COP27: 7 reasons why Egypt’s climate conference matters in the fight against global warming
CAIRO: This month, world leaders and key industry figures will head to the coastal Egyptian town of Sharm el-Sheikh for the latest round of United Nations climate change negotiations.
It looms as one of the most intense and turbulent iterations of the annual conference yet, with the past year witnessing a litany of damaging disasters against the backdrop of record-high temperatures and a disruptive major regional conflict.
COP stands for Conference of the Parties, referring to the countries that signed up to the UN’s original climate agreement back in 1992. This time, leaders of more than 200 governments have been invited to attend.
Here are seven important things to know about COP27.
1. The world hasn’t been doing enough to stop global warming
The latest UN report shows that while countries are slowly reducing emissions, it is not happening fast enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That is considered a key tipping point, beyond which the damage from climate change will exponentially increase.
The report released last week found that there was "no credible pathway" to achieving that 1.5 degree goal, a situation labelled "woefully inadequate". Instead, the current action pledges up to 2030 would have the planet on track for 2.5 degrees of heating, which would have devastating consequences.
Implementing improved climate pledges by 2030 is considered crucial. And while current projections show that emissions will no longer increase beyond 2030, the rapid decreases required to halt global warming are not yet happening.
At COP26 last year in Glasgow, participating nations pledged to revisit their climate ambitions and return to Egypt with strengthened plans. Only a small number of countries have already done so.
Raising ambition and urgent action will again be the call of organisers. It is expected that more countries will improve their non-binding pledges at COP27 during the leaders summit in the first few days of the conference.
2. The shadow of global disasters will hang over negotiations
The past 12 months have provided a reality check for just how impactful climate-driven disasters can be, right across the globe.
Pakistan has been devastated by floods, the Philippines was again struck by deadly typhoons while China endured a historic drought - so too have parts of Africa.
Additionally, South Korea logged record rain events, Europe suffered its hottest summer in 500 years and with it damaging wildfires and the United States was slammed by Hurricane Ian.
These increasingly common and persistent extreme weather events are directly connected to carbon emissions and only forecast to get worse as decades pass. The costs of picking up the pieces in the aftermath, especially for poorer nations, will be top of mind as negotiations unfold.
3. A geopolitical storm is still powering a global energy crisis
Emissions projections, especially in the highly polluting power sector, have been derailed by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
What seemed to be a near-global consensus to end the burning of coal has been thrown into doubt. Advanced economies in Europe have suddenly found themselves with a shortage of natural gas and have turned to shuttered coal plants to keep their citizens’ lights on.
Egypt’s conference president has already conceded that the energy transition will take longer than planned, citing a financial and debt crisis, an energy-prices crisis and a food crisis on top of the climate change impacts.
The boost to fossil fuels could be temporary if countries accelerate their pursuit of the cheapest source of energy, typically solar or wind. But, as the war stretches on, governments could fall into longer-term contracts to solve seemingly temporary shortfalls.
4. Developing nations will again push hard for financial help
The money that has been promised to developing nations to help mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change has still not been delivered.
There is meant to be US$100 billion annually provided by the world’s wealthier nations from 2020, but the target has never been reached and has been delayed to 2023. There is a push to mobilise even more funds by 2025, with some US$6 billion needed to finance poorer nations’ climate goals by 2030, according to the OECD.
The debate over paying reparations for loss and damage caused by climate change is a fierce one. It is likely to be on the formal agenda of this COP for the first time.
Nations that are feeling the brunt of climate change, without having caused it, want more finance directed towards adaptation - the infrastructure and policies that can protect them from adverse impacts - rather than mitigation.
UN chief António Guterres says COP27 will be the “number one litmus test” of whether governments are taking the issue seriously.
5. Singapore will be bringing an updated climate plan
Singapore will send a delegation to Egypt armed with an improved climate pledge. The government aims to reach carbon net zero by 2050, instead of “as soon as viable in the second half of the century” which was pledged earlier.
Singapore will also reduce emissions to around 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2030, after peaking emissions earlier. Previously, Singapore’s Nationally Determined Contribution statement pledged to peak emissions at 65 MtCO2e around 2030.
Those targets are contingent on technological advances as well as the economic viability of low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.
Hydrogen could supply up to half of Singapore's needs by 2050, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Environment minister Grace Fu had committed Singapore to revisit and improve its climate change ambitions following the conference in Glasgow. She explained that Singapore was not afraid to take bold action, despite being a small island nation with limited potential to develop renewable energy infrastructure.
A 2050 net zero target will bring Singapore in line with more than 130 other countries that have pledged the same.
6. Forest protection will again be in focus
Global deforestation decreased by 6.3 per cent in 2021, according to the Forest Declaration Assessment, a modest improvement that fell short of international goals.
At COP26, 145 countries signed a pledge to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 as a tool to combat climate change. That would mean a necessary 10 per cent annual decrease in deforestation and the restoration of 350 million hectares of forest land.
The progress has been slow since then. Forests are crucial tools in efforts to slow down the onset of climate change. It is estimated that they absorb nearly one-third of all carbon emissions. But their effectiveness is being compromised by human activity.
Southeast Asia is home to nearly 15 per cent of the world’s tropical forests, yet also has had one of the fastest rates of deforestation. But recent data shows that Indonesia and Malaysia have made exceptional progress towards the 2030 deforestation goal.
7. This will be a moment for Africa
The event in Egypt from Nov 6 to 18 will be the fifth time Africa is hosting the COP. After many delegates struggled to attend the Glasgow conference due to the global pandemic and uneven vaccine rollouts, this will be an opportunity to put the host continent’s priorities on the global agenda.
Those will heavily focus on adaptation financing and sustainable development.
Africa only contributes about 4 per cent of global emissions yet feels the impacts of the planet’s warming. Rural communities in particular are increasingly suffering from changes in weather patterns, droughts and flooding.
However, there have been fears from experts that Egypt’s leadership of the continent’s climate push could be jeopardised by its overwhelming domestic dependence on fossil fuels.