A View From Me on ’23 – COP27 failed to really deliver but some justice was served

Andy Garraway, climate policy analyst for climate deep-tech firm Risilience, and previously based in the Cabinet Office working alongside Alok Sharma on negotiations for the UK’s Presidency of COP26, looks at what the outcomes of COP27 are likely to herald for the year ahead.

The annual COP summits were created with the goal of limiting climate change through international cooperation. This year’s event received over 100 heads of state and 35,000 delegates, but also more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists – a concerning statistic. Reflecting on COP27, did it succeed or fail in moving the needle on climate action?

The limitations of COP27

Global emissions are rising and we are falling further behind in our goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement. The Global Carbon Project has confirmed we will use up the 1.5°C carbon budget within the next nine years if drastic reductions in emissions are not made now without hesitation. Yet against the backdrop of a war, energy crisis and ever-growing inflation, this year’s COP was never going to be a straightforward path to success.

This is more than evident in the Sharm El-Sheikh Implementation Plan, which lacked ambition and failed to build on the mitigation successes of COP26. Countries could not agree on issues around emissions, such as the need for increased efforts towards reductions and the necessity for the world to peak emissions by 2025. The idea of expanding last year’s historic inclusion of a coal phase-down at this year’s COP to encompass all fossil fuels did not make it into the final text. Instead, a step backwards was taken, with a late alteration to the text expanding language on renewable energy to include ‘low emission’ energy, which could allow countries to invest in a major polluter – natural gas.

The successes of COP27

Considering the limited progress of COP27 on the climate mitigation front, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about the immediate future of climate action. However, we mustn’t skip over the wins.

Significant progress was made on the issue of Loss and Damage, whereby wealthier nations should pay financial compensation to those developing nations struggling to cope with impacts of climate change but have played a less significant role in causing it. Despite there being a lot still to agree on what remains an incredibly contentious issue, progress provides a much-needed sense of optimism around the effectiveness of multilateral climate action, particularly for the most climate vulnerable.

The hard-won agreement to establish a Loss and Damage Fund not only provides a sense of climate justice but it is also a practical win for those individuals, communities and businesses whose day-to-day existence is threatened by the impacts of climate change.

COP15 and biodiversity

As the Biodiversity COP15 negotiations kick off in Montreal, there is increasing awareness of the intersection of climate and nature, alongside the importance of reducing emissions in a manner which protects biodiversity and ecosystems.

Expectations are high for COP15: the prospect of a ‘Paris Agreement of Biodiversity’ is generating optimism about the revival of international cooperation in relation to climate and biodiversity after years of delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The recent election of President Lula in Brazil fuels this hope. Lula has been projecting the message that ‘Brazil is back’ and promises to put a stop to the dramatic and devastating deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which accounts for a quarter of the carbon absorbed by all the land on Earth. Lula’s desire to protect the world’s largest rainforest is solidified in plans to work with other rainforest nations to secure greater funding from developed nations – a plan already reaping benefits as Norway and Germany restart the Amazon Fund.

For business, next year’s forthcoming recommendations from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) shines a light on the increasing need to embed biodiversity considerations in business planning, a hurdle for many who have not yet grasped the extent of this topic.

COP27: success or failure?

Viewed through a climate mitigation lens, this year’s COP was a failure. No further progress was made in limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C, the outcomes of COP26 were not built upon and calls to reduce the use of fossil fuels fell short. Faster, more extensive emissions reductions are desperately required in this critical decade if we are to reduce the risk of exceeding 1.5°C.

However, big leaps were taken for those facing the brunt of climate change, which proves the continued importance of multilateral climate cooperation. For those nations, citizens and businesses facing rising sea levels, saltwater encroachment, droughts, floods and fires – made worse by increasing temperatures – the agreement to establish a Loss and Damage fund provides a sense of justice for the devastation they are increasingly facing and a means to mitigate these climate risks. This is, without a doubt, a critical win to restore some level of climate justice.