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Looking ahead to COP27 – Expert Reaction

The world will turn its attention to Egypt next week as government leaders, policymakers, and activists attend the latest UN Climate Change Conference.

Goals for COP27 include emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts, and enhanced flows of appropriate finance. The SMC asked experts to share what they see on the horizon for this event, especially for New Zealand and Pacific countries.

Adrian Macey, Adjunct Professor, New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“At last count, 35,000 people will turn up. Very few of them will actually contribute to the core negotiations. The COPs have become much more than a meeting of governments to advance international climate change negotiations, so that the annual gathering has many features of a trade fair combined with a festival.

“There is no major deadline at this COP such as a global stocktake, or the next revision of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), neither of which are due this year.

“Adaptation will be a prominent topic – Egypt is emphasising this as an African COP – and increasing resilience of the most vulnerable countries is a priority.

“There will be several issues where developing countries will be pushing for more from rich countries – notably finance and loss and damage, but also more action from them on reducing emissions .

“At a high level, we can expect a lot of attention on the fact that the 1.5 degree temperature goal now seems unattainable.

“For New Zealand, progress on international carbon markets will be a goal, to facilitate the massive use of offshore mitigation (carbon markets, etc.) that will be required in our NDC.

“There is a risk of a return to stale North-South debates, and a further risk of another round of disappointment for those countries wanting to see greater commitments on finance, which will be hard to obtain in the current economic climate.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

Marco de Jong, DPhil Candidate, Global and Imperial History; Rhodes Scholar (New Zealand and Balliol, 2018), University of Oxford, comments:

“After a year which can only be described as a foreign policy public relations nightmare, it is disappointing to see New Zealand’s Climate Ambassador Kay Harrison resigning New Zealand to incrementalism this COP. Pacific nations, concerned with a deteriorating geopolitical climate and conscious that the crucial 1.5-degree threshold is a near-impossibility, do not have such luxury. As New Zealand calls for common ground and flaunts a worthless dairy deal, remember that it is getting increasingly hard to live on islands and as Pacific people. Claims to any kind of leadership from New Zealand ring hollow when weighed against ambition and carbon debt. With current warming trends, the Pacific is set to lose its coral and low-lying islands by the end of the century. Storms and saltwater intrusion threaten life and livelihood. Climate justice is rapidly being foreclosed. The Kioa Climate Emergency Declaration, recently signed by Pacific civil society organisations, shows the priorities of Pacific people this COP. Let us hope our delegation slipped in it their carry-on baggage. New Zealand’s early wavering on the crucial issue of separate, new and additional financing for Loss and Damage suggests not.

“Thinking beyond COP, and as institutions like the UNFCCC lose relevance to a Blue Pacific on the brink, we are entering a climate end game. The rules are changing and all bets will soon be off. Complacency is bad diplomacy and will lose New Zealand its standing in the region. It is time that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognise that they have invested decades of political capital in solidifying a peaceful, principled global image but that this entirely rests on influence in the Pacific. Aotearoa must regain its resolve. There is no other alternative besides irrelevance, New Zealand cannot bully or buy our mates. By committing to advancing climate justice this COP27, New Zealand will contribute to the rebuilding of Pacific regionalism—in ways consistent with grassroots priorities, our Pacific identity, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This is likely our last and best chance to fulfil our diplomatic potential as Aotearoa. For ourselves, for the region, and for the only Pacific future worth saving.”

No conflicts of interest.

Bronwyn Hayward, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Canterbury, comments:

“As a political scientist, I am very concerned about the precarious position of international climate negotiations going into COP27. In a highly distracted and dangerous world, still coping with the ongoing effects of global pandemic and its economic and social impacts, there is little visible political leadership among governments of the Global North to galvanise international cooperation for climate action.

“While the previous COP26 was also held in highly fraught times, the former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a strong position on climate change and the UK’s chief negotiator Alok Sharma (who was the President of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) was able to form international alliances to push for progress, resulting in a raft of agreements ranging from better methane management and forest protection, to greater ambition for emission reductions.

“This time around, however, it is left to the stretched resources of governments of the Global South to lead the climate vision. In the UK, the demotion of Alok Sharma out of Cabinet by Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister, (who has himself has now decided at the last minute to attend the meeting after previously ruling it out), together with a distracted US Presidency facing tough domestic midterm elections, and an ongoing dangerous war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine has exacerbated lack of real progress to reduce emissions or take proactive steps to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations

“That said, this leadership vacuum can provide an opportunity for New Zealand to support the Small Island States in their strong push to bridge four key gaps in climate action at COP.

“1. The first gap is in commitments to reduce emissions (called National Determined Contributions). Last week, the UN Environment Programme calculated that a short fall in government efforts leaves our world on track for a temperature rise of 2.4-2.6°C by the end of this century. The science body IPCC has been very clear that temperatures over 2°C risk immense suffering to many millions more people. So it is crucial that governments increase their commitments to reduce emissions at COP27.

“We could expect New Zealand may come under some scrutiny in this context to show that a unique Kiwi approach to accounting for agricultural emissions is fair and reflects our particular national circumstances while also aiding ambitious efforts for emission reductions.

“In a welcome move, the New Zealand government has also joined a small core group of 11 nations supporting Vanuatu’s climate leadership at the UN and International Court of Criminal Justice. Vanuatu is calling for a legal opinion ‘on the obligations of states under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change’. While this is not a step that makes failure to deal with climate change a crime of ecocide, it nevertheless could be a very important way to hold governments to account for their inaction in the future.

“2. The second gap which the Global South will be looking to narrow at COP is finance. So far only USD $86 billion of the $100 billion pledged to assist Global South countries to meet their climate-related mitigation and adaptation bills has been raised by developed nations, and Small Island states in particular are also pressing the UN to create financial mechanisms to address damages from climate change. While money can never compensate for the loss of human lives, loved places, cultural history and economic stability, Small Island states will push hard at COP for mechanisms to distribute funding rather than just more dialogue.

“3. The third big gap that I expect will dominate a lot of debate at COP is over adaptation planning. Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement calls for enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change. But a 2022 report by the IPCC indicated that while many countries now have adaptation plans in place, far fewer governments have implemented these plans. Again, the Global South will be pushing hard for a global agreement and funding to support climate adaptation and this is a goal that the new Egyptian president of COP Abdel Fattah Elsis has emphasised in his speeches.

“4. Fourth and finally, monitoring the implementation of the Paris Rulebook to ensure that countries can’t wriggle out of their responsibility for making real change will be part of the debate about the Global Stock Take, which is a new process of evaluating national efforts to cut emissions fairly. effectively and transparently.

“Overall, I expect this to be a very difficult COP where pressure from civil society and businesses will be needed to hold governments to account, but given Egypt has strong laws governing protest and new tools of surveillance, it’s hard to see how any real public momentum will build in the streets of the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. Looking ahead to the next COP in 2023 makes me more cautious again. That meeting will be held in one of the oil states, the United Arab Emirates, so overall it’s hard to see international leadership for the transformative change we need emerging in the next two years.

“If we are not to waste the precious time we have to make a difference for a safer climate future, it will be leadership by ordinary people, Indigenous communities, Small States, businesses and the Global South, who understand the extraordinary climate risks we now face, that will create the real lasting momentum for change.”

Conflict of interest statement: Professor Bronwyn Hayward was a coordinating lead author of the IPCC Adaptation, Implementation and Vulnerability report and is a member of the IPCC core writing team. She writes here as a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Canterbury. She declares no conflicts of interest.