This year’s UN climate conference (COP27) will take place against a backdrop of global crises.
The ripple effects of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have sent food and energy prices soaring to record highs, while unprecedented climate disasters are fueling widespread and devastating disruptions with historic levels of rain, heat, drought, fires and storms impacting almost every corner of the world.
A climate catastrophe in Pakistan claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and displaced tens of millions. Floods and storms in southern Africa during the first half of 2022 killed hundreds of people and severely disrupted economic activity. Millions in the Horn of Africa are starving due to an epic drought. A severe drought battered China’s food and energy production, causing rolling blackouts and water and power rationing. And Europe is facing its worst drought in 500 years, along with scorching heatwaves.
These compounding crises underscore the urgent need for countries to work together at COP27 to accelerate climate action and rebuild confidence that global, collective action can solve humanity’s greatest challenges.
COP27 takes place in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18, 2022. It’s essential that decision-makers make progress across six key tasks to advance future international climate action and support:
1) Create a financing mechanism for addressing loss and damage.
At the closing of COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, one of the headline questions centered on how countries would address the need for finance to address loss and damage, those impacts from climate change that are so severe communities are simply unable to adapt to them. Developing countries argued for establishing a loss and damage finance “facility,” which could mean a dedicated arrangement through which finance could be channeled.
Yet due to pushback by developed nations such as the United States and European Union, countries instead agreed to establish the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage, dedicated to discussing possible funding arrangements and set to run through 2024. The first session of the dialogue kicked off at the UN climate negotiations in Bonn in June 2022, where several developing countries made their view clear that talks must lead to a finance facility and that such a facility cannot wait until 2024. Many developed countries, meanwhile, argued that there are already mechanisms to channel funding to avert, minimize, and address loss and damage, such as through Green Climate Fund (GCF) (although it does not have loss and damage in its current mandate), the Global Shield, InsuResilience and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Their argument is that the global community should strengthen these channels rather than establish a new institution.
Developing countries and civil society experts counter that existing finance is grossly inadequate, and that loss and damage finance needs are distinct and additional to finance for adaptation, humanitarian assistance or development assistance.
At a bare minimum, COP 27 should kickstart a process to formalize funding arrangements to respond to loss and damage under the UNFCCC. At the same time, initiatives beyond the formal UN negotiations must also play a role to meet scale of what is needed.
Countries were not originally scheduled to formally discuss funding arrangements for loss and damage at COP27, but the Group of 77 and China (which essentially includes all developing nations) has requested it be added to the agenda. This will require consensus across all countries, both developed and developing, on the first day of the talks. If countries fail to agree to this agenda item, proceedings at the climate summit could derail right from the start.
In some good news, building on commitments made by Scotland and Wallonia (Belgium) and a group of philanthropies during COP26, Denmark announced in September 2022 a pledge of 100 million Danish Krone (approximately $13 million) for loss and damage. The Climate Vulnerable Forum and the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group will also launch a crowd-sourcing loss and damage funding campaign in early October 2022. These are positive developments that underscore the need to elevate loss and damage at COP27.
In addition to possible discussions about creating funding arrangements to address loss and damage, at COP27, negotiators are on the hook to operationalize the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage. This network was created in 2019 to provide countries with knowledge and technical assistance to address loss and damage. Whether negotiators fully operationalize the Santiago Network is another measure of success for COP27.
2) Scale up support for adaptation.
As an increasing number of countries finalize their national adaptation plan documents (NAPs) and make more detailed, ambitious commitments in the adaptation components of their NDCs, the global focus is shifting from planning to implementation — and not a moment too soon. The recent IPCC report noted that intensifying climate change impacts require that adaptation action be sped up and scaled up to adequately address the needs of vulnerable countries and communities.
Finance must scale significantly to support adaptation needs. At COP26, developed countries agreed to at least double finance for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025, which equates to roughly $40 billion. Many stakeholders are calling for much greater levels of adaptation funding, and for adaptation finance to match that dedicated to curbing emissions (the latest available figures show that adaptation finance only amounts to approximately a third of total climate finance). A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) shows an increase in adaptation finance from 2019 to 2020 (the most recent year for which data is available) from $20.3 billion to $28.6 billion, but such increases will have to continue if the $40 billion target is to be met and exceeded.
At COP27, developed countries must also specify how they will ensure this finance reaches those who need it most. This will mean committing more finance for locally led adaptation, ensuring local people and organizations who are often disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts have a say in investment decisions and can access the funding and other resources they need to build resilience.
Countries will also be pressed to make progress on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) in Egypt. Established under Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement in 2015, this goal aims to provide a framework to define the process, action and support needed to enhance adaptative capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability, while contributing to sustainable development. To help define the goal and how it should be measured and assessed, countries established the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work program (GlaSS) on the Global Goal on Adaptation at COP26, to run from 2022 through 2023. COP27 will host another of the year’s four workshops under the work program. During the upcoming GlaSS workshops, countries must focus on making tangible, substantive progress; leaders must ensure that setting an ambitious goal with robust tracking mechanisms is a high priority politically.
The GlaSS discussions also provide an opportunity to help advance equitable, locally led adaptation. The GGA could include metrics for tracking progress on locally led adaptation, including to account for quantity and quality of finance reaching local communities. The GlaSS program could also establish common definitions of “local” and “locally led,” formally recognize the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, and ensure local communities and organizations can participate in discussions around the global goal.
Strengthening monitoring and evaluating of adaptation is also vital as more countries turn to implementing their recently completed NAP documents and more ambitious NDCs. Many countries are grappling with how to establish national metrics and monitoring systems. At COP27, progress on the GGA should include consideration of how to link the global adaptation goal to countries’ own efforts to monitor implementation of their NAPs and NDCs.
3) Strengthen national emissions-reduction targets.
As part of the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26, countries were requested to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 emissions-reduction targets — known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs — by the end of 2022 to better align with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). So far, only 23 countries have come forward with new or updated NDCs since COP26.
Major emitters that have submitted more ambitious climate plans include India, Australia, Indonesia and Egypt. Several others, including Mexico, Turkey, Vietnam and Chile, are expected to release updated or enhanced NDCs later this year, though they already missed a deadline for inclusion in the UN synthesis report to be published ahead of COP27. By COP27, all countries, especially major emitters, should strengthen their 2030 emissions targets. These targets also need to be backed by policies — and crucially, investment — to turn them into action.
And while there is no room for backsliding on climate commitments, in 2022, some major emitting countries seem to be doing just that in response to the energy crisis generated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Faced with natural gas shortages, several E.U. nations are reopening coal plants and appealing to countries in Africa and elsewhere for new gas supplies. The think tank Ember Climate estimates that European governments will spend more than $48 billion this winter on new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure and supplies.
Time will tell if these investments are a temporary blip or will undermine national climate targets. At the same time, we recognize that Europe is taking unprecedented steps to scale up renewable energy, increase energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.
The UN Climate Change secretariat will publish a report in late October 2022 synthesizing the commitments made by countries in NDCs and long-term strategies. Given the lack of progress thus far, the UN report is certain to show a gap between countries’ current emissions targets and trends and the emissions levels needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.
The Glasgow Climate Pact established a work program to “urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation in this critical decade.” Earlier this year, countries began negotiations on how this work program will operate, including its objectives, scope, outcomes, arrangements and timeline. For instance, the work program could aim to set goals in critical sectors for 2030. In Egypt, however, countries will start these negotiations from scratch and are expected to finalize a decision on a work program as one important outcome at COP27.
4) Assure that the $100 billion climate finance promise will be met and move forward on new commitments.
Climate finance will again be a key topic at COP27, with a significant number of scheduled discussions and linkages with most agenda items. Developed countries will be pressed to reassure sufficient and adequate financial support to developing countries — in particular, to those most vulnerable to climate impacts.
In 2009, developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion per year to developing countries to support their climate action. Official UNFCCC and independent reports consistently show that developed countries are missing the $100-billion-per-year target. For example, a recent assessment from the OECD found that developed countries only mobilized $83.3 billion of climate finance in 2020.
Ahead of COP26, ministers from Germany and Canada presented a Climate Finance Delivery Plan, which detailed the failure of developed countries to meet their commitment and expressed confidence that the $100 billion would be met in 2023. An update of the Delivery Plan is expected to be released ahead of COP27 and is set to also shed light on progress on the commitment to double adaptation financing by 2025. The delivery of finance is crucial because it is a symbol of global solidarity and an important element to continue building trust in the multilateral system and accelerate climate action in the developing world.
Multilateral development banks (MDBs) could also do more with their current capital structure, as called for in the Glasgow Pact, and, more recently, through the Independent Review of the Multilateral Development Banks’ Capital Adequacy Frameworks (initiated by the G20). MDBs continue to be an integral part of the climate finance architecture and must scale up their climate action even further, particularly for adaptation. MDB financing goes beyond “climate finance,” so all types of financing they provide must align with global temperature goals and help build climate resilience.
COP27 needs to provide certainty around delivery of the $100 billion by 2023, including by meeting the pledges made in Glasgow to the Adaptation Fund, communicating new and additional pledges to multilateral funds and in bilateral support. COP27 also needs to signal that adaptation grant-based finance will substantially increase since finance for adaptation remains far underfunded in comparison to mitigation. Further provision of public finance, private sector mobilization, improved access to finance, and debt sustainability will all be key elements of the COP27 discussions aiming to shift the trillions of dollars to close the investment gaps necessary to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.
Countries are also preparing to outline a new collective finance goal to go into effect after 2025, with a series of expert dialogues underway. An agreement on the new finance goal is expected in 2024, based upon technical and political dialogues over the next two years, including high-level ministerial discussions. The lessons learned on the provision and mobilization of the $100 billion target are an important marker for issues pertaining to scale, scope, quality and accountability for the new goal, with the potential addition of loss and damage finance as a thematic area.
Additionally, in 2021, South Africa announced a new partnership with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union to mobilize $8.5 billion to support a just transition to a low-emissions, climate-resilient economy. Turning this announcement into tangible progress requires donor countries to ensure the funding arrangements meet South Africa’s fiscal needs, and for South Africa to articulate an investment plan, which is expected to be unveiled by COP27.
In June 2022, the G7+ noted interest in moving forward with similar just energy transition partnerships with India, Indonesia, Senegal and Vietnam. Whether these partnerships successfully deliver finance and support communities and workers in the transition will be closely watched at COP27.
5) Advance the Global Stocktake to set the pace for climate action.
The Paris Agreement established a Global Stocktake, a process conducted every five years to assess collective progress toward the Agreement’s long-term goals. The first Global Stocktake kicked off in 2021 at COP26 and will conclude in 2023 at COP28, to be held in the United Arab Emirates. COP26 opened the first Global Stocktake by calling on countries and non-state actors to submit information that can feed into the process; technical dialogues will continue at COP27 to consider the information collected.
This year, new and innovative formats of the Global Stocktake — including a world café set of discussions — allowed for interesting conversations amongst countries, experts and non-state actors. Yet the Global Stocktake will need to spend the next year advancing the technical assessment of collective progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals before concluding at COP28 with a political package that will drive forward action. It needs to do so while considering synergies with several of the other dialogues and processes launched at COP26 — including discussions on the Global Goal for Adaptation, loss and damage, mitigation and the new finance goal — to ensure a cohesive and ambitious response for climate action and support in this critical decade.
Ultimately, it is essential that the outcome from the Global Stocktake is politically relevant and not just an information-sharing exercise coupled with vague, unactionable recommendations. COP27 can help in shaping the Stocktake’s direction by offering the space for countries, experts and non-state actors to develop a common vision.
6) Convert the treasure trove of Glasgow climate commitments into action.
In Glasgow, governments, businesses and other stakeholders made a number of exciting pledges — to curb methane emissions, halt and reverse forest loss, align the finance sector with net-zero by 2050, accelerate the phase-out of coal, double 2019 levels of adaptation finance by 2025, scale locally led adaptation, and end international financing for fossil fuels, to name just a few. But these pledges must translate into concrete action; evidence of progress toward lofty targets must become visible. Discussions around accountability are increasingly important as additional pledges are made.
At COP27, those who have previously announced ambitious pledges or joined initiatives should address progress to date and disclose any barriers. Governments, especially, must demonstrate where they have and have not made progress.
Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General appointed a High-Level Expert Group on Net-zero Emissions from non-state actors to identify strong, clear standards for the growing number of pledges to reach net-zero emissions. This group has been consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, including on how to define net-zero, governance of targets, alignment with shorter-term targets, and just transition plans, among other topics. The group will deliver recommendations to the UN Secretary General later this year, but can and should also elevate conversations of accountability at COP27.
Success at COP27
COP27 may take place against a backdrop of an unsettled world, but it also offers the possibility to foster greater cooperation at a time when the world needs it most. That’s the potential that leaders, governments and businesses should seize.