Lots of climate change talk at COP27, but action not likely - analysis

After 26 previous United Nations climate summits, both emissions and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise and developing countries are suffering.

 Participants attend the COP27 climate summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 8, 2022.  (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
Participants attend the COP27 climate summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 8, 2022.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)

The warnings sounding from the United Nations climate change summit, COP27, that started this week in Sharm el-Sheikh are meant to shock world leaders into action. When UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the nearly 100 heads of state and governments that the world is on a “highway to climate hell,” he was hoping they would agree to put aside their political differences and put the health of the Earth first.

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Yet expectations for COP27 are not high.

“Already now, the world isn’t meeting the modest goals that have already been set,” said Dr. Elai Rettig, a lecturer in the department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Even if the world met those obligations, it will still not be enough and even more action will be needed.”

Guterres spoke on Monday to the summit delegates from nearly 200 countries. The United States and China, the world’s two largest economies and greatest polluters, were singled out by Guterres in his opening remarks to the conference.

“The US and China have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality,” he told the delegates. “This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals.”

 Amr Darwish, an Egyptian MP is escorted out after he criticised the sister of Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah during a news conference at the COP27 climate summit in Red Sea resort at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS) Amr Darwish, an Egyptian MP is escorted out after he criticised the sister of Egyptian-British hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah during a news conference at the COP27 climate summit in Red Sea resort at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)

“Those two countries are the only ones who can provide a real solution, in terms of technology and their large economies,” Rettig told The Media Line. “They can present technological breakthroughs. But these require cooperation, sharing technology and coordinating policy. Otherwise, it will not happen. They are very suspicious of each other and their current ability to cooperate is very limited, they prefer to compete.”

“Politics are in the way,” he asserted.

For years experts have been warning that, if action is not taken, the damage caused by climate change will be irreversible.

World leaders are facing calls to deepen emissions cuts and financially back developing countries 

To make progress at this year’s annual meeting, several major challenges will have to be overcome.

This year’s agenda is dominated by countries in the developing world that want to be compensated for bearing the brunt of the immediate damaging effects of climate change while not being behind the emissions that caused them. This compensation is called a “loss and damage” payment.

Over the years, the climate change summits have varied in success and productivity.

“The ultimate goal of all climate summits is to reach as many enforceable agreements that will lead to the reduction of greenhouse (gas) emissions,” said Dr. Avner Gross, from the School of Sustainability and Climate Change at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. “Each conference has had successes and failures.”

According to Gross, last year’s Glasgow COP26 climate change summit was successful in reaching agreements mainly in the area of preventing deforestation and methane emissions. It is still too early to tell whether the agreements will be upheld.

“It looks like this year no country has come to present a serious plan or show major progress and this is a disappointment,” Gross added.

It is the first time loss and damage payments have made it on to the climate conference’s official agenda.

Many of the developing countries are unable to avoid the changes already felt by climate change or afford technologies available to alleviate or prevent them. They are paying a hefty price, often in human lives.

“It looks like this year no country has come to present a serious plan or show major progress and this is a disappointment."

Dr. Avner Gross

This week’s summit comes after a year of natural disasters which took a heavy toll, especially in developing nations. Almost 2,000 people were killed in floods in Pakistan; drought was experienced across vast areas of the globe; and heat waves killed thousands of people in Europe this summer, just to name a few. Meanwhile, deforestation and melting glaciers continue at a faster pace, while temperatures continue to rise. The cost to the global economy is estimated in the billions of dollars.

Pakistan is chairing the COP27 summit and Egypt is hosting it in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, making way for a greater voice for the developing world.

The US, China and the European Union (EU), are all concerned that focusing at the summit on compensation for developing countries will sideline other pressing issues.

“There is fear that the summit will become an arena in which they will be extorted in order to get more foreign aid without really solving the problems,” Rettig explained. “The US, EU and China want to solve the crisis, but each want to end on top by promoting their own technologies. Other countries don’t see it that way.”

It is estimated that the developing world needs more than $2 trillion annually by 2030 if the world is to stop global warming and cope with its implications. This is the assessment of the UN-backed Finance for Climate Action annual report released earlier this week.

“Like other islands, we contribute less to the destruction of the planet, yet we suffer the most,” said Wavel Ramkalawan, president of Seychelles, a country made up of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, at the summit on Tuesday.

“It is really important to address the problems facing developing nations that are most vulnerable to climate change,” said Gross.

The serene setting of the conference in the Egyptian resort town will not make the grim reality disappear.

“The most important observation is that there is a growing gap between the importance of immediate and comprehensive action and our equally increasing understanding that we’re collectively not able to do what has to be done,” said Dr. Daniel Orenstein, an expert in environmental studies from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

“It is really important to address the problems facing developing nations that are most vulnerable to climate change."

Dr. Avner Gross

The world is currently busy with other pressing matters and somehow climate change has easily settled to the back of the global agenda. It is bad timing for the Earth, but everyone agrees the clock is steadily ticking.

“The world looks rather sleepy and is unable to take the big steps needed,” said Gross. “Even though it was a turbulent summer in terms of climate disasters, world attention is just not there.”

The Russia’s war on Ukraine has created an energy crisis that is having a direct environmental affect. Europe, which was making headway in using alternative energy sources, is now desperate for gas and fuel in order to survive the coming harsh winter. Inflation is hurting plans to become more environmentally friendly.

“Europe is now less available to talk about the high cost needed in order to transition into renewable energy sources,” said Rettig.

“Countries like Germany were working hard to meet their goals,” said Orenstein. “But the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent them panicking for traditional sources.”

Geopolitical developments have made the potential for progress at COP27 very low.

However, in the long term, there could be a silver lining to the current crisis.

“It will encourage government and private investment in alternative energies such as sun and wind, but also encourage the development of technologies previously considered taboo by environmentalists, such as nuclear energy and carbon capturing,” Rettig said.

This will be beneficial in the transitional period before more extensive use of alternative energy sources.

“The more natural disasters, the more understanding that political differences need to be set aside,” he added.

“The world looks rather sleepy and is unable to take the big steps needed. Even though it was a turbulent summer in terms of climate disasters, world attention is just not there.”

Dr. Avner Gross

As the 27th summit continues, experts are hard-pressed to identify accomplishments.

“Despite all commitments made at previous COPs to reduce carbon emissions, I’m not aware if any country is going to meet its commitments. Instead, we’ve had 26 meetings and both emissions and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise,” Orenstein said.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific research group, no country has reached emissions levels compatible with the Paris COP15 goal of limiting the global temperature rise “well below” 2°C.

One of the other Paris goals was to help poorer countries with the climate crisis. This has come to the forefront in Egypt this week.

“No one delivered on their promises to help,” said Gross, “We need to make progress on both fronts, helping the developing world is critical and needs to done quickly. But it doesn’t have to come at the expense of dealing with other pressing climate issues.”