On Sunday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi along with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, inaugurated COP27.
Addressing the two-day high-level segment of the event, Al-Sisi said the peoples of the world expect leaders meeting at COP27 “to take real and concrete steps towards reducing emissions, enhancing adaptation to the consequences of climate change, and providing the necessary financing for developing countries that suffer the most from the current climate crisis.” Guterres warned that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” While acknowledging the toll the war on Ukraine was taking on international decision-making, the UN secretary-general warned that “climate change is on a different timeline, and a different scale; it is the defining issue of our age.”
Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said that while countries committed to updating their climate pledges to deliver far greater emissions cuts during COP26 last year in Glasgow, a recent UNEP report shows that progress is slow and “we need to kickstart a system-wide transformation now.
“We need a root-and-branch redesign of the electricity sector, of the transport sector, of the building sector, and of food systems. And we need to reform financial systems… to cut 45 per cent off emissions by 2030,” Andersen said.
“COP27 needs to be about implementation, about action and about putting finance on the table so we can protect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.”
As negotiators work their way through the final agreement in Sharm El-Sheikh, things are far from straightforward. According to one Egyptian negotiator, the extent of developed countries’ willingness to commit financially remains unclear. The $100 billion budget that was agreed in 2009 and was due for full delivery in 2020 seems unlikely to be honoured this year. Finance for projects to cut down on emissions and embrace green choices, and a loss and damage mechanism to compensate some of the world’s poorest countries for the climate change damage they have already sustained are also unresolved.
As a senior Southeast Asia negotiator put it in the lead-up to COP27: “While our countries are being inundated with floods, hit by sandstorms and suffering drought, the West is moving on with its industrial plans with no worries about what is happening to us.
“Worse still, Western states are not prioritising allocations for the management of the impact of their emissions on poorer countries.
“It is not enough for these countries to adopt projects that help themselves to gradually cut emissions. They also need to finance our countries to find ways to adapt to current and future impacts.”
Between COP26 and COP27, 55 vulnerable countries estimated that their combined climate-linked losses over the last two decades total $525 billion, an amount equal to 20 per cent of their collective GDP. Without prompt action on loss and damage, it is estimated that by 2030 the collective losses of these same countries could reach $580 billion per year.
Addressing COP27 on Sunday, Kenyan President William Ruto, chair of the Committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change, said millions of Africans were already caught in a living nightmare.
Ruto’s statement represented an appeal for urgent help that was echoed by other African leaders. In the preparatory talks leading to COP27, Egypt and other African countries repeatedly underlined the impacts they face due to water stress, persistent droughts, and devastating floods which are having a profound effect on African communities, economies, and ecosystems.
Ahmed Al-Droubi, campaigns manager at Greenpeace MENA, said developed countries have been resisting language that acknowledges their long-term responsibility for the damage sustained by poorer countries due to climate change, or agree on a legally binding commitment to make up for the colossal damage inflicted on developing and least developed countries. While it was “a breakthrough” that the concept of loss and damage actually made it onto the COP27 agenda, Al-Droubi said what was urgently needed was “to establish a mechanism for loss and damage funding this year, or at least a complete agreement in principle which can then be activated in the next two years.”
African Climate Movement-of-Movements facilitator and Don’t Gas Africa facilitator Lorraine Chiponda argued that there is an urgent need for a follow up mechanism that guarantees the implementation of whatever loss and damage agreement is passed at COP27. Such a mechanism, she said, must be based on “the principles of equity and justice”. Last year, noted Chiponda, the Just Energy Transition Partnership provided for South Africa left funding details vague and “we still don’t know if we are talking about a loan or about a grant.”
Mahmoud Fathallah, head of the Environment Affairs Department at the Arab League, says Somalia provides an example of what climate change means in economic and political terms.
“We are talking about a country which has suffered three successive years of drought and whose population now faces famine,” he said.
The situation, adds Fathallah, is almost as dire in some other Arab countries which are facing the looming threat of desertification, Iraq being one example. “The loss sustained by the citizens of these countries is tremendous,” he said.
In meetings over the last year, Arab League environment ministers and experts have repeatedly warned that their countries face climate change complications compounded by inadequate resources, large populations and current and projected causes of instability. Facing such challenges, and with funding still elusive, it is very difficult for their governments to find ways to move fast and firmly cut emissions.
The role of non-state bodies in working side-by-side with governments to reduce global warming has also received attention. On Tuesday, the High-Level Expert Group on Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities released a report in Sharm El-Sheikh. It criticised greenwashing exercises and weak net zero pledges that threaten to undermine global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Catherine McKenna, chair of the group, said the report calls on non-state entities to commit to immediate reductions in absolute emissions across the value chain, with short-, medium- and long-term scientifically based targets. She stressed that detailed transition plans must show immediate emission reductions, and capital expenditures must be aligned with these targets and the non-state actors’ net zero pathway.
On a non-governmental level the call has been basic: action now and not later because later, even if only a little later, is perhaps too late.
“The next COP is always the most important” is a saying climate activists often use to mock the lack of commitment on the part of governmental and non-governmental parties when it comes to pledges and timetabled action plans. In Sharm El-Sheikh this week activists were lobbying hard to make sure that the parties agree concrete targets with specific timelines for implementation to avoid deferring long overdue action to COP28 in the UAE.
Additional reporting by Mohamed El-Kazaz and Hind El-Sayyed Hani
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.