Expectations are not particularly high going into the latest UN climate conference, but there are reasons for optimism in a few key areas
In a year when the impacts of the climate crisis have become more tangible – from flooding in Bangladesh and Pakistan to record high temperatures in the UK – there is much at stake as we head into another crucial climate conference.
COP27 takes place in Egypt from 6-18 November. The mood is not particularly upbeat ahead of the talks after the UN Environment Programme described progress since COP26 last year as “woefully inadequate”. Meanwhile, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) warned current national pledges to cut emissions are far off track to limit global warming to 1.5C.
There is even growing disillusionment at the UNFCCC process itself, which teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg recently described as a “scam”. But there are some glimmers of hope.
COP27 is taking place in Egypt, which is the first time the negotiations have taken place outside Europe since 2016.
Billed as an ‘African COP’, it is symbolically important that it takes place on a continent that has only played a tiny part in the global crisis but will bear the brunt of its impacts.
Although Egypt’s human rights record is poor, campaigners hope the location will provide a platform for voices from across Africa and other parts of the global south, enabling them to share their priorities, such as access to renewable energy, finance for adaptation, and compensation for loss and damage caused by global heating.
Image: Eugene Tkachenko
Discussions about loss and damage will be unavoidable at these talks. Countries most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis – particularly island nations – have been asking for help to deal with the inevitable and unavoidable impacts of surging greenhouse gas emissions for over three decades. But they have faced strong resistance from the countries with the biggest historical contributions.
This year, loss and damage is finally on the formal negotiating agenda. And in September, Denmark became the first UN member to offer direct cash – $13.3m (£11.5m) – for loss and damage, following similar pledges by Scotland and the Belgian region of Wallonia.
It’s a tiny amount compared to the estimated $500bn (£433bn) a group of the most vulnerable countries calculate they have already suffered in loss and damage over the last two decades. But it does help pile the pressure on other wealthy nations to follow suit.
Image: Zunnoon Ahmed
The Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s largest land carbon sinks, so Brazil’s presidential election last Sunday was watched closely.
In the end it was won by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who pledged “zero deforestation” of the Amazon in his victory speech. He has already promised to send representatives to COP27, even though it takes place before his inauguration.
Lula da Silva’s previous record as president was mixed, but deforestation rates fell significantly on his watch. By contrast, they have surged under incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, who has weakened environmental protections and Indigenous land rights.
Climate scientists hailed the election a victory not just for the region, “but for humanity and life itself”.
Image: Ivars Utinans
It’s true that we’re in a global energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But that could be a “historic turning point” towards a cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy system, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Its latest World Energy Outlook, published in October, found that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion have grown by just under 1 per cent this year, due to huge expansion of renewable energy and electric vehicles. That’s a much smaller increase than in 2021, when the world bounced back from the pandemic.
IEA executive director Fatih Birol said solar and wind are replacing much of the gas withheld by Russia, “with the uptick in coal appearing to be relatively small and temporary”.
Last year the IEA predicted gas use would continue to grow until 2050. But now, for the first time, it says global fossil fuel use could peak over the next decade because policies to cut emissions around the world are getting stronger.
Oil company profits soared this year because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up energy prices. But with many countries enduring a cost of living crisis, governments are trying to claw back some cash.
In May, the UK introduced an energy profits levy, which taxed companies an extra 25 per cent. Meanwhile, the European Union agreed emergency measures to charge energy firms on surplus revenues from surging electricity costs. In the US, president Joe Biden critisised energy companies for using record profits to buy back stock or for dividends, and is raising the possibility of a windfall tax.
Energy companies are pushing back. But even Shell’s outgoing CEO Ben Van Beurden has said it is “only sensible” for governments to cash in on the energy profits boom, arguing it is “right” and “moral” way “to help the most vulnerable in society”.
Image: Arvind Vallabh
One sign of progress at COP26 last year was the unexpected deal on curbing methane emissions – a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, previously unaddressed at COPs past.
Countries signing the pledge agreed to take voluntary action to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030. It has now be signed by 112 nations, with Australia, the world’s 11th largest methane emitter, becoming the latest signatory.
Australia goes into COP27 with a new administration following a general election earlier this year. It was won by Anthony Albanese, who put the climate at the heart of his campaign. The previous prime minister Scott Morrison had cast doubt on the seriousness of the climate crisis.
Image: Dan Freeman
Main image: DFID/Abbie Trayler-Smith
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