COP 27 – The Show Goes On

Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2022. Robert Lyman’s bio can be read here.

From November 6 to November 18 of this year, over 40,000 representatives of different organizations will convene in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27).

One might wonder why it is necessary to have another one of these massively-attended conferences every year. For well over a decade, the central topic of discussion was whether the countries of the world would agree to set specific and binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When it became clear that most were not, the attention of the organizers shifted to other topics, including setting the rules for country reports on voluntary emissions reductions and how to persuade the wealthier countries to finance the climate programs of the poorer developing countries. This satisfied one of the cardinal rules of climate diplomacy – when one cannot make progress, make process.

The process established has been elaborate. Since COP 26 ended in Glasgow last year, the UNFCCC and its subordinate bodies and related organizations have held 935 meetings and other events. Almost every one of these events has produced a report that will duly be filed and “noted by” the participants in COP27.

Strip away the process, and the lengthy discussions at COP27 will focus on four main topics: the progress of countries in meeting their past emission reduction voluntary targets; promoting “accountability”, which is code for convincing countries to increase the stringency of their emissions reduction targets for 2030; financing for developing countries; and “bolstering” the ability of developing countries to undertake more climate change adaptation projects (i.e. more financing). Discussion of these topics will play out against a backdrop of politically-correct theatre; discussions of “climate change and gender” has a prominent place on the agenda and, for the first time, there will be an official delegation claiming to represent the children of the world. Unfortunately for the ultimate fate of the conference, it also will play out against the more important background of an ongoing economic and geopolitical crisis caused partly by existing climate policies.

Progress in Meeting Targets

Before COP27 begins, there undoubtedly will be an orchestrated release of dozens of reports claiming to show that the adverse effects of rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are already having dire effects in terms of weather and climate. This will lend drama to the demands by the UN and environmental organizations for all countries to adhere to their past plans. Alas, the global economy, despite its problems, does not seem to be cooperating. The trends in global energy demand over the past year have provided even further proof of the continued dominance of hydrocarbon energy in the world economy. According to Our World in Data, in 2021 the global use of oil, natural gas and coal as measured in exajoules (EJ) grew by 10.5, 7.7 and 8.7 EJ respectively, resulting in a one-year increase in hydrocarbon consumption of 26.9 EJ. In 2021, wind and solar consumption grew by 3.4 and 2.1 EJ respectively, for a total of 5.5 EJ. Thus, in 2021, global hydrocarbon consumption grew nearly five times faster than the growth in wind and solar combined. The growth in emissions, especially in Asia, has followed suit. Even in the United States, whose government has committed significant political capital to climate policies, the Energy Information Administration projects that energy-related GHG emissions will rise in 2022.

Based on these trends, the UNFCCC secretariat has projected that, even if all existing commitments were met, which is unlikely, global temperatures would still rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Promoting “Accountability”

COP 26 ended with a call for “international leaders” to review their 2030 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to ensure that they align with the UN’s goal of restraining global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Ahead of COP27, however, only 23 countries have submitted updated plans. Of these, only India and Australia are among emitters producing more than 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon Action Tracker, an independent organization that strongly supports aggressive emissions reductions, has provided its assessment of whether countries’ efforts to reduce emissions are “sufficient”. According to this source, only nine countries meet the standard of “almost sufficient” efforts: Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, the Gambia and the United Kingdom. Together, these countries account for less than three per cent of global emissions.

What happens in the official sessions of COP27 is unlikely to have much influence on whether countries change their NDCs. This is why thousands of non-official participants and media representatives will hold parallel sessions in efforts to “shame” the world’s governments into adopting tougher plans. The leaders of China, which produces 30% of global emissions, are unlikely to be moved.

Tomastvivlaren, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Financing for Developing Countries

This topic is at the heart of the COP27 meeting, and will be dealt with under multiple agenda items.

One item concerns the performance of the “Annex II countries” (mainly OECD countries) in meeting their collective commitment in 2009 to provide US$100 billion per year in funds for developing countries to spend on mitigating climate change (i.e. reducing emissions) and in adapting to the eventual effects of climate change. This issue has been raised at every COP since 2009, and it has not been anywhere close to resolved. Even the most basic questions, such as the apportionment of payment obligations among donors and of benefits among receiving countries, have not been resolved. There is no prospect of them being resolved in 2022.

With that in mind, it is not surprising that the escalating demands for more funding are unlikely to be met. Prior to COP26, the developing countries submitted a report that purported to show that the funding obligations of the wealthier countries should be increased to at least $1.3 trillion per year from 2025 to 2030. While the breakdown of those funds by intended use has not been published, the background papers filed for COP27 show that they would fit into three categories:

• Aid to mitigation;
• Aid to adaptation;
• Compensation for loss and damage

The concept of “loss and damage” was introduced through the 2019 Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts. At COP 26, the Group of 77 and China proposed a climate loss and damage “formal program”, which the United States and the European Union ultimately sidelined. At the heart of this concept are two central ideas. First, the richer countries of the world that industrialized over the past two centuries are responsible for the lion’s share of the carbon dioxide concentrations now in the atmosphere. Second, those countries should therefore pay the costs faced by developing countries related to “extreme weather events” and to “slow onset events” such as sea level rise, ocean acidification, glacier retreat, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity, desertification and others. The potential “liabilities” of the richer countries are virtually limitless.

The United States and the EU continue to oppose the establishment of a formal program to establish “loss and damage” as an integral part of the UNFCCC future programming, and they have resisted even having it on the COP27 agenda. This is a key issue that will arise early in the COP 27 discussions; if it remains unresolved, the rest of the conference will be imperiled.

Bolstering Adaptation

“Bolstering adaptation” does not involve agreements that all countries increase the relatively small share of climate-related public funding that they spend on adapting to possible future climate changes. Instead it relates, once again, to how much money the richer OECD countries will agree to give to the developing countries specifically to offset the costs of the weather events that those countries now attribute to climate change. At COP 26, developed countries agreed to double their financial commitments to pay for adaptation in “vulnerable communities”, a pledge that would cost about $40 billion per year. At COP 27, the focus reportedly will shift to how these funds will be identified and how they will be allocated to the communities that need it most. As the quantum of funding has already been established, this may prove possible to resolve.

The Economic and Political Context

The UN’s climate conferences and the interest groups that dote on them seem oblivious to the extraordinary circumstances in which COP 27 is taking place. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions imposed by several western countries have made the protection of energy security and the assurance of energy affordability the central concerns of the people in Europe and several other regions. The entire world faces the dual threats of inflation and recession, at a time when many developing countries, stretched by massive expenditures to deal with the pandemic, lack the fiscal resources to cope. The energy supply, lifeblood of industry, residential heating and transportation, in Europe and increasingly in North America, is increasingly scarce and uncertain. Aluminum smelting, steelmaking, heavy manufacturing and many other energy-intensive industries have been driven out to China and India. Meanwhile, Asian countries pay only lip service to climate commitments and repudiate attempts by the UNFCCC to shutter their economies as the West has so eagerly done under the Paris climate accord.

Can anyone seriously believe that Russia, one of the ten largest GHG emitters, will play a “constructive” role at COP 27? China, disaffected with current global politics, suspended its previous agreement with the Biden Administration on climate cooperation after Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. Its leaders spend more time cornering the market on lithium and other rare earth minerals and laughing at western countries’ willingness to increase every aspect of their economic, energy and military vulnerability.

We live in uncertain, and indeed unpredictable, times, so no one can say for sure what the outcome of COP 27 will be. The best outcome from the perspective of western countries is that it will be a colossal failure. However, the show must go on.

Image licensed from Adobe Stock.


  1. Duane Pendergast

    A climate comedy show? Not all that amusing though.

  2. Eric Loughead

    It is a crime that these meetings a not done using “ZOOM” etc.

Leave a Reply! Please be courteous and respectful; profanity will not be tolerated.

Privacy Policy Cookies Policy
©2002-2024 Friends of Science Society
Friends of Science Calgary