The takeaways from Sharm el-Sheikh range from loss and damage to the 1.5°C target and World Bank reform.
Damage and loss
For nearly three decades, developing countries have sought financial assistance for loss and damage – money needed to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of countries devastated by extreme weather. Finally reaching an agreement on a fund is a significant accomplishment. Now comes the difficult part: the fund must be established and funded. There has yet to be an agreement on how and where the funding will be provided.
The 2015 Paris agreement set two temperature goals: keep the rise “well below 2 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels, and “pursuing efforts” to keep the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Since then, science has clearly demonstrated that 2 degrees Celsius is not safe, so countries agreed last year at Cop26 in Glasgow to focus on a 1.5 degree Celsius limit. Because their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were insufficient to stay within the 1.5C limit, they agreed to revisit them every year to strengthen them, a process known as the ratchet. At Cop27, some countries attempted to abandon the 1.5°C target and abolish the ratchet. They failed, but a resolution calling for emissions to peak by 2025 was dropped, much to the chagrin of many.
Cop27’s final text included a provision to promote “low-emissions energy.” Wind and solar farms, nuclear reactors, and coal-fired power plants outfitted with carbon capture and storage are all possibilities. It could also be interpreted as gas, which emits fewer pollutants than coal but remains a major fossil fuel. Many countries at the Cop27, particularly those from Africa with large reserves to exploit, traveled to Sharm el-Sheikh in the hope of striking lucrative gas deals.
Fuels derived from fossils
A commitment to reduce the use of coal was made last year in Glasgow. It was the first time in 30 years of climate change conferences that a resolution on fossil fuels had been included in the final text. Some countries, led by India, wanted to go further at Cop27 and include a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. That was the subject of heated debate late Saturday night, but it ultimately failed, and the resolution included was the same as that in Glasgow.
Reform of the World Bank
A growing number of developed and developing countries are calling for urgent changes to the World Bank and other publicly funded finance institutions, claiming that they have failed to provide the necessary funding to assist poor countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of the climate crisis. Reform of the type widely discussed at Cop27 could include recapitalization of development banks to allow them to provide far more assistance to developing countries. According to Nicholas Stern, a climate economist and peer, the developing world will require $2.4 trillion (£2 trillion) per year beginning in 2030. However, this is only about 5% more than the investment they would need anyway, with much of it going toward high-carbon infrastructure. He estimates that the World Bank could provide roughly half of those funds.
Building flood defenses, preserving wetlands, restoring mangrove swamps, and regrowing forests are just a few of the measures that can help countries become more resilient to the effects of climate change. However, poor countries frequently struggle to obtain funding for these efforts. Only about $20 billion of the $100 billion per year promised to rich countries starting in 2020 – a promise that has yet to be fulfilled – goes to adaptation. Countries agreed to double that proportion in Glasgow, but at Cop27, some sought to reverse that commitment. It was reaffirmed after some struggle.
The IPCC, tipping points, and health
Since Cop26, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released key portions of its most recent vast assessment of climate science, warning of catastrophic consequences that can only be avoided by drastic and immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC was established by the UN to provide scientific advice, but some countries wished to remove references to its most recent findings from the final text. Instead, a reference to the key finding of “tipping points” was included, a warning that the climate does not warm gradually and linearly, but that we risk tripping feedback loops that will result in rapidly escalating effects. These include the heating of the Amazon, which could convert it from a carbon sink to a carbon source, and the melting of permafrost, which releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane. A reference to “the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment” was also included. Medical professionals have taken a much more prominent role in climate talks and protests, establishing a clear link between global warming and health.