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Outcomes from Sharm el Sheikh -  How did COP27 deliver?

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”, was the stark reality UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered in his opening speech to over 120 heads of state gathered at the recent COP27 summit. He urged governments to collaborate now to cut emissions or condemn future generations to climate catastrophe – warning of the continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, the rise of global temperatures and the planet reaching irreversible tipping points. 

So, having been billed as the world’s last chance to prevent global warming of more than 1.5C, did COP27 achieve its goals and move us closer to addressing the climate crisis facing us? 

Focus fell on four key areas at this year’s summit:

1. New funding for loss and damage

Seen as a momentous victory for climate-vulnerable developing countries COP27 will be remembered as the UN climate change conference where loss and damage funding was agreed.

For the first time, nations agreed to set up a fund to aid countries most affected by ‘loss and damage’ from climate-driven storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. However, the fund does come with many still unknown factors, not least: payment amounts, pay-out triggers, how it will be funded and whether funding will be sufficient. 

Whilst the fund’s agreement is being hailed as one of the stand-out successes of the summit, and it is intended as a message that no one will be left behind, it is anticipated to take years to finalise how the fund will be structured.  

2. Keeping 1.5C alive 

Pledges made at Glasgow’s summit last year were reignited, with the EU and other developed countries strengthening their promises to keep 1.5C alive. But the COP27 cover text has left many disappointed by the lack of stronger language to reflect the advances needed. And only 33 countries came forward with revised targets at COP27 – a commitment made by all members a year earlier.

Focusing more on a call to avoid backsliding and outlining the support of developed countries to help poorer ones – rather than a specific reference to the phasing out of all fossil fuels which many see as a necessary advance from last year’s agreements.

This commitment has created a deep sense of solidarity from the richer nations with some of the island states but has also been seen as a key difference between them and other nations which are less focused with this goal.

However, whether the target of 1.5C is a shared global goal or not, International Chamber of Commerce Global Policy Director Andrew Wilson commented on the summit saying: “It is an absolute imperative given the growing impact for extreme weather events on the viability of businesses across the world.”

3. The presence and power of fossil fuels

The final COP27 text drew criticism for not doing more to rein back climate-damaging emissions and not setting more ambitious national targets or scaling back the use of coal, oil and natural gas. Demands from India for all fossil fuels to be phased down didn’t survive, even with the support of the EU and many other countries.

Instead, the stronger than usual presence of the oil and gas industry meant that greater focus was given to the decarbonisation of the sector with countries such as Canada and Saudi Arabia focusing on ‘clean up’ rather than ‘phase down’ of their fuels as the future.

Babawale Obayanju, from Friends of the Earth Africa commented “The fact that the outcome only talks about 'phase-down of unabated coal power' is a disaster for Africa and for the climate. We don't need more gas extraction in Africa, devastating our communities for the benefit of rich countries and corporations. What we needed from COP27 was agreement to a rapid, equitable phase out of all fossil fuels."

4. Climate and collaboration 

Perhaps the urgent need for loss and damage conversations and the associated desire for no countries to be left unsupported set the tone elsewhere. 

During the summit presidents Biden of the US and Xi Jinping of China met at the G20 in Indonesia. Representing two of the largest greenhouse gas emitters they agreed to restart cooperation on climate change. As two countries with similar socio-economic, employment transition and environmental challenges they will be working together on strategies and solutions to reach climate goals. 

Deals struck at the talks also gave hope for faster action as we move forward – chief among them was a landmark deal between a coalition of countries including the US and Japan and private finance to mobilise $20 billion to help Indonesia move away from coal, resulting in the country bringing forward the sector’s peak emissions date by seven years to 2030.

Some improvements to previous commitments have been made at COP27, with reports indicating a doubling of funding for adaptation potentially being agreed. However, scientists still warn that levels of promised fundings are woefully below what is needed for our near future. 

With so many challenges affecting small businesses today, from rising inflation to soaring energy costs, owners could be forgiven for losing focus on their sustainability and climate goals, diverted by the economic challenges they currently are facing. But one thing COP27 does show is the continued need for climate attention in our day to day living and business operations to support broader goals, as we move forward to COP28 in Dubai.