50 Years of climate negotiation: Two daydreams and seven nightmares sum up COP-27

As of December 2022, the total dues to developing countries by developed countries stand at about USD 1 trillion whereas only about USD 10 billion have been disbursed through Green Climate Fund till now.

Rajendra Shende Jan 08, 2023

Forty years back Egypt's then president Hosni Mubarak designated a desert city, Sharm El Sheikh, as the City of Peace in 1982. That was ten years after United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed upon by the world leaders at the Rio conference.

At COP 27 the world witnessed the negotiations on a possible ceasefire to halt the horrific wars between nature and human society on one hand and the haves and have-nots of human society on the other.

The world saw the near death of the globally agreed goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Limiting the rise of the earth’s average temperature to 2 deg C, while attempting to limit the same to 1.5 deg C above the pre-industrial level. Goals are dying but hopes must not.

What next for climate actions and ambitious targets was the question one could see on the wary faces of the 197 country delegates tired of negotiations that extended to 40 hours after the scheduled closure. The answer from one of the seasoned diplomats was pithy but simple: “COP 28, what else?”

A turning point in climate mitigation

COP 27 was a turning point in all its sense. The mitigation efforts that focused on eliminating the very cause of climate change were sidelined. The world is helplessly resigned to life-saving adaptation efforts. It also prioritized the skill-building to make the world resilient to climate impacts. If we cannot solve it, let us live with it and adapt to it, was the direction of the wind blowing across the desert of Sinai. It was also the lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global media ran optimistic headlines summing up the outcome of COP27. ‘COP27 Reaches Breakthrough Agreement on New Loss and Damage Fund for Vulnerable Countries’. That outcome turned out to be one of the two daydreams of COP27. If one assesses the miserable experience under the Kyoto Protocol and then Paris Climate Agreement, there is an irrefutable conclusion that financial assistance under Green Climate Fund to developing countries is an utter failure. The ‘Polluter to Pay’ principle deployed since the Rio Conference in 1992 has failed to work, with the exception of the Montreal Protocol that aimed to protect the ozone layer.

The decision at COP 27 contains pre-funding preparatory plans for the establishment of a secretariat and advisory body and guidelines on funding. However, the modalities including which countries would provide funding for disbursement and which countries would receive the funds were not agreed upon. The fund is expected to be for ‘particularly vulnerable countries’ and for emergencies arising from extreme climate event emergency. Questions like what fundable loss and damage are, which developing countries get funding, would emerging economies like China and India contribute to the fund remain to be discussed.

Experience of agreed funding for the developing countries agreed by the developed countries for mitigation (elimination of emissions of GHGs) through Green Climate Fund (GCF) where the secretariat, executive body, and guidelines, contributors and beneficiaries for the disbursement are all in place. But GCF has not delivered even 1 percent of the promised funding so far. As of December 2022, the total dues to developing countries by developed countries stand at about USD 1 trillion whereas only about USD 10 billion have been disbursed through Green Climate Fund till now. 

Daydreams of climate warriors

Is the much-touted fund for loss and damage then not a daydream?  

The second daydream is about the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership ( FCLP) to halt the deforestation and degradation of the land by 2030. The partnership was launched in COP 27. Forests offer a multitude of benefits like being carbon sinks that may contribute to keeping global warming below 2 deg C or even 1.5 deg C, promoting biodiversity, reducing air pollution, enhancing rain patterns, ensuring food security and nutrition, eliminating poverty and even reducing the risk of future pandemics. As per the latest report, ‘State of World’s Forests 2022’  by FAO. FCLP aims  to unite action by governments of 140 countries, businesses and community leaders to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

Let us look at reality. FAO estimates that 10 million hectares of forests are razed to the ground each year for agriculture, urban expansion, timber and mining. Wildfires further add to deforestation and land degradation. It also risks the livelihood of 1.6 billion people who rely on forests as their lifeline. This daydream includes the pledge of fully halting deforestation and land degradation by 2050!

The daydream of achieving the target of FLCP clearly bypasses the fact that since the end of the last great ice age 10,000 years ago the world has lost one-third of its 6 billion hectares of forests. In just over the last 100 years of modern techno-savvy society, the world lost as much forest as it had in the previous 9,000 years. The political will and determination of the FLCP sound hollow, considering that leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC nations), representing more than 25 percent of the earth’s forest and 40 percent of the world’s population, were conspicuous by their absence in COP 27.

Seven nightmares

Against these two daydreams, seven nightmares would ring the bells of future failure of climate negotiations unless extraordinary commitments are mainstreamed to transform our lifestyles.  

First, the updated NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) - the Emission Gap Report released by UNEP just before COP27 -  stated that the world is far off the track to meeting the Paris Climate Agreements goal of limiting the rise of temperature below the ambitious target of 1.5 deg C and agreed on target of  2 deg C. The warming has already reached 1.2 deg C and the world is witnessing increased intensity and frequency of extreme climate events.

Second, developed countries are far off in meeting the promised target of financial assistance to developing countries including African and Latin American nations, Brazil, India and China.  

As per the agreed schedule in Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, the promise was USD 10 billion starting in 2010 and USD 100 billion per year from 2020. COP 27 was resigned to this nightmare.

Third, the war between Ukraine and Russia has triggered trade sanctions. Europe, which imports 45 per cent of its gas needed mainly to heat homes, is reeling under extreme pressure due to the halt of gas supply from Russia.  

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany, which had pledged to phase out coal from electricity production by 2038, was reopening coal-power plants that burn lignite, low-rank coal, as a result of disruption in gas supply from Russia. Germany is just one of the nations in the European Union to increase coal imports. COP27 saw the German enthusiasm for ambitious targets getting burned along with coals!

Fourth, nuclear plants, mainly in France, considered as forerunners in solving climate challenges, have been forced to run at lower capacity due to the reduced availability of water needed to cool the reactors. Additionally,  the heating of the reduced river water due to the return of the hot water from reactors to the river is dangerous for fish and aquatic life. France, for example,  where 70 percent of electricity comes from nuclear plants, is debating the issue in parliament. The extraordinarily high temperature in European summer has triggered a chain reaction of climate change causing water scarcity that rules out clean energy solutions.

Fifth, hydraulic dams which are considered a major part of renewable energy globally, had to run at lower capacity last summer with a low level of water in dams.  Lower water storage is due to unusually harsh summers which in turn is due to climate change. Water crises become energy crises, and then climate crises. 

Many countries that are planning a dramatic expansion of hydropower are alarmed by the situation in Norway where it accounts for 90 per cent of its electricity generation. Norwegian hydropower producers cut output in southern Norway last summer to save the dwindling stock of water fuel for the winter. Europe can no longer afford to depend on Norwegian hydroelectricity in the winter. The situation in the USA, Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, China and African countries like Zambia is not very different. 

The sixth nightmare is the emerging issue of ‘greenwashing’ highlighted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the eve of COP27. Greenwashing involves false claims of progress in the fight against global warming that can confuse common consumers, investors and even policymakers.  "Commitments to net zero are worth zero without the plans, policies and actions to back them up," stated the UN report released just before the start of the COP27. That gave a jolt to the process of setting ambitious goals for the mitigation of GHGs. Promises by countries, companies, banks, regions and cities to achieve net zero emissions would have no impact if the data disclosed is dubious.

Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement on voluntary market mechanisms like carbon trading and CDM is also entangled in the veracity of the data. One of the important side events organised by UNESCO in COP 27 revealed the 3-Dimensional strategy that disclosure, digitalization and decarbonisation have to go together to avoid the nightmare of misleading the targets and goals.

The seventh nightmare is about the lack of teeth in the  Paris Climate Agreement. There are no punitive measures agreed upon for non-performance by the countries to reach promised targets in a given time. Climate justice based on ‘polluters to pay’ and extended-producers-responsibility must be delivered at any cost.

Time for climate justice 

The time has come to bring countries and businesses into the ambit of a new entity called the 'International Court of Climate Justice’. The setting up of such tough measures is yet to emerge in the negotiations. Civil society and academicians can play an important part in this end.

Till the daydreams continue, the world will face climate nightmares and COPs would continue to fail the opportunities to bend the rising curve of emissions as a matter of emergency

(The writer is a former Director UNEP, Founder Director, Green TERRE Foundation, Pune and coordinating lead author IPCC that won the Nobel Peace Prize. Views are personal. He blogs at www.rajendrashende.com/www.rajendrashende.blog)

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