Activists have scolded previous UN climate talks calling them slow, complex and ineffective. As countries across the world fail to meet climate commitments to keep global temperatures below a fateful 2 degrees Celsius, can this year’s COP27 in Egypt rise above its bad rep, or is it destined to disappoint?
For almost thirty years, the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) has been the cause celebre of international climate talks. This year’s COP27 kicks off on Sunday 6 November in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, under the aegis of the UN. Some 200 countries will take part, along with various companies, NGOs, scientists and journalists.
Although these monumental talks are meant to bring solutions on how to tackle climate change, they are often criticised for bringing a scant number of results to the table. A witness to last year’s COP in Glasgow, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg branded the conferences as “greenwashing […] not really meant to change the whole system”. The 19-year-old will not be attending COP27.
“One of the main reasons behind the criticism is that we don’t see the concrete effects of the commitments made. There is a lack of accountability and follow-up for the resources and means promised [by attendees],” says Sébastien Treyer, director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), referring to the global methane pledge and the financial alliance for net-zero, both devised at the COP26 in Glasgow last year.
To their detractors, COP conferences have served very little or no purpose at all. And perhaps with good reason. Greenhouse gas emissions hit a new high in 2021, the loss of biodiversity has been rampant and global warming has rapidly accelerated, causing intense heatwaves, devastating wildfires and historic floods.
Worse yet, former commitments made by attending countries are not being met. The Paris climate agreement, signed in 2015 at COP21, pledged to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. But the world is far off track, headed for a rise of around 2.5C by the end of the century. A “catastrophic” trajectory, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
It’s hard to believe that the upcoming COP can reverse this trend, given the looming energy crisis and ongoing tensions between China and the US, the world’s two biggest polluters.
A ‘transition’ COP
Even if miraculous outcomes should not be expected at COP27, this year’s conference is useful in several ways. First, to help prepare the ground for future conferences. Climate negotiations are so complex that they regularly require so-called “transition” COPs.
“COP27 is a chance to prepare for the first global review in 2023, which will take stock of the Paris agreement’s implementation. It’s a matter of defining what criteria will be used to measure the progress that has been made,” explains Greenpeace climate campaigner Clément Sénéchal, a few hours before his departure to Sharm el-Sheikh.
The first of its kind to be held in Africa, the world’s least polluting continent, COP27 is expected to be a milestone for climate justice. The countries most vulnerable to climate change intend to join forces and hold industrialised countries to account this year.
In 2009, wealthy countries pledged to mobilise 100 billion dollars per year starting 2020 for climate action in developing countries. But developed countries now say they won’t meet that commitment until 2023, three years late. Only 79.6 billion dollars’ worth of climate finance have been provided, far less than the 340 billion per year needed for adaptation by 2030, according to the UN.
“We are facing an extremely complicated geopolitical moment in which countries in the Global South are showing their distrust towards the West. We hope that Germany and Canada, who lead the group of northern countries on this issue, will come up with more precise commitments in order to rebuild trust in the South, which has immense needs for investment,” Sébastien Treyer explains.
The COP’s raison d’être
Providing a platform for vulnerable countries to speak as equals with the Global North is undoubtedly the COP’s greatest strength. “It’s the only multilateral forum where discussions like these actually take place,” campaigner Clément Sénéchal insists. But the downside is that decisions must be taken unanimously. “Every country has a veto, so we generally end up with the lowest common denominator.”
“The multilateral forum isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got,” says IDDRI director Treyer, who insists on the importance of reaching “agreements at the highest level” to accelerate ecological transition.
By mobilizing civil society and raising public awareness, COP conferences also have the virtue of creating a common culture around major climate issues, crucial when such differing countries are part of the same conversation.
The annual climate convention encourages “collective learning and the sharing of experiences,” Treyer says. “Weaning off coal is a real challenge in South Africa and Indonesia, as it has been for Germany. It’s important for these countries to talk about their experiences and understand how to launch complex political and social negotiations in order to begin the transition.”
“The COP events also keep diplomatic channels open on issues that have critical geopolitical implications. Climate change leads to population displacement, tensions over natural resources and challenges powerful interests,” Greenpeace’s Sénéchal says. “Without this, the alternative is war and power struggles at the international level,” he concludes.
This article was translated from the original in French.
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Publish date : 2022-11-06 06:54:48