The story since Glasgow COP26
Last Novembers’ COP26 summit ended with a glass half-full. There are still major gaps to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. There’s not nearly enough finance in the right places to unlock the pace and scale of action we need. Demands by communities on the frontline of the climate crisis for finance to address the ‘loss and damage’ caused by the impacts of climate change were ignored.
But at the same time, there was cause for hope. Many, including the G7, sent strong, clear signals on the urgency of phasing out international finance for fossil fuels, the importance of ecosystem restoration and protection for climate action, and the appetite to work on mobilising the trillions of dollars needed for climate transition. There were also clear commitments for more action – all countries agreed they would come back to revise their inadequate 2030 targets this year; developed counties said they would deliver the totemic $100bn climate finance target by 2023 and double finance for adaptation by 2025.
These silver linings, among others, carried momentum on climate action forward into 2022. However, the world is now facing a myriad of new geopolitical challenges that are taking up leaders’ attention.
The war in Ukraine has sparked serious food and energy security concerns, in turn triggering downward economic spirals across the global economy. In the West, a bid to ditch Russian fossil fuels has seen temporary spikes in coal and an alarming dash for new sources of gas gaining the upper hand against clean alternatives and energy efficiency as solutions to the problems of energy security and affordability. In many developing economies, urgent questions of food security and keeping cash flowing has understandably taken priority over climate transition.
Climate remains at the top of the global agenda, but political appetite to accelerate action has wavered, raising the risk that – as COP26 President Alok Sharma warned earlier this year – promises will ‘wither on the vine’.
State of play on the negotiations
Nonetheless, the UNFCCC climate negotiations go on. COP26 finalised the Paris Agreement rulebook, so now the talks turn their focus towards the tough questions of implementing the Paris Agreement. Several key issues are up for debate this year and became flashpoints at the annual intersessional negotiating that took place last month in Bonn, including:
1. Loss and damage finance: Governments at COP26 agreed to hold a ‘Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage’, the first of which took place last month. In Bonn, developing country negotiators were clear that the Dialogue is not going to be able to deliver on their priority – a decision at COP27 to establish a new facility for loss and damage as a key first step towards unlocking new finance to address devastating climate impacts they face.
They spent their energy fighting for an item on loss and damage finance to be included on the COP27 agenda – a critical step to ensure that such a decision could be taken in Egypt – but leaving Bonn, no agreement on this had been reached. Concerns are now rising that without a resolution to this dispute in the coming months, this fight over the agenda will define the opening of COP27.
2. Mitigation work programme: COP26 also agreed a new mechanism to help keep 1.5C alive – establishing a UNFCCC work programme on mitigation aimed at scaling up ambition and implementation in the 2020s. This is due to be agreed at COP27, but in Bonn, Parties were not seeing eye to eye on what this work programme should do.
China argued it should last just 1 year; others – like the group of small-island sates on the frontline of the climate crisis (AOSIS), want it to run until at least 2030 so it can have a real impact. Some like the EU wanted the programme to focus on how to accelerate decarbonisation in key sectors across the economy – which could help governments tackle issues like fossil-fuel phase out as well as deforestation and ecosystem restoration. But countries like India warned that they could not support an outcome that would try to set new targets or additional requirements on countries. In particular, developed and developing countries diverged over whether the work programme would shine a spotlight on ‘major emitters’.
This is a red line for many G20 developing countries, as they argue it would break with the distinction made in the Paris Agreement that developed countries should have greater responsibility to lead emissions reductions, whilst supporting action by developing countries. At the end of two weeks of negotiations, nothing substantive was agreed, raising the risk that talks in COP27 will start from scratch again.
Overall, the lack of progress made on these two hot-button topics, and others, has left a long negotiating to-do list for the remainder of 2022, piling more on to the workload for COP27 to burden.
Where do we go from here?
Bonn as a technical set of negotiations was never going to see major breakthroughs; in the absence of ministers or leaders, negotiators will struggle to bridge across divergent positions to find compromise landing grounds. But without further political attention between now and COP27, it remains challenging to see how such convergence will be able to take place in Sharm el Sheikh.
The road to COP27 will require countries to rebuild trust after a tense June negotiation in Bonn. Delivering on the promises that were made at COP26 can be a good start, in particular the commitment to come forward with new 2030 climate targets this year. Those major G20 countries who either weakened their targets (like Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia), failed to submit targets (like India and Turkey) or who could do much more to raise their ambition (like China) in the run-up to COP26 can now follow in the footsteps of Australia’s recent commitment to a new 2030 target.
But showing good faith delivery of climate promises alone won’t be enough. Delivering high ambition outcomes at COP27 will take real, bold political leadership from leaders. In this context, extra importance is placed on the series of leaders-level summits until COP27 as key steppingstones to rebuilding the top-tier political attention needed on the climate crisis.
September’s UN General Assembly will be a pivotal moment for leaders to signal their appetite for high ambition outcomes at COP27 as well as the CBD COP15 this December. While November’s G20 Leaders Summit will be one last chance this year for the major economies to turn the tide on fossil fuels, more strongly integrate the nature and climate agendas, and to build real solutions to pressing climate impacts. If leaders can seize these opportunities, it’s not too late for climate to be back at top of the political agenda in time for helping deliver a transformative series of outcomes that can accelerate climate action, implementation and addressing impacts at COP27.
Tom Evans is a Researcher in E3G's Geopolitics, Climate Diplomacy and Security programme.
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