UN Secretary-General: COP27 Climate Summit “concludes with much homework and little time”

Noah Severance, Scarlet Staff

The 2022 United Nations climate conference concluded on Nov. 18 after two weeks of talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. There were plenty of distractions from the Conference of Parties, primarily from reports regarding Egypt’s authoritarian regime and record of human rights violations

The U.N. is reportedly investigating the role of Egyptian police as security officers, following allegations of harassment and surveillance of local and international activists. This behavior included the official COP27 app’s collection of personal data from users

The convention itself was poorly organized, with attendees at times being unable to find food, water or even internet connection. Negotiations of a final decision went 40 hours past the conference’s deadline. Alden Mayer, a senior associate at the E3G climate think tank, told The Guardian that “it’s hard to imagine running a worse process than the Egyptian presidency.”

Alok Sharma, president of last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, was disappointed by the lack of commitments in the final COP27 agreement. The world will need “emissions peaking before 2025 as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text,” he said. “Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text. A commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text weakened in the final minutes.” 

Sharma was a strong proponent for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement’s commitment to lowering emissions and staying below 1.5°C global temperature rise, which countries were supposed to submit new plans for in preparation of COP27. Instead, countries are being asked to make a new pledge for emission reductions to bring to next year’s COP28. 

A report published by the UN Environment Programme shortly before the conference said that there is “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place” and that the world is on track for a temperature rise of 2.4-2.6°C by the end of the century. 

“Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres concluded, “and that is an issue this COP did not address.”

Despite the lack of strong action to reduce emissions, success was found in a historic deal 30 years in the making to start a “loss and damage” fund for developing countries struggling with the effects of climate change. This was a top priority for leaders of vulnerable countries, and negotiations were not easily accepted by delegations from richer countries.

Attempts to stall or delay the creation of such a fund were unsurprising to delegates like Edward Bendu of Sierra Leone, who said, “we had pledges, statements and commitments. But we need comprehensive proposals. We already have concept notes, we already have proposals, we already have our [emission cutting plans], we need to move into implementations.” 

It is currently unclear exactly who or how much will be paid, but Ani Dasgupta, President of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, said that “this positive outcome from COP27 is an important step toward rebuilding trust with vulnerable countries.”

African countries in particular hoped to receive special focus in the event which was widely billed as “Africa COP”, but a discussion about the continent’s special circumstances was struck from the official agenda.

Africa’s energy infrastructure was a key issue, as fossil fuel companies have looked to the continent as an opportunity to move away from reliance on Russian oil by helping developing countries. “But that narrative doesn’t hold up,” Kenyan activist Omar Elmaawi told CNN, “because although they’re calling it ‘development’ they want to exploit these resources and send them into the Global North.”

Russia, while not involved in COP27, was still a large factor in negotiations as the changing geopolitical landscape put oil and gas suppliers in higher and higher demand

Earlier this year, the Energy Minister of the United Arab Emirates said: “Oil producers felt unwanted in COP26, felt like we were in a corner. Now, we’re like superheroes.” Combined as one group, the 636 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance make a larger group than any single nation’s delegation other than the UAE, whose 1,000 delegates include 70 linked to oil and gas companies. 

The UAE is set to host COP28 next year, and The Guardian found that the UAE has been hiring PR and lobbying agencies to promote itself as a leader of responsible energy production, including the spending of close to three million dollars in contacting US politicians on both sides of climate change legislation. Around 30% of the country’s GDP relies on oil and gas, and concerns remain that the COP28 next year will not do anything to reduce the use of fossil fuels. 

According to Jim Skea, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group III on Mitigation, “what is really important is what happens between the COPs – what happens at the subsidiary bodies, and a lot of the responsibilities, they’re not in the halls here.” 

It remains to be seen what will happen next, but many are optimistic, such as Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Climate Envoy of the Marshall Islands: “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.”

“COP27 concludes with much homework and little time,” said Secretary-General Guterres. “We need all hands on deck to drive justice and ambition.”