Four weeks to COP27 — key issues and challenges

World leaders will gather from 6 to 18 November at the United Nations’ top climate summit (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss some of the most pressing issues of climate change.

Among those are: access to climate finance, loss and damage in developing countries and transforming energy systems. All will be high on the agenda.

But negotiations will take place amid escalating geopolitical tensions and widespread mistrust in the developing world as green finance promises remain unfulfilled.

Egypt, which holds the COP presidency this year, has called on countries to set aside differences over the Ukraine war to move forward, noting that talks should move from pledges and commitments to implementation.

When leaders convened at Glasgow’s COP26 in November last year, climate was at the top of the global agenda.

Now, the war in Ukraine, the global energy crisis and domestic gas bills have become the focus of attention. Nevertheless, Africa’s water stress, deadly floods in Pakistan, Europe’s draughts, and hurricanes hitting Caribbean countries have kept climate action on the to-do list.

“We are in a life-or-death struggle for our own safety today and our survival tomorrow,” UN chief António Guterres said at the start of this week (3 October), as pre-COP27 talks in the Democratic Republic of Congo kicked off.

‘Numbers don’t add up’

Carbon emissions from 2010-2019 were at their highest level in human history, despite pledges made to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees since the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In fact, UN scientists have now warned that the planet is on a pathway to more than three degrees Celsius of warming this century — with temperatures in Africa already 1.11 degrees above the pre-industrial levels.

“Taken together, current pledges and policies are shutting the door on our chance to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, let alone meet the 1.5-degree goal,” Guterres said.

“The actions of the wealthiest developed and emerging economies simply don’t add up,” he added, noting that commitments from G20 countries are coming “too little and far too late”.

At 2021’s COP26, national climate action plans (NDCs) were still falling short of targets and countries agreed to submit more ambitious NDCs on an annual basis, starting this year.

But almost all countries missed the UN deadline to improve their plans — only 23 countries of the nearly 200 signatories of the Paris Agreement submitted updated plans. The US, EU and China, the world’s major emitters, did not increase their ambition.

Solidarity and trust

Climate finance is a highly-contentious issue, where little progress has been made to date. Yet finding some kind of financial agreement at COP27 is seen as a crucial factor to restore trust in international cooperation.

However, there are no expectations for a binding agreement, an official close to the negotiations has admitted.

“We fear that broken promises over climate financing will loom over the overall result of COP27,” Stientje van Veldhoven, former Dutch minister of environment, told EUobserver.

“It should not be underestimated how the message that the global north is spending large sums at home in the wake of Covid and energy crisis, but has little to spare for others, is being received”.

In 2009, wealthy countries agreed to mobilise $100bn [€101.5bn] in climate finance per year by 2020 — a target that has never been met. In 2020, rich nations were $17bn short of the target.

This week, the EU reaffirmed their commitment to the $100bn target until 2025, arguing that member states have doubled their contribution since 2013.

But developing countries are already looking further as climate disasters intensify — and climate talks in Egypt can set the groundwork for a new post-2025 finance goal.

But this will be no easy task — partly because the energy crisis has become a strain on national budgets and the war in Ukraine, after the Covis-19 crisis, has had a soaking effect on foreign investment.

‘A delivery plan’

Climate finance is a key priority for Africa, one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable continents, which has been pushing for years to make funding available to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate disasters.

“A delivery plan from donors setting out their intentions in the coming years would help build trust and confidence,” said Tom Evans, a policy advisor from London-based climate think tank E3G.

And in addition to increasing their contributions to climate finance, the EU and the US, as shareholders, also have to pressure multilateral development banks and the World Bank into scaling up finance for climate adaptation, Evans said.

Nevertheless, developing countries are likely to keep pushing to create a concrete financial facility for loss and damage — a proposal from the G77 and China raised during last year’s COP26 that was rejected by the EU and US.

In September, Denmark became the first to offer more than $13m in climate financing to help developing countries hit by climate disasters — creating momentum for others to follow.

Chile and Germany have been appointed to lead group discussions on loss and damage.

But there is a much broader discussion over the international financial system reform, led by Barbados with its so-called Bridgetown Agenda.

Barbados has argued that one in five countries is experiencing fiscal and financial stress, adding that there would be deepening hardship, debt defaults, widening inequality, political upheaval and a delayed shift to a low-carbon world if this issue is left unaddressed.

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