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Everything you need to know post-COP27

The 27th annual UN Climate Summit concluded on Friday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Here’s a roundup of what was achieved, what missed the mark, and the most important points made by the 13 Gen Z activists we held thematic conversations with during the last fortnight.

Though COP27 was meant to conclude last Friday, delegates were furiously working on the final decisions well into the weekend.

The results of the latest UN Climate Summit were only unveiled on Sunday morning after gruelling debates over funding and fossil fuel emissions forced negotiations to drag on almost two days longer than expected.

Countries failed to commit to phasing out, or even phasing down, all fossil fuels. It’s a glaring omission that’s alarmed climate scientists and experts who warn that stronger action and sharper cuts are necessary to limit warming.

However, the deliberations did culminate in one key breakthrough, which was a hard-fought agreement to set up a ‘loss and damage’ fund. This will offer vulnerable nations financial assistance in dealing with the natural disasters they’re being battered by.

Let’s examine the main takeaways from the last fortnight. Did the outcomes take necessary measures to adequately tackle the crisis we’re running out of time to confront?

 

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What was achieved at COP27?

Loss and damage

Following three decades of pressure from developing nations, the EU made a last minute U-turn on blocking loss and damage efforts.

The result – which is being hailed as the most significant advance since the Paris Agreement at COP15 – is a new arrangement that establishes a fund to help low-income, highly-affected countries bear the immediate costs of extreme weather events caused by global warming.

According to the agreement, the fund will initially draw on contributions from developed countries and other private and public sources like international financial institutions to assist these nations with rebuilding their physical and social infrastructures.

Though the more contentious issues regarding the fund (such as what the criteria to trigger a payout will be and how exactly the money should be provided) were pushed into talks to be held next year, its adoption displays a dedication to rebuilding trust and standing in solidarity with the Global South.

Cop27 agrees historic 'loss and damage' fund for climate impact in developing countries | Cop27 | The Guardian


Adaption over mitigation

While mitigation has long taken centre stage in negotiations on where to direct climate finance, world leaders at COP27 made sure to highlight the need for more adaptation ­focused solutions.

In short, recognising the ever-diminishing time frame we have to reduce the severity of the crisis, they turned their attention to how nations should be working around it to become more resilient to the impacts of ecological breakdown.

The outcome of this is a comprehensive global to-do list to help improve the resilience of more than four billion people against climate-related risks, with proposed measures including flood defences, seawalls, wetland preservation, mangrove swamp restoration, and forest regrowth.

Building on this, the UN launched a new action plan (which it’s asking governments to invest $3.1bn into) to implement early warning systems in fragile regions.

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Protecting biodiversity

Despite concerns that not enough was said about nature ahead of COP15, a specially dedicated and separate biodiversity conference, hopes were raised by the attendance of Brazil’s new president, Lula de Silva, who pledged to do everything in his power to save his country’s rainforests – in contrast to previous years’ fears about their fate under Bolsonaro.

Devoted to dramatically reducing deforestation in the Amazon, he confirmed that Brazil is seeking co-operation with Indonesia and the DRC on conservation, as well as the creation of a council of Indigenous Leaders with whom he seeks to collaborate more closely with on protecting Brazil’s biodiversity.

Not only this, but some 140 countries officially launched the Forests and Climate Leader’s Partnership to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.

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Other notable achievements include the publication of a net-zero ‘guidelines’ paper intended to be a ‘single core reference text’ for organisations wishing to credibly create meaningful targets, the US doubling its previous commitment of $4bn to $8bn to prepare the agriculture sector for the effects of climate change, and Germany signing a deal with Egypt to advance green hydrogen.

The COP27 deal also says that ‘safeguarding food security and ending hunger’ is a fundamental priority, and that communities can better protect themselves from climate effects if water systems are protected and conserved. However, regardless of how welcome these new additions are, they are not supported by actions that need to be taken nor any dedicated funding to promote them.

 

What missed the mark?

Governments Should Commit to Fossil Fuel Phase Out at COP27 | Human Rights Watch

Outside of these achievements, progress was limited.

For starters, the mandatory phasing out of fossil fuels was noticeably absent from discussions, despite a commitment at last year’s summit to at least begin reducing coal extraction and a stronger-than-usual industry presence at this year’s.

In fact, although some countries – surprisingly led by India – vocalised their ambitions to stop burning gas, oil, and coal (accounting for 40 per cent of all annual emissions) at COP27, this proposal failed and the resolution reached was the same as that in Glasgow.

This had a lot to do with the current energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which loomed large during the negotiations and saw language calling for a fossil-fuel-phase-out jettisoned from the final text.

In its place is now a reference to ‘low emission and renewable energy,’ which is being considered a problematic loophole that could allow for the development of further gas resources, as gas produces less emissions than coal.

Finally, adding insult to injury, while one of the primary goals of COP27 was to strengthen COP26’s emissions pledges – which are desperately required to ensure global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius – no such commitments were made in Egypt.

Rather some countries actually tried to back out on their promises to stay within the limit and to abolish the ratchet mechanism.

Bar chart showing how the world has been getting warmer between 1850 to 2020

Fortunately, they failed, but a resolution to cause emissions to peak by 2025 was removed from the final text, to the dismay of those familiar with the IPCC’s recent warnings of the catastrophes set to arise if we don’t act soon.

Among them are the heating of the Amazon, which could turn the rainforest to savannah, transforming it from a carbon sink to a carbon source, and the melting of permafrost that could trigger a ‘methane time bomb.’

This has led many to conclude that the world is destined to heat beyond this limit, an apt expectation given there’s a fifty-fifty chance we’re likely to pass it permanently by 2031.

For a year billed to be all about ‘implementation,’ it seems we’ve fallen short.

‘There was no backtracking. Which as a result, one could say, is highly unambitious. And I would actually agree,’ UN Executive Secretary for Climate, Simon Stiell, tells The Associated Press.

‘To say that we have, stood still. Yeah, that’s not great.’

This is a sentiment echoed by the 13 Gen Z activists we spoke to during COP27, all of whom shared valuable insights into how we should be feeling about the topics covered at this year’s summit.

In conversation with 13 Gen Z activists

Melati Wijsen – World Leaders Day

Thred: With political turmoil and economic spiralling overshadowing our climate goals, are the current pledges too ambitious or unrealistic? Can we ever really reach them?

Melati: Given current circumstances, I think they’re within reach and they should be priority for everyone. If we don’t start focusing on climate change there will be more war and pandemics.

Clover Hogan – World Leaders Day

Thred: In the context of previous efforts (or lack thereof), do you deem the goals outlined so far within reach or too ambitious? What should we measure the success of discussions by?

Clover: Even if a lot of world leaders are in denial, the urgency of these solutions is hard to ignore. We’re going to see runaway climate change in many parts of the world if we fail to limit emissions and that’s terrifying because even many of the global commitments that have been made so far don’t put us on that path – let alone action. There are already so many people living through climate change, already being displaced, already losing their lives and their livelihoods. They don’t have a choice to say it’s too late or too far gone. For them, it’s do or die.

Oluwaseyi Moejoh – Finance Day

Thred: Time and time again, high-income countries have failed to commit to their climate finance pledges. Do you think that these promises will ever be met with real action?

Oluwaseyi: It’s been sad to see how slow the process of getting action from our leaders is. There have been so many promises, words, commitments, and fancy speeches over the years. The fact that we’ve had over 27 climate conferences, some even before I – or most of Gen Z – were born, means this has been ongoing and it’s still happening. We have to understand that lives are at stake. People are saying that this year’s COP is about implementation. So what structures are we putting in place to ensure that governments and presidents will report their progress throughout the year and before the next meeting? Time is not on our hands.

Ann Makosinski – Science Day

Thred: How do you feel about this year’s summit?

Ann: Greta Thunberg has accused COP27 of being an exercise in greenwashing, which I totally understand given the number of private jets that have flown to the event. Not to mention that Coca-Cola is one of the biggest sponsors of COP this year, which is kind of contradictory. They have the money, sure, but also – what are they saying? You have to walk the talk.

Shelot Masithi – Youth and Future Generations Day

Thred: Currently, the structure of COP is inherently disempowering for young people, from the rules around how actions (e.g. protests) can be held, to limitations around access. This disproportionately exacerbates the challenges already facing historically marginalised groups. How can these issues be rectified and have we witnessed any improvements so far?

Shelot: It’s a systemic and structural issue. Beyond the inaccessibility of COP, our governments in the Global South aren’t even doing enough. They’re under-funded without an explicit reason as to why. There are a lot of ‘whys.’ Without answers, we’re always going to be trying to figure out what we’re being fed on the surface and not navigating the ‘whys.’ We should be demolishing the hierarchy that sees older generations making all the decisions.

Peter Havers – Youth and Future Generations Day

Thred: Why is it so essential that young people be the change they want to see?

Peter: Because we have to live with the effects of the climate crisis for the longest time. We’ve arguably got the most to lose and therefore have the strongest incentive to take action.

Michael Backlund – Decarbonisation Day

Thred: What are you hoping to see from today’s conversations?

Michael: A stronger focus on education, which is currently under prioritised. How do we know what tools are available to lower our carbon footprint, and how can we choose the best ones? How can the individual person feel that their money is going to a place that actually helps them? I think that’s the big elephant in the room. Everyone here talks about how wonderful it will be when society is able to offset everything reliably, yet they only focus on the validation part. I personally think there’s a lot of false hope in expecting people to use these tools.

Catalina Santelices – Gender Day

Thred: Do you believe that COP27 can meet the primary needs of women and girls on the front lines (integrated policies, financial aid, and better regional cooperation are some examples)?

Catalina: I don’t think that COP is going to save them. The decisions made today won’t reach women and girls on the front lines. Not now, not for years to come. What really helps, however, is connecting with people outside of the negotiations. Because inside those rooms, the needs of the people aren’t being projected, only private interests. It’s money over lives at the moment.

Bodhi Patil and Nyombi Morris – Water Day

Thred: Could you share some of the mitigation strategies that you hope to see implemented?

Bodhi: We always hear the notion that demands consumers to be responsible. But polluters – large fracking, oil, and gas companies – are funded by multinational industries like Coke, Pepsi, and Unilever. They are the source of the problem, and it’s not on consumers to carry that burden. So I challenge everyone to release that burden and focus on making systemic changes.

Nyombi: I want to add that behavioural change in individuals is a notion proposed by polluters so that we care, even though they don’t. Sometimes we cannot stop buying plastic products because we need them. Companies that have the power to change are prioritising money over our lives. That’s why I say polluters must pay. We have to hold every one of them accountable.

Ghislaine Fandel – Energy Day

Thred: Though people, politicians, and companies are now well-aware of the implications of inaction around fossil fuels, sustainable energy still constitutes a considerably small portion of what we use on a daily basis. Why do you think there still has not been a more decisive move towards sustainable options, despite us being so clearly aware of the need to change?

Ghislaine: When you pair the short-sightedness of a lot of politicians with an industry that is so willing to do whatever it takes to maximise its profits and remain relevant in an economic sense – even in a political sense – with the imperialistic and the neo-colonial mindset that is dictating the relationship between countries right now, it leads to where we are today: facing a lack of decisive action that allows for a clean, just, and equitable energy transition. It’s important to accept that there’s going to be a need to reduce consumption in order to allow for this transition.

Kasha Slavner – Biodiversity Day

Thred: As we near the final days of the summit, how hopeful are you that policies are going to be agreed upon to limit the effects of global heating going forward?

Kasha: The Global North is not committing to stopping the expansion of fossil fuels for oil and gas extraction, which is one of the key things we need in order to stop us from surpassing our 1.5 degree limit. Still, the language of the conference focuses on this being the target, when it’s really a limit that we should not surpass. That’s why the Paris Agreement exists, because we have that cap that will prevent us from seeing far greater climate disasters and impacts affecting people on a massive scale. We urgently need to change the way we view a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius as a target because this risk takes away some of the accountability.

Fazeela Mubarak – Solutions Day

Thred: What commitments are required to support communities bearing the brunt in fragile regions? Do you believe that COP27 has adequately addressed the needs of those on the frontlines and why is it so essential that their specific vulnerabilities take centre stage?

Fazeela: We can’t be putting our trust in high-up individuals until we see they are no longer relying on revenue. How long do we have to wait until we have something concrete that’s going to make a real difference to communities like mine? These are reparations and they’re long overdue. We have been exploited so much by the global north so it’s only fair that we are now given what we need to sustain ourselves during a crisis that we did not create.

 

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