Centre providing a range of views and takeaways from scientists following the COP27 negotiations fascinating.

Backdrop of rising emissions

The COP27 outcome is to be viewed against the latest findings on emissions. The team of scientists at The Global Carbon Project science team released their latest findings (2022): 

  • Global carbon emissions in 2022 remain at record levels
  • There is no sign of the decrease that is urgently needed to limit warming to 1.5°C
  • If current emissions levels persist, there is now a 50% chance that global warming of 1.5°C will be exceeded in nine years.
  • There is projected total global CO2 emissions of 40.6 billion tonnes (GtCO2) in 2022. This is fuelled by fossil CO2 emissions which are projected to rise 1.0% compared to 2021, reaching 36.6 GtCO2 -- slightly above the 2019 pre-COVID-19 levels.

Takeaways for companies

The COP27 outcome reinforces the need for companies to advance rapidly on setting and meeting science-based climate targets across their operations and value chains which are aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Governments provided the pathway back in 2015 with the Paris Agreement, which gave us the international agreement to (preferably) limit global warming to 1.5°C. Now, seven years on, companies are well placed to lead the way in continuing to push for the 1.5°C limit - with or without political momentum. The COP27 outcome also shows us that climate justice is rising firmly on the political agenda. Now would be a good time for companies to ask themselves how their own approaches to climate consider and integrate climate justice and just transitions.

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