A COP27 sign on a road in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, this year’s host city, on October 20. Photo: Reuters
Andrew Hammond
Andrew Hammond

Why Xi and Biden hold the key to climate action at COP27

  • The endless cycle of climate talks with no progress sadly looks set to continue at this month’s summit in Egypt
  • The only hope of a better outcome lies with the US and China putting aside their rivalry to jointly support a more ambitious climate agenda

The 1993 hit film Groundhog Day revolves around the lead character, played by Bill Murray, being caught in a time loop, repeatedly living the same day.

Climate change conference watchers will be forgiven for having the same feeling as the latest big annual summit starts in Egypt on Sunday. Despite landmark report after report highlighting the crisis point the world is at, game-changing progress in global negotiations is unlikely to be made at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh this month.
In recent days, for instance, the UN concluded in a hard-hitting report that there is now “no credible pathway” to keep the increase in global temperatures since the pre-industrial era below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That target, which was set at the Paris conference in 2015, is significant; many scientists say it is the threshold at which global warming will have the most dangerous impact on populations around the world.
The report adds that, since COP26 in Glasgow one year ago, moves by governments across the world to tackle climate change have been “woefully” inadequate. So today only a profound change in our economy and society will allow us to avoid worst-case scenarios.

While the difference between a 1.5 degree rise and something higher may seem inconsequential, the impact is huge. For instance, the UN forecasts that the portion of the global population subject to water stress could be 50 per cent lower with overall warming of 1.5 degrees, compared to 2 degrees. Meanwhile, a forecast 99 per cent of coral reefs could be lost at 2 degrees, compared to perhaps 70 per cent at 1.5 degrees.

While the world is currently on course for disastrous warming of potentially more than 3 degree Celsius, this pathway can still be changed through concerted global action, starting at Egypt. In so doing, we can move out of the “Groundhog Day” loop of climate summitry.


Pakistan floods are ‘climate carnage’, says UN chief Guterres

Pakistan floods are ‘climate carnage’, says UN chief Guterres
Many concerned onlookers had hoped that the recent cacophony of damning publications, alongside the growing incidence of extreme weather events across the world, would be a call to action for world leaders. Yet, leaders like the United Kingdom’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have had to deliberate whether to even attend the Egyptian event.

The potential failure of key world leaders to attend is compounded by concerns about whether Egypt is fully prepared to host the event. To be sure, Cairo has done extensive diplomatic legwork in recent months, but it lacks the global convening power needed to get a big deal over the line.

Suboptimal as this is, there is at least one potential development that could change the picture. That is, if the United States and China can put aside their wider geopolitical and economic differences to come together as a beacon to the rest of the world.

3 ways Xi and Biden can drive the agenda for greater equality

If Washington and Beijing become broadly aligned again on the climate agenda, the European Union would become the third leg of the stool to push ahead with more ambitious global action. Collectively, the 27-nation European club, plus China and the United States, account for around one half of global carbon emissions and the triumvirate is critical to more positive international climate diplomacy.
While closer Washington-Beijing action on climate may seem fanciful, it should be remembered that the mood in Glasgow was lifted by the surprise US-China cooperation agreement. While short on specifics and lacking in ambition, this helped create the political space for a deal in Glasgow.

So whether the world goes further and faster on climate action in the 2020s could well rest on this G2 cooperation. Tackling global warming is a key political priority for both Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, and it is sometimes forgotten that a key precursor to the Paris deal in 2015 was a bilateral agreement in this area brokered by Xi and then US president Barack Obama.

Beyond such statecraft, more effort is needed to lock in the high levels of business engagement pushed for at COP26. For, ultimately, the world’s future success in tackling climate change will rest on deep, collaborative partnerships across the public and private sectors, plus wider society.


With the result of COP27 in the balance, massive and unexpected momentum is needed in the days ahead. While worldwide climate pledges are not yet close to keeping us within 1.5 degrees, the domestic frameworks being put in place are potentially crucial building blocks to measure, report, verify and manage emissions.

Looking ahead to when the conference heads to the United Arab Emirates in 2023 and beyond, the ambition must be for these frameworks to be replicated in even more countries – and progressively ratcheted up too. This will help to create a key global sustainability structure for billions across the world in the 2020s.

Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics