Climate activists see mixed results from COP27
Last minute race to keep 1.5 alive
Implementation and inequality were the big themes on the agenda going into COP27. However, with the closing of COP27 on Sunday, November 20, leaders at COP27 were struggling to get countries to sign onto a progressive final statement.
Thursday night, with only 24 hours before the scheduled close, the United Nations secretary-general and COP27 president jointly addressed the summit to urge all parties to take necessary action. Sameh Shoukry, the COP27 president, summarized the state of the conference as “Some of the discussions were constructive and positive, others did not reflect the expected recognition of the need to move collectively to address the gravity and urgency of the climate crisis.”
Shoukry went on to say “The mitigation work program has yet to reach the desired outcome. Adaption is still held back by procedural matters. Ambitious outcomes on finance have not yet materialized. And on loss and damage parties are shying away from taking the difficult political decisions.”
The loss and damages Shoukry mentioned are the terms countries have been using to refer to the irreversible destruction caused by climate change. Countries at the COP have also recognized that the loss and damages due to climate change disproportionately impact poorer countries, and there has been a push to get developed countries to pay for those damages.
One of the issues being debated in the last days of COP27 is whether the final statement should have the goal of keeping warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. This debate is coming to COP27 due to a report released by the UN Environmental Programme shortly before the conference that claimed the only remaining paths to 1.5 C require “urgent system-wide transformation.”
Previous COP meetings have been criticized for taking little actual action on promises made, which is why this year had a focus on implementation. The current warming target at previous COPs was in accord with the Paris Agreement, which committed to keeping warming below 2 C and set 1.5 C as an aspirational target. This year at COP27, countries reaffirmed the Paris Agreement despite the European Union calling for a stronger commitment to keep warming to 1.5 C.
According to Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of international scientists, Canada has an overall ranking of Highly Insufficient as of September 2021, meaning that we are not on track to meet our Paris Agreement commitments. The Highly Insufficient ranking means that current policies put us on track for warming above 2 C. The domestic targets are ranked at “almost sufficient,” meaning that if planned policies and targets are enacted, we will be on track to be below 2 C but remain above the 1.5 C goal.
During COP27, Canada has made a number of announcements to further its climate commitments. The Canadian government announced initiatives totalling $84.25 million at COP27. All of the money committed under these initiatives is planned to be funded out of Canada’s $5.3 billion climate finance commitment, which was previously announced in 2021. Canada also led a Climate Pricing Challenge at COP27. The pricing challenge will not involve any additional commitments from Canada, and is a call for other countries to implement carbon pricing initiatives, like the one enacted by the Trudeau government. Canada also signed onto a US-led net-zero government initiative which commits to having all government operations at net-zero by 2050. This commitment is already a requirement of the Paris Agreement.
Notably missing from Canada’s commitments at COP27 this year is a commitment to phase down oil and gas production. In doing so, Canada has notably broken from other western nations such as the US, the European Union, and the UK, whose negotiators were considering signing onto a cover decision that committed to a fossil fuel phase-down. At COP26, last year, a commitment was made to phase down coal production, but ignored other fossil fuels, like oil and gas.
At a fireside chat on Thursday night, Minister of the Environment and Climate Steven Guilbeault blamed withholding agreement to the fact that under the Canadian constitution, natural resources are not under federal control. Although, last year at COP26, Canada signed onto a pledge to phase down coal use, also a natural resource. When asked about this discrepancy, Guilbeault said “we weren’t really challenged on that, but we are on pretty much everything we’re doing on oil and gas.”
The Center for International Environmental Law held a press conference on November 17, one day before the scheduled end of the conference, as a final push to get countries to commit to phase down all fossil fuels and commit to loss and damage financing.
Sebastien Duyck, senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), said in reaction to a first draft of the cover decision, “The conference has been marred by the promotion of false solutions and pledges that have doubled down on fossil fuels.”
Duyck made allegations of corporate influence on the conference and even foul-play, stating: “Many civil society and Indigenous Peoples representatives have been personally targeted by acts of intimidation and harassment by operatives with badges provided by the host of this conference. At the same time hundreds of corporate lobbyists have had plenty of opportunities to promote their corporate interests across the conference.”
The Director of the Climate and Energy Program Center for CIEL Nikki Reisch added that “What we’ve seen here are multiple new gas deals signed on the margin of this climate summit.”
During the press conference, panelists laid out their position of what a successful COP would look like.
Reisch said, “If this COP does not extend the commitment to phasing out fossil fuels beyond coal to include oil and, critically, gas, about which we’ve heard an awful lot about here, it’s a failure, full stop.”
Another panelist, Joie Chowdhury, program co-ordinator at ESCR-net, a coalition of environmental activists and NGOs, said “for many of us, the measure of success at this COP is the establishment of the loss and damages facility.”
As negotiations headed into overtime on Saturday, both the fossil fuel phase-out and loss and damages financing were still on the negotiating table. On Saturday morning, Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, who was commenting on behalf of over 130 health organizations worldwide, said “With people’s lives and humanity’s future at stake, governments at COP27 have a moral duty to stay at the table until they reach a robust agreement on establishment of loss and damage finance. […] Countries must also sit down and thrash out firm plans for protecting the future health and livelihoods of people worldwide by making a clear commitment to an equitable phase-out of all fossil fuels, essential to limiting warming to 1.5 C.”
At the closing of COP27 there were no commitments to phase-out oil and gas, though an agreement to finance loss and damages was established, and a management team for the fund will be set up next year at COP28.