Why COP27 changes everything
Photo by IISD/ENB
COP27 was gavelled to a close Sunday morning, and the outcome was immediately dubbed a historic win for the global south thanks to a decision to set up a fund for those countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency.
The significance of this cannot be understated: it has transformed the narrative of the global South in this process, conferring agency, leadership and the ability to drive change.
The meeting had been billed as an “African COP” which would deliver for the global South, and was seen as underwhelming on ambition for emissions reduction, the 1.5C target and coal phase-downs.
Almost 200 countries ageed to set up a fund to cover the “loss and damage” that “particularly vulnerable” nations are suffering from climate change. The new structure will be set up by the time COP28 convenes next year in Dubai and the recipients will be decided by a committee of countries.
Three things to know about the final agreement
Headlines of the final text:
a breakthrough decision on loss and damage to set up a financial support structure for the most vulnerable by the next COP in 2023
Welcomes the consideration, for the first time, of matters relating to funding
arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including a focus on addressing loss and damage (…)
first time reference to the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (this opens the door to integrating that right into environmental governance)
Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties
should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment (…)
the 1.5C target ‘downgraded’ to the section on Science, compared to last year in Glasgow where it featured in the Mitigation (ie solutions) section
👉 As expected, this COP confirms that there’s a new geopolitics of climate.
Drama and optics
The two week conference was set against a backdrop of high drama, and unusually demanding conditions.
Delegates had to brave water and food shortages, a vast, sprawling venue, shameless price gouging by hotels, civil society intimidation by Egyptian security, smells of sewage wafting through the venue and many national delegations hard hit by COVID, including the US climate envoy John Kerry in the final hours of the gruelling negotiations.
Was it the most chaotic, badly organized COP that history has ever seen? Quite possibly. But more importantly, it transformed the global South dynamic in the UNFCCC process from one of frustrated victim to one of agency and empowerment.
This Twitter thread from November 15 gives a good snapshot of the North-South dynamics at play in the second week.
A coming of age story: from Copenhagen to Sharm El Sheikh
Pakistan, as president of the G77 plus China negotiating bloc and victim of unprecedented floods this year which put one-third of the country under water, brought developing countries together on the loss and damage issue, and made a powerful case for compensation as climate justice, not as charity.
The last time the G77 + China acted in unison was in outrage at a “secret” Danish text published on Day 2 of the ill-fated 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen. The bloc protested, and argued that it was a violation of the rules under the UN climate convention. The Danish text was rejected, and a group of 26 countries - including China and the US - drafted a new text behind closed doors.
At the time, the chairman of the G77 + China group, said:
This is all aimed at preserving and advancing developed countries' economic dominance and supremacy. That, of course, is not news for you, nor for us. One would say that the empire has been doing that since 16th Century.
👉 The significance of the loss and damage decision is that the global south came together in support of a common cause, despite efforts by the EU and others to divide the group, and push the poorest of the 77 to accept a smaller fund. This fundamentally changes the dynamic of the process, what the stakes are, what constitutes a “win” and a “loss”, for whom and how.
Bridgetown Agenda on reforming international finance
Another hopeful outcome for the most vulnerable countries was an initiative led by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who emerged as a climate champion at COP26 in Glasgow with a memorable speech.
The Bridgetown Agenda to reform international finance was a rallying point for many at COP27 and its next steps are a concrete proposal by February 2023 to present at the World Bank and IMF spring meetings, followed by a summit in June hosted by France. Details are sketchy at this point, what we know so far is that it’s based on a three-pronged approach that seeks to:
Extend emergency IMF relief and long-term concessional funding for development, lent over at least 30 years, to prepare for the future.
Expand lending capacity of multilateral development banks to developing nations by $1 trillion to be invested in climate resilience.
Develop long-term instruments that can mobilise $3-4 trillion in finance for carbon-cutting projects and a mechanism for raising reconstruction grants to help nations rebuild after climate disasters.
Mottley’s climate champion status is viewed with ambivalence by some in the global North because she defends fossil fuel exploration off the coast of Barbados, saying that developing countries need the revenue to finance their way to net zero. This is not uncommon among many developing countries, who argue that they need both green energy and fossil fuels to ensure a smooth energy transition.
To go deeper on loss and damage
The IPCC’s report on adaptation which came out earlier this year is the reference on the latest knowledge around human vulnerability to climate change. To learn more about the knowledge base behind the successful push to set up a loss and damage fund, check out our podcast interview with IPCC Lead Authors Edwin Castellanos and Joern Birkmann.
In short, nearly half of humanity is in the danger zone for climate impacts right now, or 3.3 billion people. The report contains a map of “global hotspots” of high human vulnerability to climate change.
This was a very important report that was published just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so many may have missed the launch - it’s absolutely fundamental to understanding climate diplomacy going forward, so I highly recommend you take half and hour to catch up on this interview.
Reading beyond the West
The COP27 drama and outcome brings into focus something I’ve been pondering for a while: how to design an information diet that brings in more of the perspectives of those who are most vulnerable to climate change, or, at the very least, those who are beyond the bubble of Washington DC, London and Brussels.
I’ve tried to pull together a few sources in English, with the caveat that this is a work in progress, a brief curation aimed to be a starter for inputs from readers of this newsletter. I’m eager to hear from you with your favourite sources so this can become a more comprehensive resource.
You can hit reply to this email, or leave a comment below.
👉 Suno India - a multilingual podcast platform on “issues that matter”, with podcasts on Indian politics, economics, science, culture, the climate emergency, Long Covid and much more. that provides well-researched multilingual audio content on issues that matter.
👉 Ghost Island Media is a multilingual podcast network of award winning podcasts in Mandarin, English and French on a range of topics such as politics in Taiwan and China, cannabis, gender, climate change, diplomacy and much more. A good place to start is the English-language “Metalhead Politics” hosted by Freddy Lim, a member of parliament in Taiwan and vocalist of the metal band Chtonic, and Emily Wu, the founder of Ghost Island Media. They talk about, you guessed it, music, politics and Taiwan.
👉 Southeast Asia Globe is a member-supported publication featuring in-depth journalism, that promotes a more informed, inclusive and sustainable future.
👉 Rest of World is a non profit that reports on global tech stories. The name is a pun on the corporate term that means “everyone else”, or the billions of people who live outside the Western world.
Climate and Politics
👉 Tracking People’s Daily Manoj Kewalramani on highlights from the Chinese Communist Party flagship paper, the People’s Daily, in English, with commentary.
I’ll be back in your inbox on the 15th December with the regular updates, this one was delayed to accommodate the COP27 calendar.
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