The source of the Nile River in Uganda
The countries most vulnerable to climate change eked out a historic deal at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, as wealthier nations finally agreed to pay into a so-called “loss and damage” fund that will provide payments to poor nations for losses and damages associated with disasters related to climate change.
Vulnerable nations are often the smallest-emitting countries, and for years they have been petitioning historically wealthy, high-emitting countries to help pay for natural disasters linked to climate change. Leading up to COP27, leaders from developing countries promised that the annual climate conference would not end with a final agreement unless their demands for loss and damage payments were met, and they emerged from the negotiations victorious. However, while negotiators agreed to help fund climate-related restitutions for vulnerable nations, they could not agree on language related to the phasing out of fossil fuels, so progress on global carbon emissions reductions remains stagnated.
As the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gasses, the United States opposed loss and damage funding, because it feared that a commitment to funding climate damage mitigation in vulnerable nations could be construed as an admission of liability. However, as negotiations ran overtime, countries opposed to loss and damage funding, primarily the U.S. and European Union member nations, capitulated. The fund is likely years away from being operational, as negotiators have yet to determine who will oversee the funds and how they will be dispersed.
Governments also made significant advancements in adaptation funding negotiations. Adaptation planning helps vulnerable countries become more resilient to climate change, and countries pledged over $230 million to the United Nations Adaptation Fund while at COP27. However, the U.N. estimates that it will take $4 billion to $6 billion to transition to low-carbon economies and adapt to a warming climate, and some participants expressed concern that developed countries have never met previously made financial commitments to fund climate transitions and adaptation measures in poor countries.
Unfortunately, approving loss and damage funding came at the cost of updating emissions reductions targets. Language about phasing out the use of fossil fuels was rejected by oil-rich nations, and the agreement lacked an acknowledgment that global emissions must peak before 2025 to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
At the close of the conference, U.N. secretary general Antonio Gutteres expressed his disappointment in the outcome and said, “We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP did not address. A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition. The red line we must not cross is the line that takes our planet over the 1.5 degree temperature limit. To have any hope of keeping to 1.5, we need to massively invest in renewables and end our addiction to fossil fuels.”
Current climate pledges and targets place the world on track to hit 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. Prior to COP27, the 193 nations that signed the Paris Agreement were required to update their current climate targets, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, to keep emissions in line with a 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit. However, only 29 countries did so.
While loss and damage funding is an enormous climate victory and an important milestone in the global fight against climate change, the omission of language surrounding the phasing out of fossil fuels and the need for drastic reductions in emissions is an embarrassment for COP27. Organizers dubbed COP27 “Implementation COP,” but in reality, as countries ignored their commitments to update their NDCs and curb emissions, and lead negotiators refused to address fossil fuels as the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, there was little implemented that will slow humanity’s race toward catastrophic climate outcomes.
Image credit: Melissa Askew via Unsplash
Mary Riddle is a writer and sustainability consultant based in Florence, Italy. As a former farmer and farm educator, she is passionate about regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. Currently, she and her husband also own and operate Italy in Season, a subscription box company with a mission to support small-scale Italian artisans and traditional craftsmanship.
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