Mopping with an open tap…
The 27th round of the UN climate negotiations, 6-20 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, ended more than 1,5 days later than planned. What is the outcome?
1. Loss & Damage Fund
After thirty years of polite questions, increased emphasis and finally bitter demands, the needs of the victims of climate change were finally heard. At least on paper. There will be a Loss & Damage Fund for climate victims in poor countries. But the how, what and how much has yet to be worked out – promising fireworks, at least for the coming year. Because: who has to pay, how much and in what way? And who can claim support from the fund? A special committee will see into that next year and report to COP 28. Hot issue is whether China and countries such as Singapore and Qatar will have to contribute. The rich countries, the first ones to pay, will explore from which sources the money can be drawn: public money, insurance constructions, private money, debt relief/swaps, taxes e.g. on fossil fuels, shipping and aviation.
The establishment of the fund is partly due to Dutchman Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission and an important bridge builder during the negotiations. The EU was the first block of rich countries to agree with the fund, after initial resistance from the United States, and tabled a compromise proposal together with 134 (developing) countries which was ultimately adopted by the entire meeting. A historic moment. But it’s too early to cheer: the fund does not hold any money yet, while all earlier promises to deliver climate money through various other funds still have not been fulfilled. So whether the establishment of the fund will remain a moral victory on paper, or will actually yield something, remains to be seen.
The Santiago Network, which will offer technical support, was further negotiated and put into place. Also a previously announced German insurance initiative, the Global Protection Shield, was launched.
2. Houdini-act fossil sector
Everyone with basic knowledge of climate change knows that we have to stop extracting and using fossil fuels as quickly as possible: coal, lignite, oil and gas. Last year in Glasgow a small step in the right direction was taken by mentioning the need to phase down the use of “dirty” coal. In Egypt a fight unfolded to step up this commitment. More than 80 countries led by India did their utmost to get the phasing out of all fossil fuels in the final text. That did not happen, ‘thanks’ to host country Egypt that openly made gas deals during the summit, and the more than 600 lobbyists from the fossil sector – a record number. The final text promotes sustainable energy, but also energy with “low emissions”. That opens the door for gas and “clean” fossil energy where CO2 is captured and stored during extraction and production: an expensive, very inefficient and hardly tested procedure (CCS: Carbon Capture and Storage). Moreover, 80 à 90% of CO2 emissions take place during the end use of fossil fuels. In other words: “clean” fossil energy does not exist.
Now that the fossil sector largely remains out of the equation, the goal of maximum 1.5°C average global warming will soon be unattainable. Although that goal has been reaffirmed in the final text – with great difficulty – it is now in danger of losing its reality value. According to climate scientists, we only have a few years left to turn the tide. However, the investment plans of the fossil sector for new gas and oil extraction in the next eight years amount to almost $ 1 trillion, in spite of knowing that 1.5°C will then no longer be feasible. These plans are totally incompatible with the recommendations of the IEA (International Energy Agency) to immediately stop fossil investments and reach zero emissions by 2050. Countries themselves are to blame as well: since the assumption of the Paris Climate Agreement (2015), the G20 countries have invested more than $ 77 billion in fossils every year. That is three times their investments in sustainable energy.
Many rich countries, esp. in Europe, are eagerly looking for gas because of the war in Ukraine. Africa is one region that has their attention as a prime target for fossil investments. But the African climate movement is not amused at all. For true sustainable development in Africa investments in sustainable energy are called for: the African continent is most suitable for the generation of solar energy. But, once more ‘who pays, determines’: a carbon market is now being set up in Africa. Theoretically, such a market should help reduce emissions. However, the agreements in Egypt on carbon trade will not be helpful at all: there is no guarantee that traded emission certificates will not be double counted (both by the seller and the buyer), which encourages greenwashing and diminishes mitigation. Moreover, bilateral agreements may remain secret which makes control difficult if not impossible.
The Glasgow call for the submission of more ambitious NDCs (national plans for emission reduction) in the run up to COP 27, had only been fulfilled by a handful of countries. Nonetheless an effort was made to enhance mitigation ambition through the Mitigation Work Program, which will run until 2026. Negotiations on the MWP were extremely difficult. The developed and developing countries wanted a process with clear goals and timelines, running until 2030. By then global GHG emissions must have dropped by around 45% to keep 1.5°C in sight. The countries in transition, or “emerging economies”, did not want such a lengthy process, among which China and Saudi Arabia. They demanded space for economic growth including the use of fossil energy. The agreed compromise is extremely weak: no new goals are set and everything is voluntary. This means another precious year has been lost. Moreover it is clear that economic growth is still coupled with the use of fossil energy. And governments continue to hesitate to take direct responsibility, leaving decision making to the corporate world.
This was also demonstrated by the so-called Breakthrough Agenda, presented by 45 world leaders: an international framework in which governments and business community will work together to reduce the emissions of the largest polluting sectors. This includes shipping, cement- and pharmaceutical industries, ICT (energy use), mobility, carbon extraction from the atmosphere and (the protection of) mangrove forests. In addition, a whole range of smaller coalitions and partnerships was launched.
3. Adaptation and resilience
Climate change is a reality to which all countries will have to adapt, esp. the most vulnerable. For that reason, the last seven years or so an effort has been made to formulate a Global Goal on Adaptation. The negotiations on this topic made little progress. But The Sharm El Sheik Adaptation Agenda was launched, which must improve the resilience of 4 billion people in the most vulnerable areas. It is the first global initiative in which public and private sectors work together to achieve thirty adaptation goals in five important sectors.
A previously made promise to double contributions to the Adaptation Fund has not been honoured for years; not this time either. This endangers the set-up and implementation of NAPs (National Adaptation Plans). Many developing countries complained about this. Since the Netherlands houses the Global Center on Adaptation (in Rotterdam) and cooperates with African countries, it promised 110 million euros for the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program. The Netherlands also introduced the Champions Group for Deltas and Coastal Zones, intended to promote cooperation between countries in the field of sustainable management of (vulnerable) coastal areas.
Adaptation also includes climate resilience. To strengthen this the Race to Resilience has been initiated, an initiative of the UN comparable to the Race to Zero: zero GHG emissions in 2050. For the Race to Zero the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has drawn up a series of guidelines for various levels of implementation. As part of the Race to Resilience various coalitions were presented in the form of cooperation between cities, on water management and more. Furthermore, a new campaign will try to mobilize 3,000 insurance companies (50% of the global market) before COP 28, in order to estimate and cover climate risks.
A danger of this approach is that many companies will be inclined to withdraw from areas with major climate risks – often developing countries. If that happens they are at risk of being completely abandoned.
4. Methane, cattle breeding, agriculture, forests and oceans
In Glasgow, more than 120 countries signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, agreeing to reduce methane emissions – a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2 – as quickly as possible. Methane is released a.o. through the extraction of fossil fuels and in cattle breeding. COP 27 has yielded little: the fossil sector has not been restricted, and countries hesitate to reduce their livestock sector because they fear aggressive reactions from this sector.
There is a chance that China will join the Pledge. Furthermore an international warning system for methane leaks (MARS) has been launched, using NASA and ESA satellites.
Under the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (UN) work is being done on sustainability and climate adaptation of agriculture and food systems. Various initiatives were launched, especially in the form of (smaller) (NGO) coalitions such as the True Animal Protein Price Coalition. The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate and the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5°C received a lot of criticism: too little ambitious and too much promotion of fertilizers.
An important development in Glasgow was the intention to halt worldwide deforestation by 2030. In the meantime little progress has been made. Brazil and Venezuela are among the largest deforestators in the Amazon, and the DR Congo auctions a large percentage of its forest area (ca. 1/3) for oil extraction. More than 35 million people live in this area, including hundreds of thousands of indigenous people. The new Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership (FCLP), launched during COP 27, must prevent further deforestation, but Congo, Russia and Indonesia have not signed on. Colombia launched a new initiative to protect the Amazon, which will be endorsed (a.o.) by the newly elected Brazilian President Lula.
Another coalition is the Enhancing Nature-based Solutions for Climate Transformation (Enact), together with IUCN, aimed at climate action in relation to biodiversity and desertification.
Since a few years there has been more and more attention for oceans and their important role in climate systems. In addition to various nature coalitions, a directory has now been published around “Blue Carbon” projects with guidelines for carbon credits in relation to coastal areas. The economic value of these areas worldwide is set at $ 190 billion per year.
Such economization of nature is widely criticized. The rationale is that nature reserves, including marshes and forests, retain CO2 as sinks, a process believed to be quantifiable. But various studies have already shown that the relevant calculations are often incorrect. As a result, these so-called nature-based solutions are valued way too optimistically, leading to too little actual emission reduction.
5. Just energy transition and climate finance
Parties in Sharm El Sheikh consented on the need to accelerate the energy transition – from fossil to sustainable -, partly in view of the current energy crisis. It was agreed that a “Just and Equitable Energy Transition” can follow national priorities and must provide protection of employees affected by the transition, for example by supporting and retraining workers in the fossil sector. The set Just Transition Work Program will be based on annual ministerial consultations. In the run-up to and during COP 27, it was announced that G7(+) countries and their private sectors will support the energy transition of two emerging economies: South Africa and Indonesia.
Various new initiatives to accelerate the transition were launched: the Planning for Climate Commission, a joint initiative of the Green Hydrogen Organization, International Hydropower Association, The Global Wind Energy Council and the Global Solar Council. Also the data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) will play an important role in the world wide transition, as well as in the first Global Stocktake (COP 28). In addition, the Global Renewables Alliance was launched, bringing together sustainable energy industries, including green hydrogen, geothermal and energy storage. Lastly, a number of countries joined the Global Offshore Wind Alliance (GOWA).
Climate finance is a tricky concept. For several years, work has been underway to establish a so-called New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) for climate finance. But as yet there is no common definition of climate finance. Until now, rich countries want climate funds to flow in the form of development aid (ODA), loans through multilateral development banks (MDBs) and international financial institutions (IFIs as IMF, WB), insurances and/or other private investments. In 2009 at COP 15 the Green Climate Fund was established, with promised contributions of $ 100 billion annually from 2020 onwards. That amount has still not been achieved. Officially the GCF holds $ 83 billion, but according to Oxfam it is no more than $ 24 billion net. In addition, the majority of the money comes as loans that must be repaid, including (rising) interest rates.
In short, none of the climate funds (see above) are filled according to promises. Moreover, applying for support from these funds is very complicated; developing countries have been complaining about the underlying bureaucracy for many years. These countries demand extra money in particular in the form of grants, not only for loss & damage (see above) but also to support mitigation and adaptation projects, ánd far less bureaucracy. In addition many poor countries have debts that still have to be repaid. As a result some are no longer able to get out of the downward spiral they are in, let alone develop their economies in a sustainable way. A recent report (by Nicholas Stern et al.) shows that by 2030 they will need $ 2 trillion annually for adaptation, disaster relief and continued sustainable development.
In light of all this, at COP 27 many countries urged a reform of the financial sector, including MDBs and IFIs. To this end a group of around 80 finance ministers was established, which will meet in 2023 together with corporate delegations. The intention is to discuss and put in place preconditions for more sustainable business investments. The reforms of the IFIs, aiming at giving priority to climate goals and debt relief/swaps, will be discussed by these institutions themselves in 2023.
Over and over the call was made to tax the fossil sector, which in 2022 made/will make around $ 250 billion in net profit.
6. Law, human rights, youth, women, Indigenous Peoples
During COPs the struggle for the interests of women, young people and indigenous peoples (IP) is ongoing. Tackling climate change is thus connected with human rights. Women and youth organizations have been active for many years. Since some years, indigenous groups are also organizing themselves in various ways, supported by the World Council of Churches. The IP point to the UN declaration for the rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to “free, prior and informed” consent before any outside development project on their ancestral grounds can be started, e.g. by mining or agricultural companies. That right is usually not respected.
A selection from IP views: the climate negotiations have become a battle between a rights-based and a market-driven approach. But the latter, with its carbon markets, geo-engineering, economization of nature reserves, etc. does not help and is a new form of colonialism. Instead, the focus should shift to the knowledge and expertise of IP. After all, they are proven stewards of 80% of nature reserves in the world.
At COP 26 $ 1.7 million was intended for indigenous forest and biodiversity projects. But only 7% from that small amount arrived at the correct destination. In addition, the Rockefeller Foundation announced a gift of $ 11 million for indigenous and regenerative agricultural projects. Access to more substantial sources of money is difficult and many indigenous organizations feel not represented by their national governments.
By now we know that the judiciary sometimes offers relief. Various climate lawsuits have been started by NGOs or other civil groups against governments, companies or both, all over the world. To strengthen this the Climate Litigation Network has been set up. A few cases: the winning of an appeal in the UK against the inadequate Net Zero strategy of the government; the ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee that the Australian government violates the rights of the indigenous Torres Strait island people, due to a lack of climate policies; a new lawsuit in the US against power utility Washington Gas over greenwashing in its marketing.
Since 2019, Pacific governments and NGOs have been conducting a joint campaign to submit the lack of adequate climate policy worldwide to the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ). Vanuatu will offer a resolution in the coming General Assembly of the UN, 14 December 2022, in which the ICJ is asked to clarify what the legal obligations of national states are regarding the protection of the rights of current and future generations in the light of climate change. During COP 27, a lobby was ongoing to have governments vote in favour of this resolution.
7. Multi-religious activities
As in previous COPs faith-based organisations (FBOs) were very active. Various world religions have been collaborating through the UN-Interfaith Liaison Committee (ILC) for a number of years, managed by the coordinator of the Climate Working Group of the WCC. The Christian ecumenical team once more consisted of a delegation of ACT-Alliance, WCC, LWF and a few other large churches and organizations. The most important activities: the support for the establishment of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by more than 50 religious organizations and 1500 -leaders. The Treaty must ensure the immediate termination of new fossil projects, contain a process for a fair termination of current fossil production, and guarantee 100% sustainable energy for the entire world community, whereby financial and technical support is offered to countries and communities in need of it. See https://fossilfueltreaty.org/faith-letter and https://www.ncronline.org/earthbeat/faith/ahead-cop27-faith-leaders-back-global-treaty-end-use-fossil-fuels
The European Parliament also supports this initiative.
The book Faith Voices for Ecocide Law was also launched. In this book, leaders from various faith movements and indigenous traditions reflect on the relationship between people and nature, and on the need for a ban on ecocide. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeus, the Church of Sweden and the World Council of Churches have expressed their support for an international ban on ecocide. Pope Francis did that already in 2019, and on November 9 he again called for the recognition of ecocide as fifth crime against peace. The book
Faith Voices for Ecocide Law can be downloaded for free at https://www.faithforecocidelaw.earth/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Faith-Voices-for-Ecocide-Law_221107.pdf
And Faith for Ecocide Law campaign can be found here: https://www.faithforecocidelaw.earth/
A few days before COP 27 ended, an urgent call was made for more ambition among the negotiators, signed by as many religious leaders as possible in such a short time.
In the run-up to and during the COP there were various activities:
– Nov. 3, Webinar: Voices to COP 27 – Kairos – Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
– Nov. 6, Multi-religious encounter in the spirit of Talanoa Dialogue – ILC
– Nov. 6, Multi-religious service in the El Sama Eyeen Coptic Church, Sharm El-S – ILC
– Nov. 9, Coordination ILC
– Nov. 9, Side event: Realizing Ambition Through Ethical, Intergenerational and Multi-Sectoral Responses to Climate Crisis – Anglican Consultative Council, Baha’i International Community, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, and World Conference of Religions for Peace
– Nov. 9, Side event: Addressing Loss & Damage to Deliver Climate Justice: Youth, Gender & Faith Leaders’ Perspectives – ActionAid International, Caritas Internationalis, Center for Participatory Development, Christian Aid and Church of Sweden
– Nov. 11, Side event: Delivering the Promise-How to Ensure Future Adaptation Needs Are Addressed – Act Alliance, All Africa Conference of Churches, Brahma Kumaris, Bread for the World, Lutheran World Federation, and World Council of Churches
– Nov. 11, Press conference: Interfaith Work on Climate Change – ILC
– Nov. 12, Statement by Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches for more ambition at COP 27, a Loss & Damage Fund and more. See https://www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/statement-on-the-27th-conference-of-the-parties-of-the-un-framework-convention-on-climate-change-cop27
– Nov. 12, Workshop Centering Indigenous History and Leadership in Climate Action – The Kairos Blanket Exercise – Civil Society Climate Justice Hub, Kairos
– Nov. 13, Ecumenical Service for COP 27 in the El Sama Eyeen Coptic Church, Sharm El-Sheikh, WCC and Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt – WCC
– Nov. 13, Strategic consultation Ecumenic Team
– Nov. 15, Statement from Faith Based Organizations at the High Level Ministerial Segment of COP 27 – ILC, see
– Nov. 16, Coordination ILC
– Nov. 16, Side event: Global South Perspectives on Climate Justice, Peace & Conflict, and Gender Equality – Kairos-Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives and Others
– Nov. 16, Webinar: Just Energy for All – United Women in Faith
During COP 27, the Ecumenical Team met daily in the morning and in the evening. Various press releases, blogs and tweets were published. Look for those and background information at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VakX2aVVxc (Statement FBOs at High Level Segment)
8. Political developments
During COP 27 some important political developments in the world influenced the negotiations, first of all the war in Ukraine. In the US, President Biden succeeded in retaining the Democratic majority in the Senate. As a result, climate envoy John Kerry got green light to start conversations with China. Permission also came from that side. Their conversations in Egypt could lead to the resumption of climate cooperation that has sustained serious damage, inter alia because of the visit of a US delegation to Taiwan a few months ago. Furthermore, President Lula was (re)-elected in Brazil; he got an enthusiastic reception in Egypt. Under the now retiring President Bolsonaro deforestation in the Amazon has grown to shocking proportions.
9. Closing remarks
Cop 27 was an “implementation” summit. That word turned out to be interpreted differently. The rich countries saw “implementation” primarily as doing business (as usual) with various (fossil) industries, while the developing countries were aiming at effectuating climate agreements, including finally filling various climate funds and reducing global CO2 emissions. Instead, the summit has yielded nothing more, or less, than a moral victory for the victims of climate change, by the establishment of a Loss & Damage Fund. In addition, a signal has been issued that international financial institutions must be reformed and their policies tailored to climate goals.
Everything else has either failed, or remained far below par.
The bottom line is that the necessary global solidarity, called for by UN-General Secretary Guterres at the start of the summit, is still very far away. Instead, we will continue to warm up the planet at an all too rapid pace, resulting in more and more climate victims, loss and damage. Hence the title of this article. ‘Mopping with an open tap’ is a Dutch proverb, which means trying to repair something without addressing the cause of the problem.
Perhaps it’s time to start using the qualification by a CAN*person: homo non-sapiens.
The Netherlands, December 3, 2022
Marijke van Duin
Member of the Working Group on Climate Change of the World Council of Churches
* CAN = Climate Action Network. CAN-International is a collaboration of more than 1900 NGOs from more than 150 countries and has been active during climate COPs for decades.