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COP27 – one step closer to climate justice

December 19, 2022

COP27 was concluded on 18 November 2022 after two weeks of negotiations in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt with the presence of leaders and representatives from 190 countries. The 1.5 °C target was a priority item on the agenda ahead of COP27, along with the efforts to support developing countries, which are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Amongst the EU’s top priorities ahead of the conference were to accelerate the phase out of coal, as well as to abolish inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

Before the conference, the UN pointed out that current global climate policies indicate an increase of 2.8 °C in the average global temperature by 2030, and that the efforts that have been made since last year’s COP26 in Glasgow have been insufficient, worsening the chances of reaching the targets laid down in the Paris Agreement regarding a maximum increase of 1.5 °C in the average global temperature.

The COP26 agreement and the priorities of the EU for COP27

During COP26 in Glasgow, it was for the first time decided that rules on the “phase down” of fossil fuel subsidies and the use of coal power were to be included. The EU also presented the global methane pledge which entails that participating countries commit to reducing their methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels. In addition, annual support for developing countries for their climate change adaptation was promised.

The EU’s top priorities ahead of COP27 were inter alia to accelerate the phase out of coal and to abolish inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and to establish further commitments that are needed to reach the 1.5 °C target. The EU has a strong ambition to accelerate its efforts regarding climate change adaptation and has  adopted packages such as the European Green Deal and Fit for 55, in order to achieve this goal. As the world’s biggest contributor to international climate finance, the EU further wanted to encourage other donators to increase their donations in order to reach the collective target of USD 100 billion in support for climate adaptation by 2023.

The COP27 agreement

The COP27 agreement was presented after long negotiations during which the parties to the conference agreed to set up, for the first time, a fund for loss and damage suffered by developing countries who have fallen victim of the natural catastrophes and extreme weather that have been caused by emissions coming from richer countries. However, the agreement fails to address how the fund will be financed and which countries that will be eligible for aid. The agreement also includes smaller commitments, such as financing fire safety and water protection.

The EU further secured strategic partnerships with inter alia Kazakhstan and Namibia, aiming to build a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials, refined materials and renewable hydrogen in order to support the green and digital transformation of the partners’ economies.

However, no new commitments regarding the 1.5 °C target were presented – the participating countries are instead encouraged to accelerate the deployment of low-emission energy systems, and to accelerate the phasing down of the use of coal power and the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, as laid down in the COP26 agreement.

Reactions

Ursula von der Leyen described COP27 as a small step towards climate justice but that much more is needed for the planet. The setting up of the loss and damage fund has nevertheless been well received. The EU had previously been sceptical to the idea due to the stream of legal claims that could follow, but finally agreed to setting up the fund, on the condition that all countries update and strengthen their climate policies to reduce emissions.

The fact that no further commitments regarding reduced emissions and the achievement of the 1.5 °C target were presented has been strongly criticised, not least by the EU and the USA, claiming that it will become difficult to achieve the target, especially as large emitters, such as China, are not obliged to reduce their emissions. The failure to include stronger commitments regarding the phase out of the use of coal power was criticised by inter alia the Commission’s vice president Frans Timmermans, pointing out that the EU’s clear goals on phasing out coal, which have been supported by over 80 countries including India, are not reflected in the COP27 agreement.

Participating countries are further criticised for failing to update their national climate goals and for the fact that the opposition at COP26 to the inclusion of clear commitments regarding the phasing out of fossil fuels remains. In this regard, criticism has for example been directed towards the use of the term “low-emission energy systems” in the agreed encouragements regarding the phasing down of fossil fuels, as this wording is considered to be a vague notion compared to the strong and clear commitments that are needed to achieve the 1.5 °C target. It is argued that this wording can be used as a loophole for the deployment of fossil fuel projects, which would go against the guidance of the UN’s panel on climate change. In particular, there are concerns that this wording will allow gas producers to classify natural gas as a transition fuel instead of a fossil fuel, as the use of natural gas contributes less to global warming than e.g. coal and could therefore be considered as a low-emission energy source.

The way forward and COP28

Despite the EU’s partial disappointment regarding the result of COP27, as their top priorities were not sufficiently addressed in the agreement, there is an ambition to continue the efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 °C target, inter alia through the implementation of the European Green Deal and the adoption of the Fit for 55 package. At COP28, which will be held next year in Dubai, it is expected that the fund on loss and damages for developing countries will be given priority and that the parties will reach an agreement on how the fund is to be financed and which developing countries will be allowed to benefit from it.

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