From the Editor: COP27 falls short [Gas in Transition]
Maybe the early problems were a sign of things to come. Over the first couple of days of COP27, delegates to the gathering in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh were faced with empty water coolers and barren food stalls. For some strange reason, the only foodstuff in ample supply was ice cream, and some delegates were reported to have been relying on the treat for their three daily meals.
The lack of sustaining nourishment led to testy talks, but in the next few days, organisers sorted out the food chain. The same couldn’t be said for the course of the discussions over the next 10 days.
An opening day warning from UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres that humanity is on a “highway to climate hell” (the highest level yet of the kind of ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that seems to accompany every such gathering) should have set the stage for a fortnight of cooperation and collaboration built on the slim planks of progress laid down a year earlier in Scotland.
Instead, the final communique fell somewhere between what Guterres warned were the only two outcomes possible at COP27: climate solidarity or collective suicide.
A highly-touted plan emerged for a loss and damage fund to help the poorest of countries affected the most by climate change. And “significant” progress was reported on adaptation efforts: governments agreed a way forward on the Global Goal on Adaptation, and new pledges totaling more than $230mn were made to the Adaptation Fund.
Is COP dead?
But that was pretty much the extent of it, leaving many delegates – especially those attending their first Conference of the Parties – wondering whether such a massive gathering, with so many diverse voices arguing over the most minute of minutia, was really the most effective way to travel down this particular road.
Sunita Narain, director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, said she feared the core purpose of COP summits, to push world leaders to stronger and more accountable climate actions, had been lost.
“The negotiations that are happening are completely devoid of reality,” she said, as quoted by the journal Nature. “We’ve reduced the whole thing into a grand spectacle.”
Barely held on to was the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C; lost completely were efforts by most environmental NGOs – who have effectively wrested control of the global climate agenda from the hands of elected officials – to add oil and gas to coal as the of fossil fuels which must be eliminated, at all cost, from the world’s energy mix.
As in many iterations of COP before it – the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, the Paris Agreement in 2015, the Glasgow Climate Pact last year – COP27 delivered its own tag for future reference: the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, which noted that the road to a low-carbon economy would require investments of at least $4-6 trillion/year.
Who will pay?
But the implementation plan offered little in the way of incentives to bring about those investments, especially towards creating a global carbon market and building a framework for international emissions trading – the so-called Article 6 plans, which various estimates have suggested could result in global CO2 emissions reductions of anywhere between 4bn and 12bn metric tons/year.
Working rules for Article 6.2, which provide for one country to pay for an emissions reduction in another country and count it towards its own net-zero goals, were agreed at Glasgow, and are beginning to be implemented. COP27, in fact, yielded the world’s first-ever “internationally transferred mitigation outcome” under Article 6.2, between Ghana and Switzerland.
But Article 6.4, which allows for the trading of carbon credits on an open market, rather than between two countries, such as the Article 6.2 deal between Ghana and Switzerland, failed to gain much traction.
Left unresolved – and pushed off to COP28 – were details like a deadline for transferring emissions reduction projects listed in the Kyoto Protocol’s registry to a new registry, the procedures for moving credits between countries and the conditions for the mandatory cancellation of credits.
A technical committee will now issue recommendations on those and a host of other Article 6 details ahead of Dubai.
In a sideline deal, Japan tried to grease the wheels for Article 6 with its declaration of an “Article 6 Implementation Partnership”, which attracted pledges of participation from 40 countries and 23 institutions.
“The implementation of Article 6 is expected to revitalise decarbonisation markets and private investment, and to contribute to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions and economic growth at the same time,” Japan’s environment ministry said. “On the other hand, institutional arrangements for implementing Article 6 and the sharing of knowledge are still issues to be addressed.”
It's in those areas that Japan hopes to make a difference, helping to support capacity building in each country on implementation of Article 6 and how it links with national determined contributions, understanding the rules of Article 6 and training others in those rules and how Article 6 can be implemented.
Japan’s efforts aside, many are already looking ahead to COP28, seeing little hope for success and wondering if the world’s climate change ambitions – in particular net zero by 2050 – could withstand two “bad” COPs in a row.
We shall see.