PHOTO: Coral reef in Ras Muhammad nature park at southernmost point of Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. By ssr (talk) - Own work, Public Domain,

COP27 comes to a close – Expert Reaction

Wealthy countries attending the annual UN Climate Change Conference have agreed to fund poor and vulnerable nations that are experiencing some of the worst effects of a changing climate.

However, there have been delays in approving a wider deal outlining global resolve to fight climate change.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the outcomes of this year’s conference.

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

“On what is a historic day for Pacific diplomacy, we mark the climax of thirty years of self-sacrifice. Pacific nations will face certain disaster, but they may just have saved millions of others in the developing world.

“Since 1990, the Alliance of Small Island States has functioned as an ad-hoc coalition of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), providing a shared voice on issues of climate change, ocean governance, and sustainable development within the UN system. It features centrally in discussions of Pacific responses to climate change for its vitality and effectiveness. Historically, the prominent role of Vanuatu as the Alliance’s first chair and its success in influencing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) over five sessions from 1990–1992 were triumphs for Pacific and small states’ diplomacy. Indeed, the climate agenda owes much of its shape to AOSIS activism in early meetings. The coalition advanced key tenets including: the ‘precautionary principle’ (to act decisively in reducing emissions despite scientific uncertainty) and ‘polluter pays’ (which although watered down to ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ still acknowledges industrialised countries’ greater role in causing and thus addressing climate change). Crucially for its members, AOSIS embedded the explicit recognition that ‘small island countries [are] particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change’, and thus had ‘specific needs and special circumstances’. Even the issues that AOSIS tabled unsuccessfully—such as compensation for loss and damage, equitable carbon markets, and ambitious overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—are those intractables still under negotiation today. Such achievements are remarkable. Today marks another as AOSIS saw its long-time advocacy on the crucial issue of funding for loss and damage realised. If the fund is transparent, accessible, and sufficiently large, this will make a difference for those in the Global South facing the severe and unavoidable impacts of climate crisis.

“For this win, however, Pacific nations have given everything. COP27 will be remembered as the great Condemning Of the Pacific. Progress on loss and damage came at the expense of mitigation efforts, confirming our islands as the sacrifice zone. In what was the last, best chance to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the summit failed to deliver greater ambition and narrowly avoided backsliding completely on assurances made in Glasgow regarding short term emissions reductions and the phasing down of fossil fuels. The Pacific will now lose all of its coral and face unprecedented storm systems that will render many low-lying islands uninhabitable by the end of this century. For over thirty years, Small Island Developing States have served as the conscience and critical edge of a process that has slowly served to constrain the range of Pacific possibility and preclude climate justice. Continuing in this way is unconscionable and if internationalism is to provide anything other than weaponised incrementalism or palliative care, Pacific nations must now look to take their vibrant diplomacy outside of the UNFCCC. Vanuatu’s initiative in seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on states’ responsibilities for acting on climate change is a promising first avenue.”

No conflicts of interest.

Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva, Director, Macmillan Brown Center for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The decision by COP27 to set up a Loss and Damage fund is a welcome move which many countries vulnerable to climate calamities have been pushing for. New Zealand should be thanked for showing great empathy and taking a global lead in pushing for this on behalf of the Pacific and other vulnerable countries.

“Before we celebrate, there are a few challenges which need to be addressed. Firstly is the issue of admission of moral responsibility for destructive emission by the big polluters—are they prepared to admit their historical faults and agree to pay for them?

“Secondly is how much will be provided and who will give what, especially in light of the failure of the $100 Billion pledge on climate finance to fully materialize.

“Thirdly is the cumbersome bureaucratic process of disbursement, which from the experience of climate finance has not gone down well with the Global South countries.

“Fourthly is how much of this will be in the form of loans which will further shackle poor countries into more debt, as the experience with previous climate finance has shown.

“Lastly, what voice do the communities who are actually affected on the ground have? Often the recipient governments in collaboration with donors and implementing financial institutions have the power to determine how the money is used. It’s time to democratize the process and give more voice and power to the people on the ground who are actually affected by loss and damage. They should have a say in what is to be funded.”

No conflicts of interest.

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

“The key decision on loss and damage is essentially a political compromise with little immediate benefit.

“At least another year will be needed to make the new ‘funding arrangements’ (note a fully stand-alone fund was a bridge too far) operational. Expect much more of the same fraught discussions.

“The decision itself acknowledges exactly what I have been saying – there is very little fundamentally new here.

“See references to the ‘many institutions and stakeholders’ and ‘previous work under the UNFCCC’ – they’re already doing relevant work.

“The new arrangements are to ‘complement and include other sources, funds, processes and initiatives’. It also, sadly, creates yet another bureaucratic mechanism to service.

“So first, there is little or nothing fundamentally new here

“Second, this decision and all the days and nights of negotiations which preceded it do absolutely nothing to advance the core task of limiting global warming.

“Third, it demonstrates the steeply declining marginal utility of COPs.”

Adrian Macey provided the following comments on the end of COP27 before the final result of the conference was known.

“Yet again a COP has been ridiculously over-hyped by everyone from the UN Secretary-General down… and has failed to meet the unrealistic expectations raised. This is a very bad signal which further erodes public confidence.

“It is now a complete misnomer to see COPs as either the yardstick for or the determinant of global progress towards limiting global temperatures and adapting to the effects of climate change. In fact, COPs are becoming a distraction, more counterproductive than productive. The Paris Agreement gave climate change adaptation and finance the same prominence as mitigation in its core objectives and is now fully operational bar some details. Rather than requiring ever more input from COPs, it is enabling and providing guidance for autonomous action, by both government and non-state actors.

“‘Loss and damage’ was a distraction from the core goals. Of course no-one can oppose financial assistance to developing countries for the consequences of climate change they have suffered. But a bit like Amartya Sen’s point that famine does not mean there is not enough food, there is actually not a massive shortage of money to assist developing countries – certainly or at least the most vulnerable among them. There are multiple windows already for assistance. A lot more money will be needed in the future. But much of what’s being talked about under ‘loss and damage’ can already be financed through bilateral or multilateral programmes. Creating a new basket with a new label does not and will not increase the total funds available.

“In a negotiating sense, this topic served to force negotiations back into an outdated and counterproductive binary North-South, rich-poor, developed-developing, zero sum framing – all duly bought into by the NGO community. This framing, which produces interminable conflicts and stalemates, is the single biggest obstacle to negotiations progress. The trope that ‘we did well out of the industrial revolution now it’s our turn to give something back’ is less and less valid. Historical contribution to warming is not static. China is already at #2 and other emerging economies are catching up.

“Loss and damage has fulfilled a similar function some other topics that have arisen in the negotiations, all of which have served to extract concessions from the industrialised (another outdated label) countries as the price for cooperation on the main goal. When it was first raised, no-one knew what it was supposed to cover. There is no chance of broad acceptance of any commitments based on ‘liability’ or ‘compensation’. What is certain, assuming a new fund or window is agreed, is that yet another inefficient bureaucratic mechanism will be created in the UNFCCC to service it.

“In terms of the global goals, the most useful feature at this COP may be one that has nothing to do with the COP – the US Energy Transition Accelerator, a public and private sector scheme to help countries mobilise investment in their clean energy transitions. It has several innovative ideas – including that recipient countries will be able to sell any carbon credits generated. (This is unlike New Zealand’s forthcoming international carbon markets foray to meet our 50/2030 target where we will be getting the credits.) It’s one example of autonomous action.

“This paralysis of COPs is abetted by poor negotiating tactics by Europe and some others, especially those most concerned about ‘international reputation’. It now looks as if some face-saving language on mitigation from developing countries will secure an outcome on loss and damage. But what does that really amount to in terms of global progress?

“What matters most now is not grand declarations on unattainable targets but the speed of the energy transition, most of all in the 20 or so countries that make up 80% of global emissions. And that means trillions of dollars of investment by 2030 – another scale altogether from the amount or money realistically in play under loss and damage. The COP has contributed nothing to this.

“It’s time for some tough love.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

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

“COP27 has ended. A lengthy, chaotic and at times deeply divisive fortnight of negotiations has produced a package of agreements and one ‘historic win’: a fund for loss and damages, but little more. The Conference of the Parties failed to make progress in Egypt around key goals of reducing emissions to hold the world’s temperatures at 1.5 degrees or closing the funding gap to support the world’s poorest nations to adapt to extreme weather and reduce emissions.

“First, to give credit where it’s due, however, setting up a Loss and Damage fund is a significant win after a long struggle by Small Islands and the Developing Countries block of 77 countries who have pushed against resistance to this fund particularly from the USA, for 30 years. The fund (which New Zealand supported with an early financial pledge in week one) does matter. Steered by some remarkable, predominantly female negotiators, from Chile, Germany and Pakistan alongside small island states and G77 countries, it will contribute to disaster relief and recognises the harm already caused to poorer countries by richer ones who have used significant amounts of fossil fuels historically. The EU also pushed to link contributions to this fund to commitments to reducing emissions. The exact funding arrangement will be negotiated at future meetings, which while frustrating for some, also provides a way of leaving the door open for countries that have gained rapid wealth in more recent years, particularly China and Saudi Arabia, to also contribute funding in the longer term.

“One other breakthrough that might almost pass unnoticed was the thawing of tension between China and the USA over cooperation on climate action, with a commitment to renew their joint attention on reducing methane in particular.

“However, there is little else that can be celebrated in this agreement. While the wording of the COP text retained the ambition to hold the world’s temperatures to 1.5 degrees of warming above the preindustrial levels of the 1850s-1880s, there is no obvious, credible commitment set out by governments in Egypt collectively, to reduce their emissions to reach this goal. We need significant emissions reductions annually, without this the most recent estimates suggest we may be committed to a 2.4 to 2.6 degree Celsius warmer world by 2100, a disastrous result for millions of people, presenting enormous risk for food production, water security and a liveable future.

“Problems of transparency and accountability also became more confronting at these talks, with over 600 oil and gas industry lobbyists present in negotiations, there was significant unease expressed by many about their influence. While the agreements kept the wording of last year’s Glasgow agreement to ‘phasedown unabated coal power’ and ‘phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ there was significant concern that the text overall was ‘watered down’ in negotiations. For example, introducing the term’ low emissions energy’, which some argue provides a potential loophole for increasing use of natural gas with consequences for increased methane and CO2 emissions.

“In Egypt, the Minister of Environment from Chile, herself a climate scientist, became a key player in negotiating the Loss and Damages agreement. Her role reminds countries like New Zealand that despite the bleak international situation, smaller states have a significant opportunity now to serve as an honest broker in negotiations, ensuring that all commitments to reduce emissions and pledges for a ‘net zero’ future will actually deliver real change. It is also a reminder that our own actions at home have to be credible, the countries we trade with and like to compare ourselves to are watching, we have a crucial opportunity as a nation to take action ourselves to secure a resilient economy and a liveable future, for children and future generations.”

Conflict of interest statement: “Bronwyn Hayward is Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Canterbury, NZ and a member of the core writing team of the IPCC. She declares no conflicts of interest.”