As world leaders gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the annual UN climate summit, researchers, advocates and the United Nations itself warn that the world is still off track on its goal of halting global warming and the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Over the next two weeks, negotiators from nearly 200 countries will be urging each other at COP27 to raise their clean energy ambitions, as the average global temperature has risen 1.2 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution.
They will negotiate to end the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, which has seen a resurgence in some countries during the war in Ukraine, and try to devise a system to funnel money to help the world’s poorest countries. recover from devastating climate disasters.
But a deluge of recent reports has made it clear that leaders are running out of time to implement the massive energy overhaul needed to prevent temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold scientists have warned that the planet must stay below.
Reports from the United Nations and the World Meteorological Association show that carbon and methane emissions reached record levels in 2021, and the plans countries have submitted to reduce those emissions are more than inadequate. Given countries’ current promises, global temperatures will rise to between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Ultimately, the world must cut fossil fuel emissions by nearly half by 2030 to avoid 1.5 degrees, a daunting prospect for economies that still rely heavily on oil, natural gas and coal.
“No country has the right to be delinquent,” US climate envoy John Kerry told reporters in October. “The scientists tell us that what is happening now – the increased extreme heat, extreme weather, the fires, the floods, the warming of the ocean, the melting of the ice, the extraordinary way life is being heavily affected by the climate crisis. – will get worse unless we tackle this crisis in a united, forward-looking way.”
These are the main topics to follow during COP27 in Egypt.
Developing and developed countries have argued for years about the concept of a ‘loss and loss fund’; the idea that countries that do the most damage with their excessive planet-warming emissions should pay the poorer countries that have suffered from the resulting climate disasters.
It was a thorny issue because the richest nations, including the US, don’t want to appear guilty or legally liable to other nations for damages. Kerry, for example, tiptoed about the issue, saying the US supports formal talks, but has not given any indication of which solution the country would sign.
Meanwhile, small island nations and others in the South are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, as devastating floods, stronger storms and record-breaking heatwaves wreak havoc.
The deadly floods in Pakistan this summer, which killed more than 1,500 people, are sure to set an example for the countries’ negotiators. And since September, more than two million people in Nigeria have been affected by the worst flooding in a decade. Currently, Nigerians are drinking, cooking and bathing in dirty floodwaters amid serious concerns about waterborne illness.
It is likely that loss and damage will find a place on the official COP27 agenda this year. But beyond countries committing to meet and talk about what a potential loss and damage fund would look like, or even exist, it’s unclear what action will emanate from this year’s summit.
‘Do we expect to have a fund at the end of the two weeks? I hope so, I’d love to, but we’ll see how parties deliver on that,” Egypt’s chief climate negotiator, Ambassador Mohamed Nasr, told reporters recently.
Former White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy told CNN she thinks loss and damage will be the number one issue at this year’s UN climate summit, and said countries, including the US, will face some tough questions about their plans to help developing countries already hard hit by climate disasters.
“It just keeps getting pushed out,” McCarthy said. “There is a need for some real responsibility and some specific commitments in the short term.”
People will look to see if the US and China can mend a broken relationship at the summit, a year after the two countries surprised the world by announcing that they would be working together on climate change.
The renewed partnership collapsed this summer when China announced it was suspending climate talks with the US as part of wider retaliation for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
Kerry recently said that climate talks between the two countries are still on hold and will likely remain so until Chinese President Xi Jinping gives the green light. Kerry and others are looking at whether China is fulfilling the promise it made last year to submit a plan to cut its methane emissions or update its emissions pledge.
The US and China are the world’s two biggest emitters and their cooperation is important, especially as it can spur other countries to take action as well.
Apart from a potential loss and damage fund, there is the overarching issue of so-called global climate finance; a fund that rich countries promised to inject money to help developing countries transition to clean energy instead of growing their economies on fossil fuels.
The pledge made in 2009 was $100 billion a year, but the world has yet to deliver on the pledge. Some of the richest countries including the US, UK, Canada and others have consistently failed to meet their allotment.
President Joe Biden promised the US would contribute $11 billion to the effort by 2024. But Biden’s request is ultimately up to Congress to approve, and will likely go nowhere if Republicans gain control of Congress in the midterm elections.
The US is working on separate deals with countries like Vietnam, South Africa and Indonesia to get them to move away from coal and towards renewable energy sources. And US officials often emphasize that they also want to unlock private investment to help countries transition to renewables and deal with climate impacts.
COP27 is intended to keep countries up to date on fossil fuel emissions and to generate new ambitions for the climate crisis. Yet reports show that we are still not on track to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A UN report examining countries’ latest pledges found that the planet will warm between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius. The average temperature on Earth has already risen by about 1.2 degrees since the industrial revolution.
Records were set last year for all three major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
There’s encouraging news: Renewable energy and electric vehicle adoption is booming, helping to offset the rise in fossil fuel emissions, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency.
But the overall picture of the reports shows that there is a need for much more clean energy, which is being deployed quickly. Any fraction of a degree in global temperature rise will have major consequences, said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
“The energy transition is very doable, but we’re not on that path, and we’ve been putting it off and wasting time,” Andersen told CNN. “Every number will matter. Let’s not say ‘we missed 1.5, so let’s settle for 2.’ No. We have to understand that every number that goes up will affect our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren much more.”
The clock is ticking in a different way: Next year’s COP28 in Dubai will be the year when countries must take an official inventory to determine if the world is on track to meet the goals set in the landmark Paris Agreement.