Activists have criticized previous UN climate talks, calling them slow, complex and ineffective. As countries around the world fail to meet climate commitments to keep global temperatures below the fateful 2 degrees Celsius, can this year’s COP27 in Egypt rise above the failures of the past – or is it destined to disappoint?
For nearly 30 years, the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) has been the driving force behind international climate negotiations. of the year COP27 starts on Sunday in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, under the auspices of the United Nations. About 200 countries will participate, along with various companies, non-governmental organizations, researchers and journalists.
Although these monumental talks are meant to provide solutions on how to tackle climate change, they are often criticized for getting a few results on the table. A witness to last year’s COP in Glasgow, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg branded goods the conferences as “greenwashing […] not really meant to change the whole system.” The 19-year-old will not attend COP27.
“One of the main reasons behind the criticism is that we do not see the concrete effects of the commitments made. There is a lack of accountability and follow-up of the resources and funds that were promised. [by attendees]”, says Sebastien Treyer, director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), referring to global methane pledge and that financial alliance for net-zeroboth were drafted at COP26 in Glasgow last year.
To their detractors, COP conferences have served little or no purpose. And perhaps with good reason. Greenhouse gas emissions hit a new high in 2021, the loss of Biodiversity has been rampant and global warming has rapidly accelerated, causing intense Heat wavesdevastating forest fires and historical floods.
Even worse is that previous commitments from participating countries are not fulfilled. The Paris Climate Agreement, signed in 2015 at COP21, pledged to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. But the world is far from the track, heading for an increase of about 2.5C by the end of the century. A “catastrophic” trajectory, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
It is hard to believe that the upcoming COP can reverse this trend, given the looming one energy crisis and ongoing tensions between China and the United States, the world’s two biggest polluters.
A “transitional” COP
Although miraculous results should not be expected at COP27, this year’s conference is useful in several ways. First, to help prepare the ground for future conferences. Climate negotiations are so complex that they regularly require so-called “transition” COPs.
“COP27 is a chance to prepare for the first global review in 2023, which will take stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It is about defining what criteria will be used to measure the progress that has been made,” explains Greenpeace climate campaigner Clement Senechal, a few hours before his departure for Sharm el-Sheikh.
The first of its kind to be held in Africa, the world least polluting continent, COP27 is expected to be a milestone for climate justice. The countries most vulnerable to climate change intend to join forces and hold industrialized nations to account this year.
Year 2009, rich countries promised to mobilize $100 billion per year starting in 2020 for climate action in developing countries. But developed countries say it now they won’t meet that commitment until 2023, three years late. Only 79.6 billion dollars climate finance has been provided, much less than 340 billion per year is needed for adaptation by 2030, according to the UN.
“We are facing an extremely complicated geopolitical moment when countries in the Global South show their mistrust of the West. We hope that Germany and Canada, who lead the group of Northern countries on this issue, will come with more precise commitments in order to rebuild trust in the South , which have huge investment needs,” explains Sebastien Treyer.
COP’s raison d’être
Providing a platform for vulnerable countries to speak as equals with the Global North is arguably the COP’s greatest strength. “It is the only multilateral forum where discussions like these actually take place,” campaigner Clement Senechal insists. But the downside is that decisions must be made unanimously. “Each country has a veto, so we generally end up with the lowest common denominator.”
“The multilateral forum is not perfect, but it is the best we have,” said IDDRI director Treyer, who insists on the importance of reaching “highest-level agreements” to accelerate ecological transition.
By mobilizing civil society and increasing public awareness, COP conferences also have the advantage of creating a common culture around major climate issues, crucial when such diverse countries are part of the same conversation.
The annual climate convention encourages “collective learning and sharing of experiences,” says Treyer. “Weaning off coal is a real challenge in South Africa and Indonesia, just as it has been for Germany. It is important for these countries to talk about their experiences and understand how to initiate complex political and social negotiations to begin the transition.”
“The COP events also keep diplomatic channels open on issues that have critical geopolitical implications. Climate change is driving population displacement, tensions over natural resources and challenging powerful interests,” said Greenpeace’s Senechal. “Without this, the alternative is war and power struggles at the international level,” he concludes.
This article is translated from the original in French.