COP27 – An Emporium of Mostly False Hope: 5 Key Takeaways

By Dawn McGregor 23 November, 2022

Get on top of what happened at COP27 in Egypt with CWR's McGregor, from a historic loss & damage fund to still no holistic action on adaptation & water and from a fizzle on phasing out fossil fuels to net zero greenwashing

COP27 was not positive for our future climate, in fact our trajectory could be even worse - as the UN Secretary-General put it, 'We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.'
Many think the Paris 1.5°C goal is dead buy yet G20 leaders reaffirmed commitment to it; some false hope there since we are 30%+ off from emissions reduction needed & no further ambition on mitigation agreed at COP27
A historic loss & damage fund was agreed and water & adaptation had more prominence but still a long way to go as fossil fuels live on; faking it until we make it won't work but ensure a 'collective suicide'

Last year we wrote that COP26 points to a dire future for water and surprise, surprise COP27 is no different, in fact things are looking worse. As Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General so clearly and eloquently put it, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”

-A. Guterres, UN Secretary-General at COP27

This isn’t surprising since even before COP27 begun only 24 countries had updated their Nationally Determined Contribution despite all (nearly 200) having promised to do so at COP26. The updated climate plans reduce projected emissions in 2030 by less than 1%.

 

Is the Paris 1.5°C goal dead?

Countries’ combined climate plans, including targets conditional on international finance, would reduce emissions by 10% by 2030 compared with projections based on current policies. That’s far off the 45% reductions we need to keep the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C alive, which is why people were already saying 1.5°C is dead, even before COP27. Even the UNEP in a recent report has said there is no credible pathway to 1.5°C in placetoday.

We are already 80% of our way to 1.5°C but G20 sticking with the goal…

…one example of some false hope

At 1.2°C of warming today, we are already 80% of our way to the aspirational Paris target of 1.5°C and 60% of the way to the 2°C threshold by 2100.

But according to the G20, who had a leaders’ summit in Bali that overlapped with COP27, it’s not, they reaffirmed their efforts to keep the 1.5°C limit within reach. But how realistic is that? Won’t efforts, resources and precious time be wasted? One example of some false hope. Another, ‘the world’s biggest plastic polluter’, Coca-Cola, sponsored COP27.

An emporium of mostly false hope

Reading news from the two week long COP27, the notion of the event as an emporium of mostly false hope kept recurring and the most worrisome part is that people know so much of it is false hope and many are fine with that. Vested interests, capitalism at all costs continue to be the modus operandi, just dressed up in a bit of green or blue to make it go down better. That’s not new but to see it at the climate event for the world, especially after what countries have suffered this year – ravaging droughts and floods like in Pakistan where a third of the country flooded with damage estimated at $40 billion.

How much more needs to happen to the world than what we saw this summer before real agreements are made or will COP remain an emporium of false hope?

How much more needs to happen before there is real change? Before real agreements are made? As Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados said, “But the simple political will that is necessary, not just to come here and make promises but to deliver on them and to make a definable difference in the lives of the people who we have a responsibility to serve, seems still not to be capable of being produced. I ask us how much more must happen.”

COP27 must be remembered as the ‘Implementation COP’ – the one where we restore the grand bargain that is at the centre of the Paris Agreement” said the United Nations Climate Change Conference… well, that hasn’t happened.

Yes, there were some positive outcomes like the historic loss & damage fund but it’s not nearly enough

Yes, there have been some positive outcomes and developments from COP27 – the loss and damage fund agreement, more countries singing up to the methane pledge, Brazil (home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest) is back at the climate table and at the G20 meeting US and China agreed to work together on climate again – but against the global climate backdrop we are facing, it’s just not nearly enough. And it’s not like the decision makers at the event don’t know what the world is facing or how bad it is going to be and sooner than we thought since we are 70 years late to the game in adaptation.

Faking it until we make it won’t work in this case but instead ensure our “collective suicide”

It’s clear that our leaders aren’t going to brave enough to make the painful but necessary decisions we need to keep 1.5°C really alive so, we (business, finance, public etc.) are going to have to. We need to stop thinking someone else will solve it, doing only the minimal we need to, faking climate action and prioritising the wrong metrics or it will be a collective suicide as Guterres said, Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact – or a collective suicide pact…”.

If we don’t get serious about or keep faking climate action, it’s going to be a ‘collective suicide’…

…it’s not looking good but we can’t give up, especially in Asia where we will feel the brunt of climate impacts

Fundamentals have shifted as we point out here, which mean that all underlying assumptions underpinning every financial model, every valuation, every investment decision should be adjusted to account for impacts from the low emissions scenario today; not by the end of the century. At the rate we are going, the climate bubble will burst sooner than later. And when it does, it could take down most of the now 8 billion of us down with it. This figure represents an increase of 1 billion in global population since 2010 and 2 billion since 1998; in 1950, the world’s population was less than a third of what it is now.

It’s not looking good at all, but we can’t give up. Especially in Asia, where we will feel the brunt of climate impacts and have millions of people and trillions of dollars exposed along coasts. So, get on top of what happened at COP27 for loss and damage, adaptation, water, limiting emissions, net zero and more in our 5 key takeaways below.

5 key takeaways from COP27

1. Historic loss and damage fund agreement

It came down to the wire and this COP barely avoided ending in deadlock over it, but finally an agreement was made to set up a loss and damage fund for poorer and developing nations, hailed as an important step towards climate justice. “The announcement offers hope to vulnerable communities all over the world who are fighting for their survival from climate stress,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change. “And gives some credibility to the COP process.”

The [loss & damage fund] announcement offers hope to vulnerable communities all over the world who are fighting for their survival… And gives some credibility to the COP process.”

-S. Rehman, Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change

Loss and damage refers to the most severe impacts of extreme weather on the physical and social infrastructure of poor countries, and the financial assistance needed to rescue and rebuild them. It’s the first time loss and damage had made it onto a COP agenda.

However, the fund agreement comes with many unknowns, which have been left to a ‘transitional committee’ that will be set up. The committee will make recommendations on how to operationalise the funding arrangements ahead of COP28 next year, as well as identifying and expanding sources of funding (the question of which countries should pay into the new fund – as language in the agreement calling for the funds to come from a variety of existing sources and there’s also discussion on whether China as the largest emitter but also a developing country should also contribute). There are concerns around financing of the fund given that rich nations have so far failed to meet their previous climate finance commitment of $100 billion a year (see point 2 below).

2. Adaptation higher up on the agenda but spending still not keeping up with needs

UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2022, entitled “Too Little, Too Slow – Climate adaptation failure puts world at risk”, says it all. The report shows that international adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10 times below estimated needs and the gap is widening. Estimated annual adaptation needs are USD 160-340 billion by 2030 and USD 315-565 billion by 2050.

Adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10 times below needs…

…without a step change in support, adaptation actions could be outstripped by accelerating climate risks

Clearly, the world is dangerously behind on adaptation measures and without a step change in support, adaptation actions could be outstripped by accelerating climate risks, which would further widen the adaptation implementation gap.

Adaptation also had its own day on 12th November 2022. There were 12 themes, many of which were related to food & agriculture as it was “Adaptation & Agriculture Day”. Of note was the launch of the Sharm-El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda by the Egypt COP27 Presidency in partnership with the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, and the Marrakech Partnership. It outlines 30 Adaptation Outcomes/ is a comprehensive global to-do list to help improve the resiliency of more than four billion people against climate-related risks by 2030.

The real sticking point with adaptation, which has been the case over various COPs is financing. Rich nations have failed to meet a long-standing pledge to deliver $100 billion to help poorer countries cope with climate change. In 2020 they only provided $83.3 billion. The target is not expected to be met until 2023.

Water is how we feel most climate impacts – too much/ too little – thus to avoid maladaptation we need to have water front and centre.

3. Water had its own day for the first time & new AWARE initiative launched to put water at the centre of adaptation and resilience

November 14th 2022 or Day 7 was Water Day (also Gender Day). Water has been discussed at previous COPs (see our review of last year’s high-level conversations here) but this was the first ever official COP Presidency Day on water. Good to see water rising in prominence.

The Water Day agenda included 7 key themes. We were happy to see water security & sustainable development on the agenda, as well as sea level rise and climate adaptation for the water sector, we can’t get to net zero if the water sector doesn’t and we can’t survive or thrive without clean water.

Water had it’s first official Day with 7 themes…

…good to water security & see sea level rise but cryosphere noticeably missing = still not a fully holistic approach

However, glaringly absent from agenda was the cryosphere despite there being a dedicated cryosphere tent at COP27, which unfortunately is typically not well attended. All coastal cities are at risk from rapid ice loss in the cryosphere, which will accelerate rising sea levels. Plus, scientists are warning of signs of “growing cryosphere collapse”. Water needs to be holistically managed and thus holistically talked about if we are to waterproof our cities.

The biggest news on water was the launch of the AWARE (Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience) initiative from a new partnership between the World Meteorological Organisation and Egyptian Presidency. It aims to put water front and centre of adaptation and resilience action [only what we have been saying] by offering transitional adaptation solutions for the planet and people, starting with the world’s most vulnerable communities and ecosystems in Africa.

AWARE initiative launched to to put water front and centre of adaptation and resilience action – finally!

The initiative is arranged across three main priorities: 1) decrease water loss and improve water supply worldwide; 2) propose and support implementing mutually agreed policy and methods for cooperative water-related adaptation action and its co-benefits; and 3) promote cooperation and interlinkages between water and climate action in order to achieve Agenda 2030, in particular Sustainable Development Goal 6.

If we do not lower emissions, which seems highly likely with the fizzle on reining in fossil fuels at COP27, we are going to need to massively ramp up action on water and adaption as the two go hand in hand.

4. Falling way short on limiting emissions as fossil fuels, particularly oil & gas live on

In the lead up to COP27 various reports were released with dire warnings and cold, more like hot hard truths on our future temperatures. The UNEP Emissions Gap 2022 report shows that we are headed for 2.4-2.8°C of warming by the end of the century; current policies would lead to 2.8°C.

Various recent reports show cold hard truths…

…we are headed for 2.4-2.8°C of warming by the end of the century

And according to the Annual Carbon Budget 2022 report, reaching net-zero will now require an annual decrease of 1.4GtCO2, which is similar to the levels recorded globally in 2020 when most parts of the world were in lockdown and yet, global emissions for 2022 are projected to surpass 40GtCO2. And then the World Meteorological Organization found, once again, that the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – reached new record highs in 2021.

Yet, despite all of the above, the final COP agreement text on limiting emissions has fallen severely short. It did not go much beyond what countries agreed to last year and according to Alok Sharma, architect of the Glasgow deal, they even had to fight to keep the Glasgow deal alive, “We had to fight relentlessly to hold the line of Glasgow“.

Yet, COP27 has failed to call for the phase-down or phase-out of all fossil fuels & pretty much no change to mitigation related text

COP27 has failed to call for the phase-down or phase-out of all fossil fuels. The COP27 deal text calls to accelerate “efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”  On this Sharma said, “Emissions peaking before 2025 as the science tells us is necessary? Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal? Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels? Not in this text.” And Sharma is not alone in feeling that way with other global leaders commenting on the failure on mitigation at this COP.

According to Laurence Tubiana, chief executive officer at the European Climate Foundation and an architect of the landmark Paris Agreement, and others, fossil fuel industry was prevalent at COP27 and their presence was felt. “The influence of the fossil-fuel industry was found across the board,” said Tubinana. Adding, “The Egyptian presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petro-states and the fossil-fuel industries — this trend cannot continue in the United Arab Emirates next year.”

At 1.2°C of warming today, there is no time or room to fizzle, to not phase-out all fossil fuels, to greenwash.

5. No no to net zero greenwashing

In a report released at COP27, the UN said promises by companies, banks and cities to achieve net-zero emissions often amount to little more than greenwashing. An estimated 80% of global emissions are now covered by pledges that commit to reaching net-zero emissions. The criteria for net-zero commitments can have loopholes wide enough to “drive a diesel truck through”, said Guterres. He added that, “We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing.”

UN released a guide to help solve that net-zero commitments can have loopholes wide enough to “drive a diesel truck through”

According to the experts, actors cannot claim to be ‘net zero’ while continuing to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply or any kind of environmentally destructive activities. They can’t also participate or have their partners participate in lobbying activities against climate change or just report on one part of their business’s assets while hiding the rest.

To remedy greenwashing, the report set out a list of recommendations that companies and other non-state actors should follow to ensure their claims are credible.


Further Reading

More on latest 

 

Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
Read more from Dawn McGregor →