Even as diplomats and activists applauded the creation of a fund to support vulnerable countries after disasters, many worried that nations’ reluctance to adopt more ambitious climate plans had left the planet on a dangerous warming trajectory.
“Too many parties are not ready to make more progress today in tackling the climate crisis,” European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans told tired negotiators on Sunday morning. “What we have in front of us is not a big enough step forward for people and the planet.”
The equivocal deal, reached after a year of record climate disasters and weeks of tense negotiations in Egypt, underscores the challenge of getting the world to agree on swift climate action while many powerful countries and organizations remain invested in the current energy system.
UN negotiators reach agreement to help countries vulnerable to climate disasters
Rob Jackson, a Stanford University climatologist and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, said it was inevitable that the world would exceed what scientists consider a safe warming threshold. The only questions are how much and how many people will suffer?
“It’s not just COP27, it’s the lack of action from every other COP since the Paris agreement,” Jackson said. “We’ve been bleeding for years now.”
He blamed entrenched interests, along with political leaders and general human apathy, for delaying action towards the most ambitious goal set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2, 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
An analysis by advocacy group Global Witness showed a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists among attendees at this year’s conference. Several world leaders, including the Egyptian hosts of this year’s COP, held events with industry representatives and spoke about natural gas as a “transition fuel” that could facilitate the shift to renewable energy. Although burning gas produces fewer emissions than burning coal, the production and transportation process can leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
In closed-door consultations, diplomats from Saudi Arabia and other oil and gas-producing nations have pushed back on proposals that would allow nations to set new, more frequent emissions reduction targets and call for phasing out all polluting fossil fuels, according to several people familiar with the negotiations.
“We went to the mitigation workshop, and it was five hours of trench warfare,” New Zealand Climate Minister James Shaw said, referring to talks on a program designed to help countries meet their climate commitments and reduce emissions in all economic sectors. “It was hard work just to hold the line.”
Humanity’s current climate efforts are largely insufficient to avert catastrophic climate change. A study released midway through the COP27 negotiations found that few countries have followed through on last year’s conference demand to step up their emissions reduction pledges, and the world is on the verge of warming well beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius – crossing a threshold that scientists say will lead to collapsing ecosystems, escalating extreme weather and widespread hunger and disease.
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Nor does Sunday’s deal reflect the scientific reality, outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year, that the world must rapidly reduce its reliance on coal, oil and gas. Although an unprecedented number of countries – including India, the United States and the European Union – have called for language on the need to phase out all polluting fossil fuels, the global decision did not than reiterating last year’s pact in Glasgow on the need for a ‘phase-down in unremitting coal power.
“It’s a consensus process,” said Shaw, whose country has also supported the fossil fuel phase-out language. “If there’s a group of countries that are like, we won’t tolerate it, it’s very difficult to do that.”
Yet the historic agreement on a fund for irreversible climate damage — known in United Nations parlance as “loss and damage” — has also shown how the COP process can empower the smallest and the world’s most vulnerable.
Many observers believed that the United States and other industrialized countries would never make such a financial commitment for fear of being held responsible for the billions of dollars in damages that climate change would cause.
But after catastrophic floods left half of Pakistan under water this year, the country’s diplomats led a negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing countries demanding that “loss and damage financing arrangements” be added to the meeting agenda.
“If there is a sense of morality and fairness in international affairs…then there should be solidarity with the people of Pakistan and those affected by the climate crisis,” said Pakistani negotiator Munir Akram at the start of the conference. “It’s a matter of climate justice.”
Resistance from rich countries began to wane when leaders in developing countries made it clear that they would not leave without a fund for loss and damage. As talks dragged on Saturday, diplomats from small island states met with European Union negotiators to broker the deal the nations finally agreed to.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, said the success of the effort gave her optimism that countries could also do more to prevent future warming – something that is needed to keep her small nation from dying. Pacific to disappear in the rising seas.
“We have shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible,” she said, “so we know we can come back next year and get rid of fossil fuels once and for all” .
And Harjeet Singh, head of global policy strategy for Climate Action Network International, saw another benefit of demanding payment for climate damage: “COP27 has sent a wake-up call to polluters that they can no longer be exempted from their climate destruction,” he said. .
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