COP27, the UN’s annual meeting on climate change, starts November 6. Find out what’s on the agenda and why success at this gathering is essential to humanity’s future.
As the leaves change colour outside my office window, I’m reminded that the year is starting to wind down. Every year has milestones that mark the seasons and the cyclical passage of time.
The world has started a more contemporary tradition every fall. It all started in Rio back in 1992.
The United Nations organized what it called the Earth Summit that year. The parties worked out a deal called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
COP27 Begins November 6th in Sharm-el-Sheik Egypt
The 197 countries who signed the UNFCCC now meet once a year in the fall for an event they call the Conference of the Parties. November 6 will mark the 27th Conference of the Parties, which insiders call COP27, in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Some of these conferences have gone better than others. For example, the parties signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Readers have probably heard about the goal to keep increases in global warming below 1.5˚C. That’s in the Paris Agreement from COP21.
Observers Called Last Year’s Engagement Half-Hearted
Last year’s meeting in Edinburgh was COP26, and the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Although the parties renewed their commitment to the 1.5˚C goal, many observers called their engagement half-hearted.
One accomplishment the countries could point to was what they’ve come to call the Paris Rulebook. That’s the plan and procedures for the practical implementation of the agreement.
The parties also committed to submitting updated national plans with more ambitious targets. They gave that promise because the commitments they’d made up to that point weren’t enough to hit the 1.5˚C goal.
Only 23 of 193 Have Submitted Plans as Promised
With COP27 just a few days away as I write this, only 23 of the 193 countries have submitted those plans. It’s inaction like this that’s led me to criticize COP meetings in the past.
According to a report by UN Climate Change, if countries stick to their current National Determined Contributions (NDCs), the planet is going to warm by at least 2.5˚C, which scientists rate “catastrophic.” There’s been some slight progress toward fighting carbon emissions but not nearly enough.
For example, in last year’s report, current climate plans would curb the increase in carbon emissions to 13.7 percent by 2030. This year, that figure has improved to 10.6 percent.
Emissions are Going Up When They Need to Go Down
The trouble is, emissions are going up when they need to go down. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that, according to the science, emission levels have to be cut by 43 percent to stay below 1.5˚C.
Simon Stiell is the UN’s Climate Change chief. He assessed the results this way, “The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world.”
Three Goals – Mitigation, Adaptation and Climate Finance
The COP27 agenda calls for a review of how to put the Paris Rulebook in place. The parties will also talk about how to compensate developing countries on the front line of the consequences of climate change for their losses and damage.
In terms of new business, there are three main goals for COP27. These are mitigation, adaptation and climate finance.
Mitigation is the traditional response to global warming. It includes things like new green technology and renewable energy. Reviewing the goals from COP26 in Glasgow will also be part of the mitigation discussion.
The three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle are also examples of mitigation. So is retrofitting things like furnaces and air conditioners with more efficient models.
Adaptation is about making changes to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis. Even with all the mitigation in the world, there will still be some climate change issues we’ll have to learn to live with.
The COP27 hosts will be asking member nations to present their progress toward making the world more resilient to the effects of global warming. Developed countries have agreed to at least double their financial contributions to adaptation.
However the parties come up with the cash, the UNFCCC states that far more of it’s needed to to adapt to future changes. The funding will have to come from both the public and private sector, including financial institutions.
This leads to the climate finance discussion. The world’s richest countries promised at COP29 in Copenhagen in 2009 that they would provide the developing world $100 billion per year for adaptation. This has never materialized, although there’s a chance it may finally happen in 2023.
Success at the COP meetings has been hit-and-miss over the decades. Some of the most important milestones in addressing the climate crisis have come from these global gatherings.
More often, the conferences of the parties have been all talk and no action. Critics have also pointed to the enormous carbon footprint that holding these massive assemblies involves.
Global Challenge that Calls for Global Solutions
Even so, the climate crisis is a global challenge that calls for global solutions. Nobody has come up with a better way to coordinate a response to the disastrous effects of global warming.
The obstacle to progress seems to be a lingering attachment to the idea that nature exists for humanity to exploit. The future, assuming we have one, requires us to realize that we’re one part of a vast web of life that we need more than it needs us.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a press conference,“I am urging leaders at the highest level to take full part in COP 27 and tell the world what climate action they will take nationally and globally. Leaders of the world can demonstrate through their presence and active participation that climate action truly is the top global priority that it must be.”
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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