COP27 outcome begins to address ‘loss and damage’, but the 1.5 Paris goal is looking highly unlikely

Mark Lynas

November 20, 2022

Climate vulnerable developing countries were quietly jubilant today as COP27 in Egypt concluded with a landmark agreement to set up a new fund to address the ‘loss and damage’ being caused to their countries by the climate crisis.

This agreement addresses a long-standing demand by developing country parties – in particular those from Africa, small island states and the least-developed countries – who have long suffered the most adverse impacts of climate change, bear very little historical responsibility for causing it, and have least capacity to adapt.

The decision is in particular a win for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an informal group of 58 developing country parties representing the interests of 1.5 billion people, which has pushed for years – in the teeth of bitter resistance from developed countries like the US and those in Europe – to have a fund established to provide redress for the impacts of climate change in the most vulnerable developing countries.

“The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) welcomes that COP27 has delivered on a range of key asks of the world’s most climate vulnerable nations and our #PaymentOverdue campaign,” said Hon. Henry Kokofu, representing The Climate Vulnerable Forum Presidency of Ghana.

“The landmark decision to create a Fund for the climate crisis driven loss and damage suffered by particularly vulnerable developing nations is a major step forward for the response of the international community to unevenly experienced global climate devastation.”

However, the fund will not be operational immediately. Instead COP27 establishes a 24-member ‘Transitional Committee’ which will make recommendations to COP28 next year, where the final decision to be taken on how the fund will operate and who will pay into it. This one-year delay means that it will likely be several years before any vulnerable countries receive funds, and there is no guarantee that financing flows will be significant.

As Kokofu put it on behalf of the CVF: “The lack of a commitment for rich and polluting nations to actually provide loss and damage funding remains a serious weakness that leaves open the risk that the new Fund, and other funding arrangements, for loss and damage simply create an empty bank account.”

In addition there remains an enormous gap between the Paris goals of restricting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees above pre-industrial, and the emissions cuts that would be required to get there. The Sharm El-Sheikh agreement notes that emissions cuts of 43% are needed by 2030 to realise the 1.5-degree target, whereas current projections are for 2030 global emissions to be cut by a mere 0.3%. This emissions trajectory, as noted by the latest Climate Action Tracker, puts the world on course for a likely outcome of 2.4 degrees of heating.

In recognition of this yawning gap, the COP27 agreement includes stronger language urging parties to update their NDCs (nationally-determind contributions, or 2030 goals) by the time of the next COP in November/December 2023 with enough higher ambition so as to align them with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.

Parties are also urged to update and submit their long-term low-emission development strategies – the mid-century net zero goals and other further off targets that will be needed to keep global warming from spiralling out of control over the century.

They are also urged to scale up clean power and energy efficiency, while continuing the “phase down” of unabated coal power. However language proposed by India and other parties requesting a phase-out of all fossil fuels was nowhere to be found in the final agreement.

So how successful was COP27? About as successful as all the others – incremenetal progress was made in specific areas, but vastly less than would be needed to actually meet the Paris goals. It is better than nothing, but the most exciting progress now driving the clean energy revolution worldwide continues to happen outside the long, drawn-out and complicated UNFCCC process.