Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (black T-shirt) stands with runners and organisers as she holds batons at the finish line of the Running Out Of Time climate relay, which arrived from Glasgow, Scotland, after 40 days through 18 countries to reach the COP27 UN Climate Summit, at the Park Regency Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 8. Photo: AP
Outside In
by David Dodwell
Outside In
by David Dodwell

COP27: so far, so blah as rich nations dodge climate bill and funding pledges

  • Critics say the campaign to prevent warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels has largely failed
  • Carbon schemes, meanwhile, are criticised for lacking integrity, as rich nations continue to quibble over compensation for loss and damage
This time last year, climate activist Greta Thunberg captured the mood of the COP26 UN climate change summit when she dismissed it as “a two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah”.
This year, she is not attending COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Instead, launching The Climate Book in London, she complained the event was “greenwashing, lying and cheating”. COP27 has much to do to live down its reputation for blah.

The 35,000-or-so delegates attending the annual progress report on climate change and global warming at the Red Sea resort clearly do not share Thunberg’s dismissive gloom – though the amount of positive news was barely measurable.

The World Meteorological Organisation reported that the past eight years have been the eight warmest on record (this year will only be the fifth or sixth warmest because of a cooling La Nina current). It said glacier melt was at record levels in Europe and Greenland, with “major implications” for global water security and sea levels.
At the same time, the UN Expert Group on Climate Finance reported that the campaign ahead of COP26 in Glasgow to keep 1.5 alive had largely failed. The aim was to contain global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of the temperature in pre-industrial times (1850–1900).

The Expert Group criticised the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz), established with much fanfare last year by Mark Carney, former head of the Bank of England, and the financial sector in general, arguing that their carbon credit schemes could lack “integrity”.

Climate change progress too slow to stop drift towards disaster

“Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “The sham must end.” He called for a “ climate solidarity pact” in which rich countries would help poor countries financially, singling out the United States and China as having “a particular responsibility”.

The Energy Transition Commission, based in London, reported “some progress” on renewable energy and electric vehicles, “but minimal [progress] on NDCs, coal phase-out and deforestation”. NDCS, or nationally determined contributions, are legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement.

Guterres was more direct: “We are on a highway to hell with our foot on the accelerator […] Change is happening with catastrophic speed.” He argued that humanity must “cooperate or perish”.
In the absence of satisfactory progress in curbing carbon emissions, it seems COP27 will mainly focus on global commitments to make carbon credit schemes more credible, and on coping and compensation for the (mainly) developing countries that face the most severe damage and disruption from climate change – referred to as “loss and damage”. The Financial Times’ Pilita Clark calls it “one of the most protracted, divisive and confusing issues ever to arise in these negotiations”.


Calls for ‘climate justice’ as COP27 puts focus on compensation for poorer, vulnerable countries

Calls for ‘climate justice’ as COP27 puts focus on compensation for poorer, vulnerable countries

The loss and damage issue was only formally recognised at COP19 in Warsaw in 2013. Most rich countries had procrastinated because of fears of legal liability and potentially bottomless compensation claims from poor countries that had done almost nothing to warm the planet. These poorer nations are suffering the worst effects of climate change without the financial resources to mitigate the damage.

Groups like the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Climate Vulnerable Forum have championed the campaign for funds as climate change inflicts increasingly serious damage.

Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, speaking on behalf of the AOSIS negotiating bloc, said at COP27 that fossil fuel companies should pay a global carbon tax to help fund loss and damage. “Profligate producers of fossil fuels have benefited from extortionate profits at the expense of human civilisation,” he said. “While they are profiting, the planet is burning.”

In the wake of devastating floods in Pakistan, which have killed about 1,700 people and caused US$40 billion in damage, and a protracted drought in the Horn of Africa, researchers estimate that developing countries could face up to US$580 billion in annual climate damages by 2030.
Where these funds are to come from is subject to fierce debate, but the size of the funding needed is not. The UN Expert Group says we need to mobilise at least US$1 trillion a year in external finance for emerging and developing countries – on top of the US$100 billion a year that high-income countries have for the past decade promised, but failed, to deliver.
As the FT’s Martin Wolf summarises, “there must be a huge acceleration in investment, a parallel surge in external private finance, a revamped and greatly enhanced role for multilateral development banks, a doubling of concessional finance […] and imaginative ways of managing the debt problems of developing countries.”


30 years of climate summits: Have they made a difference?

30 years of climate summits: Have they made a difference?

In the face of such demands for loss and damage funding, scepticism outside the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting rooms remains high, in particular as governments wrestle with the collateral costs of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, surging inflation, mounting debt and concern over an impending global recession.

Never afraid to pour cold water, Britain’s former prime minister Boris Johnson argued that climate action has been “one of the most important collateral victims” of the Ukraine war, and that reparations to poor countries were impossible: “We simply do not have the financial resources,” he said.

As long as leaders in other countries share Johnson’s view, COP progress is likely to underwhelm, and as Thunberg complains, will remain blah.

David Dodwell is CEO of the trade policy and international relations consultancy Strategic Access, focused on developments and challenges facing the Asia-Pacific over the past four decades