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Climate Finance Will Be a Key Directive at COP27, But Human Rights Controversies Linger

By Mary Riddle

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from Nov. 6 to 18. Egyptian organizers have dubbed this year’s talks the “Implementation COP” to encourage nations to take action on prior commitments and agreements. 

At the heart of the talks is the fate of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, in which wealthier nations promised to channel $100 billion per year to less wealthy countries in order to assist with climate change mitigation and adaptation no later than 2020. However, the $100 billion annual target has yet to be reached, and there is growing skepticism that the pledge will even be substantial enough to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations from the growing threat of climate change.

“Current commitments are a floor and not a ceiling," Mohamed Nasr, director general of climate, environment and sustainable development at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement. "More is needed if we are to deliver an effective response to protect people from climate change.”

COP27: Controversy behind payments for loss and damage

Egyptian organizers have said for months that financial assistance for developing countries would be one of the top priorities of COP27. This year, Pakistan will lead one of the largest negotiations over financing for climate-related loss and damage, talks that could take center stage.

Pakistan’s delegation is expected to demand that wealthy countries meet their payment commitments as it reels from historically catastrophic flooding caused by climate change. Pakistan has historically emitted only 0.4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but damage from its recent flooding catastrophe exceeds $10 billion. So-called “loss and damage” financing would create funding mechanisms for payments and assistance to help vulnerable countries recover from climate-related disasters. 

However, the U.S. and many other wealthy nations are firmly opposed to any agreements that require financial obligations for loss and damage. (Scotland and Denmark are the two exceptions.)

“We cannot underplay the threat that humanity is facing due to climate change," Wael Aboulmagd, special representative of the COP27 president, said in a statement. "The cross-cutting issue is always going to be finance. How are we going to pay for this? We need all stakeholders on board.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres also called on wealthier nations to clarify their intentions to uphold the $100 billion climate finance pact.

With wealthy nations being firmly opposed to providing financial assistance for climate-related loss and damage, the U.N. is exploring other methods of funding. In September, Guterres called for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to cover loss and damage, and some vulnerable countries are calling for a global carbon tax and a tax on air travel. 

Beyond climate finance questions, accusations of human rights abuses linger

The lead-up to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh has been clouded by controversy as Egypt’s human rights record is coming under increased scrutiny. In September, a Human Rights Watch report accused the Egyptian government of undermining local environmental organizations’ abilities to conduct policy work and scientific field work.

In response to these accusations, Aboulmagd has publicly defended Egypt’s record, noting that Egypt is formally recognizing an increasing number of environmental groups. However, many Egyptian environmental activists have reported being unable to register to attend the conference.

"You will have activists from everywhere in the world coming to COP, but Egyptian activists are either blocked from going or they're in jail," one human rights campaigner in Cairo told the BBC. "Basically, nobody is safe in Egypt."

Egypt’s struggles with climate justice in part stems from the fact that with a per-capita GDP of just under $3,900, the country ranks worldwide between Tunisia and Sri Lanka; yet many environmental activists across Egypt who seek to address such inequalities say they are stifled and silenced by their country’s government.

Climate vulnerability is fueled by inequality

Countries responsible for the smallest share of historical greenhouse gas emissions are those that are most vulnerable to climate change. While the moral imperatives of this scenario are clear, wealthy nations with disproportionately high levels of carbon pollution are by and large refusing to participate in a due-diligence process that would allow for financial remediation for countries most significantly affected by climate change. Without a drastic change in climate finance, the loss of lives and livelihoods due to climate change will continue to be paid by the people least responsible for the disasters.  

Image credit: Pavlo Rekun via Unsplash

Mary Riddle headshot

Mary Riddle is the director of sustainability consulting services for Obata. As a former farmer and farm educator, she is passionate about regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. She is currently based in Florence, Italy.

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