Five crucial questions in the fight to save the planet – and what Cop27 did about them

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One of the main aims of COP27 was to bolster the emissions pledges made at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow. These are needed to ensure that global warming is limited to 1.5°C. No such pledges were made in Egypt and most observers now conclude that the world is destined to warm beyond this limit.

“I find it hard to understand how anyone can go on saying that 1.5C is still alive,” said James Dyke, of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter. “We are now entering a much hotter and more dangerous world.”

This point was supported by Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Center at the University of Manchester. “One year after COP26 in Glasgow, an additional 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere. Another miserable façade of climate concern creaks to its “groundhog” end.

Losses and damages

As expected, COP27 was dominated by arguments about climate compensation due to the poorest countries. Global warming was caused by industrial nations using fossil fuels to get rich. They should therefore reimburse the countries that suffer the most from climate change. These “loss and damage” claims include Pakistan’s recent $30 billion flood bill.

Hope has been expressed that a deal could be in sight, but confusion surrounds the details of the deal. “The only bright spot from Cop27 was a renewed seriousness around loss and damage, with hundreds of millions committed through various schemes,” said geographer Laurie Parsons, of Royal Holloway, University of London. “Major concerns remain, however. The total funding required for adaptation is at least $2.5 trillion by 2030, so we are still orders of magnitude away.

Nature

Global warming threatens to devastate habitats around the world, putting thousands of species at risk of extinction. These range from polar bears and tigers to monarch butterflies and sea turtles. However, the most dramatic threat is to the planet’s coral reefs, which are home to thousands of species. A global warming of 1.5C will see between 70 and 90% of coral reefs disappear. At 2C, 99% will be destroyed.

Baby gorillas play together in a Ugandan national park
Baby gorillas play together in a Ugandan national park. Global warming threatens to devastate the habitats of animals like these. Photography: AP

Such threats will be debated intensively at COP15, the UN biodiversity summit next month. However, no mention of the conference was made in Egypt despite the strong link between climate change and species loss. On the other hand, a more positive note was brought by the arrival of Lula da Silva, the new Brazilian president, who has pledged to do everything to save the tropical forests of his country – unlike the gloom of previous years on their spell.

No more gas or coal

At COP27, hopes were raised that humanity’s consumption of coal, gas and oil, the main causes of climate change, could be drastically reduced. This optimism stems from India’s call for a phase-out of fossil fuel burning – although not a phase-out, it should be noted. But the proposal has not resulted in major follow-ups and the issue has yet to be resolved.

“Now it’s all about damage control,” said Professor Richard Betts of the UK Met Office. “We should all still work much harder to cut emissions urgently to keep global warming as low as possible while adapting to the changes we have already caused.”

Adapting to a warmer world

Minimizing the warming of our planet by trying to limit carbon emissions is only one way to fight global warming. The world must also adapt so that it is less vulnerable to the floods, droughts, rising sea levels and agricultural disasters that await us as the planet warms. These adaptations would take the form of better flood defenses, levees, moving communities to higher ground, and protecting road and rail connections from storms and flooding.

Some improvements to earlier commitments were suggested at COP27, with reports indicating that a doubling of funding for adaptation could be agreed. However, scientists again warn that the levels of funding pledged are still well below the investments that will be needed in the near future.

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