Like previous COPs (UN Climate Conference of the Parties), this year’s was met with mixed reviews.
Opinions are split on COP27’s critical efficacy and benefits vs. ceremonious fluff. Is it worth the carbon impact of flying thousands of people across the globe? According to Greta Thunberg, who criticized COPs as an attention grab for world leaders, no.
This one was especially contentious. Here’s why:
- The location—Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt—and potential (and real) human rights abuses, including activist surveillance and 60,000+ political prisoners and Egyptian climate activists.
- Global emissions are increasing and have done so since the first COP.
- Sponsorship by Coca-Cola, which is one of the world’s largest producers of single-use plastic pollution.
Criticisms aside, the final COP document, The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, has some key outcomes:
Major win: Loss and damage fund provision
This new loss and damage fund is a significant win for developing economies, which will receive financial compensation for the negative climate impacts they experience. This was a huge ticket item at COP26 and failed, so this year’s agreement is a big win.
But let’s not call it a slam dunk just yet—funds will take years to materialize. There was no agreement on how large the fund would be, who pays into it, and who controls and manages the distribution. All important points, especially as these nations experience billions in damage now (e.g., the flooding in Pakistan in 2022 that killed thousands and resulted in $40 billion in economic damage, 11% of the country’s GDP).
Major loss: Mitigation
To get the climate fund for loss and damage passed, they gave up stronger commitments around the 1.5° goal and the process of phasing out of fossil fuels.
How could this happen? There are two reasons:
- Geopolitical context – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strained pipelines for natural gas, upending the global energy market and prompting many countries to expand domestic fossil fuel reserves.
- Lobbyists – There were a ton of fossil fuel lobbyists—oil and gas execs—at COP this year, seemingly exploiting the energy crisis. In years past, they’ve been pushed to the periphery.
Reminder, COP26 focused on keeping the 1.5°C warming threshold alive. And prior to COP27, countries were supposed to update their national climate targets—only a handful kept their promise—now made easier by the fact that the annual target renewal was dropped, which returns us to a longer five-year cycle as set out in the Paris Agreement. Another blow to mitigation is the shift in language to “low-emissions energy” instead of zero-emissions, which further opens the door for natural gas instead of placing more importance on renewables.
All in, COP27 didn’t undo COP26, but it also didn’t raise ambitions, which, in the end, is widely a failure.