COP27 Tackled The Consequences Of Climate Change, But Not The Cause—Fossil Fuels
Both the cause and the consequence of climate change could never make it to the talks agenda for the past three decades.
The agreement to establish a Loss and Damage Fund at the COP27 climate conference in Sharm El–Sheikh, Egypt, is a significant breakthrough, after 30 years of struggle to demand climate justice for the people facing devastating climate impacts.
Vulnerable communities, particularly in developing countries, who have been suffering from supercharged storms, catastrophic floods, raging wildfires and rising sea levels do not receive enough support. There has been a gaping hole in the UN climate finance architecture to help people recover from the impacts fuelled by climate change, and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
The demand to address climate-induced loss and damage under the UNFCCC was first raised by the Republic of Vanuatu in 1991. Since then, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Least Developed Countries or LDCs have been advocating for concrete measures, which led to the setting up of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage in 2013.
In the UN parlance, Loss and Damage refers to the adverse effects of climate change on human societies and the natural environment, which cannot be avoided because of inadequate mitigation actions, insufficient adaptation and/or conditions going beyond adaptation.
However, for years, rich countries, mainly the United States, the European Union, Japan, Norway, and Australia, continued blocking the issue of finance and did not allow any meaningful discussion on how to assess and address the Loss and Damage finance gap.
India, being part of G77 & China—the negotiating group of 134 developing countries—stood strong in solidarity with the Small Island Developing States, LDCs, Latin American and African countries who led the demand for a Loss and Damage Fund. The country of 1.4 billion people is highly vulnerable to climate impacts and has confronted many unprecedented climate disasters over the last few years.
According to the studies cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change and rising demand would lead to at least 40% of the Indian population living with water scarcity by 2050, compared with about 33% now. In 2021, the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based global think tank, estimated that India may lose 3–10% of its GDP annually by 2100 due to climate change. Despite its vulnerability and eligibility, the first right over the new Loss and Damage Fund remains with the smaller and most vulnerable nations, who do not have adequate resources to deal with the rising costs of climate damages.
Tackling The Root Cause
While the Loss and Damage Fund is a major step forward to help people battle the worst consequences of climate change, COP27 failed to address the root cause of the climate crisis, i.e., fossil fuels—oil, gas, and coal.
Ironically (or not), both the cause and the consequence of climate change could never make it to the agenda of climate change talks for the past three long decades.
Disinformation campaigns by polluting fossil fuel companies, cosying up with governments; and rich countries’ fear of liability to pay up for the climate damages tell the tale.
The Paris Agreement makes zero mentions of coal, oil or gas. The terms—fossil fuel subsidies and unabated coal—were reluctantly included for the first time in the Glasgow Climate Pact in 2021, and Loss and Damage finance could finally land on the main COP27 agenda.
Fossil fuel production is not only responsible for the climate emergency and health risks, but the industry is getting rich off this global energy crisis. With every fraction of warming caused by emissions in the past decade, fossil fuels are the primary cause of deaths and destruction due to increasing frequency and intensity of climate impacts.
According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2022, the implementation of current Nationally Determined Contributions pledges or climate action plans would put the world on track for around 2.5ºC of warming by the end of the century—significantly missing the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
India’s demand to include the language—phase down of all fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas—got support from the vulnerable nations and a few developed countries, but it did not make it to the final agreement.
In the final days of COP27, developed countries like the U.K. and EU echoed the vulnerable nations’ demand that global emissions must peak by 2025 and were joined by the U.S. to include all fossil fuels in the agreement, but their actions in the real world, outside the conference halls, exposed their hypocrisy. This year, the EU turned back to coal to meet the deficits after Russia cut gas supplies, and voted to keep fossil gas and nuclear in its green energy taxonomy. In October, the U.K. began a process to award more than 100 licenses to allow oil and gas exploration in almost 900 locations in the North Sea. The United States leads the list of top 20 countries with the most oil and gas expansion approved in 2022, by cumulative CO2 emissions, committed by the new Final Investment Decision.
The Sharm El-Sheikh Implementation Plan “emphasises the urgent need for immediate, deep, rapid and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions,” but covertly encourages more investments in "low emission energy," i.e., fossil gas and nuclear, alongside renewable energy. The entire blame cannot be apportioned to the host country, Egypt, or the major oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia or Russia, when rich countries merely paid lip service to the fossil fuel phase-out and made no proactive effort at the conference.
Although burning of fossil gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, the process of production and transportation can cause leakage of methane, which has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
The Road Ahead
Clearly, COP27 did not address the cause of climate change. The ray of sunshine at the conference was Tuvalu, who joined Vanuatu in calling for a Fossil Fuel Treaty to complement the Paris Agreement. In the last two years, there is a growing chorus of Indigenous Peoples, faith leaders, civil society activists, youth, cities, lawmakers, academics, and scientists calling for a global treaty to phase out fossil fuels through international cooperation and supporting a just transition powered by clean energy and a sustainable future for all.
The fight for climate justice is far from over.
Rich countries, who made vicious attempts at COP27 to dilute the equity references to shirk off their historical responsibility, have also failed to provide $100 billion annually since 2020. They must be held accountable for delaying climate action, when trillions of dollars are needed every year to help developing countries transition to cleaner and resilient development.
The presence of over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27, 25% more than last year, turning it into an “expo” cannot be overlooked. Polluters must be kicked out of the climate conferences, as they are not part of the solution. We cannot continue to exacerbate the problem by expanding fossil fuels, which will cause more losses and damages.
The creation of a new Loss and Damage Fund has sent a warning to polluters that they can no longer be off the hook. Rich countries and fossil fuel companies must pay up as per their historical responsibilities.
Equity must be at the heart of the new Loss and Damage Fund, whether it is about—who pays, who receives support the most, and how it is governed. Developing countries must stay united and work with their counterparts in rich countries to ensure that the governance structure and operational modalities are fit for purpose. The Fund must be able to respond to both the economic and non-economic effects of extreme weather events and the slow effects of global warming, such as glacial melt, rising sea levels, and increasing desertification, with efficiency, agility, and sensitivity. It must respond at scale to the needs of the most vulnerable people and communities, who are facing the brunt of the climate crisis.
The next climate conference will be hosted by a petrostate, the United Arab Emirates, in the Expo City Dubai. Nevertheless, we must double down on our demand to include an equitable phase-out of ALL fossil fuels in the 2023 climate agreement and translate it into action.
We are angry, frustrated but not tired of fighting for climate justice, human rights and saving the planet from an existential crisis. Let me end with the chants that inspired and energised us at Sharm El-Sheikh: “We are not yet defeated. People united will never be defeated.”
Harjeet Singh is the Head of Global Political Strategy at Climate Action Network International and the Global Engagement Director at the Fossil Fuel Treaty initiative. He co-founded a social enterprise, Satat Sampada. He tweets at @harjeet11.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.