- Justin Rowlett
- Climate teacher
This weekend, tens of thousands of people will flock to an Egyptian holiday resort on the Red Sea in an effort to fight climate change.
It may seem paradoxical, but this latest UN climate summit – COP27 – is seen as the best hope for progress on the climate issue.
Improvement is definitely needed.
Last week, the United Nations warned that global efforts to reduce emissions were “woefully inadequate” and that the world was headed for “disaster”.
But the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting promises to be a heated and divisive affair.
A matter of money
The Egyptian hosts presented themselves with a daunting challenge.
At last year’s UN climate conference in Glasgow, pledges were made on emissions reductions, finance, emissions reductions, forest protection and more.
Egypt says its conference will focus on implementing these commitments.
In fact it will be about money, and especially getting rich countries to commit to financing developing countries to fight climate change.
So expect the main battle lines to be between North and South, rich countries and poor countries.
“Don’t underestimate the anger of developing countries,” UN chief Antonio Guterres told me when I met him last week.
According to him, they consider high-income countries to have reneged on the historic agreement reached at the United Nations climate conference in Paris in 2015.
Paris was a turning point because, for the first time, developing countries accepted that the worst impacts of climate change could only be avoided if they reduced their carbon emissions. Earlier, they argued that climate is not the cause of the problem, so why should they help solve it?
In return, rich countries agreed to finance their efforts.
The problem is that he does not honor this promise.
Top of Egypt’s “to-do” list is the $100 billion a year pledged in 2009 to help developed countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
This amount, due in 2020, will not be fully available until next year, a three-year delay.
Pakistan, which suffered devastating floods earlier this year, is demanding that developed countries agree on a financing mechanism to offset the loss and damage already caused by climate change in developing countries.
As the chair of a key UN group of 134 developing countries, including China, Pakistan has real leverage in the negotiations.
“I don’t think it’s an impossible request,” Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman told the BBC this week. Look at how much money the world finds to fund wars, he added.
The stakes are high. Egypt warned of a “crisis of confidence” if there was no improvement in loss and damage, and Mr Guterres called the point a “litmus test” of the conference.
But expect strong reactions from developed countries.
Europe and the US have agreed that a formal discussion is needed on the issue, but are unlikely to make financial commitments.
They fear the costs could run into the trillions of dollars as the effects of climate change worsen in the coming years.
With rising food and energy prices and rising interest rates following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many developed countries are focusing on their own economic problems.
Also, the cooling of relations between the US and China risks escalating conflicts in Egypt.
In the past, both superpowers have played a key role in quietly helping broker compromises in the background.
But after Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan in August, China ended its policy of separating climate talks from other issues.
But expect a lot of talk about how to deal with loss and damage in other ways.
Egypt wants to strengthen weather and climate forecasting in developing countries so that countries can better prepare for extreme weather events.
Germany has already proposed an insurance-based “global shield” system to help poor countries recover quickly from climate disasters.
There may also be progress in debt relief. Rising borrowing costs have made many developing countries incur huge debts at even lower rates, leaving less money to fight climate change and its impacts.
There will also be concerted pressure to accelerate emissions reductions. US climate envoy John Kerry told the BBC it was a US priority.
But only 24 of 193 countries have renewed their carbon reduction ambitions this year, leaving the world on track for a 2.7°C temperature rise.
Mr Kerry said “many countries” were now contributing to the damage, noting that many countries classified as developing countries were now major sources of CO2. China now has the world’s largest emitter, for example, and India is third.
But there will be resistance from some developing countries.
The Egyptians want to classify natural gas as an ‘intermediate’ fuel, as part of a wider initiative, backed by several African countries, to allow low-income countries to build up their fossil fuel reserves.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced this week that he would begin talks with more than 100 world leaders, including President Biden.
Greta Thunberg, on the other hand, is on the list of absentees.
This week, he called the global summit a “greenwashing” forum, saying COP conferences “encourage incremental progress”.
A known criticism. UN The process is slow, complicated, and far from perfect, but as Sherry Rehman says, that’s all we have.
The actual negotiations are being conducted by an army of diplomats and civil servants already flying to Sharm el-Sheikh.
They prepare for serious discussions.
If they want to remember the shares, they can bathe in the coral reefs found on the beach.
Scientists say reefs around the world are under attack from rising ocean temperatures, with 14% of them lost in the decade to 2018 alone.
The good news is that Egyptian reefs appear to be particularly resilient to ocean warming, according to local scientists.
If progress is to be made at the conference, negotiators must acquire similar fallback reserves.