As the UK hands over the Presidency of United Nations climate negotiations to Egypt at COP27, the outlook for policy commitments that rise to the global challenge has worsened. LSE’s Bob Ward at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment outlines the latest climate assessments in the lead up to negotiations, explaining the urgency facing governments, including UK policymakers, to produce agreements on climate finance.
The United Nations climate change summit over the next fortnight in Egypt will be an opportunity for countries to confront some tough challenges, particularly on levels of ambition and finance. It now seems very unlikely that the world can avoid global warming of more than 1.5 Celsius degrees this century, with the campaign ahead of COP26 to keep 1.5 alive as a target largely failed. This will have devastating potential consequences, especially for the world’s poorest people, and will focus discussions on how to limit the overshoot and return global temperatures to a safer level by the end of the century.
Formally the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP27, the summit takes place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh between 6 and 18 November 2022. The UK will officially hand over the Presidency of the UNFCCC negotiations to Egypt at the opening of proceedings, with many of the most important pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 still far from being fulfilled.
The most significant part of the Glasgow Climate Pact, as the final plenary decision of COP26 is known, was the request to all countries ‘to revisit and strengthen’ targets made for 2030 in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which outline individual countries’ pledges for domestic and international climate action. Taking into account different national circumstances, these collective pledges for cuts in greenhouse gases were nonetheless wholly inconsistent with the aim of limiting the rise in global mean surface temperature to no more than 1.5 Celsius degrees compared with its pre-industrial level. They would not reflect the ‘rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions’ needed, including a 45% cut by 2030 compared with 2010.
A synthesis report about the emissions pledges in the NDCs, which was published just ahead of COP26, had found as much. The ‘aggregate greenhouse gas emission level, taking into account implementation of all submitted nationally determined contributions, is estimated to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030’. This disappointing result was despite a huge effort by Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, and his team to persuade more countries to set a target to reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by the mid-century.
The Net Zero Tracker collaboration calculated earlier this year that countries responsible for about 83% of current annual global emissions have now set a net zero target. But the latest synthesis report published by the UNFCCC secretariat in October 2022 showed that there had been only a marginal strengthening of 2030 targets over the past year. Collectively, the pledges contained in NDCs would result in annual emissions in 2030 that are 10.6% higher than in 2010. This global level of emissions would be consistent with global temperature being 2.1 to 2.9 Celsius degrees above its pre-industrial level by the end of this century.
This grim assessment was echoed by the Emissions Gap Report 2022, published by the United Nations Environment Programme on 27 October 2022. It suggested annual emissions may have reached a new record high in 2021, describing the progress on 2030 targets since COP26 as ‘highly inadequate’. And these analyses followed the publication in April 2022 of the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’. Its Summary for Policymakers stated: ‘Modelled global emission pathways consistent with NDCs announced prior to COP26 will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century’.
Climate finance as a key policy challenge
Unfortunately, the lack of progress on 2030 emissions targets is not the only legacy failure from COP26. Rich countries have still not kept a commitment made at COP16 in Cancún in 2010 to mobilise US$100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided. The subsequent Glasgow Climate Pact urged ‘developed country Parties to fully deliver on the USD100 billion goal urgently and through to 2025’. However, a report on Climate Finance Delivery Plan: Meeting the US$100 Billion Goal, which was prepared by the German and Canadian governments ahead of COP26, concluded that ‘the outlook to 2025 shows a positive trend with developed countries making significant progress towards the US$100 billion goal in 2022 and provides confidence that it would be met in 2023’.
On 2 November 2022, ahead of the start of COP27, the UNFCC Standing Committee on Finance published its ‘Report on progress towards achieving the goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency of implementation’. The report concluded that flows of public and private finance would need to increase by more than 20% compared with 2020 if the US$100 billion target is to be reached in 2023.
As a consequence, the failure by rich countries to honour their climate finance commitments has cast a shadow over the discussions about the increase in support that developing countries should receive from 2025 onwards.
To inform these discussions, the UK and Egyptian Presidencies of COP26 and COP27 commissioned a High-level Expert Group on scaling up investment and finance to deliver on climate ambition and development goals, co-chaired by Dr Vera Songwe and Professor Lord Stern of Brentford, to produce a report to be published at the start of COP27. This report is expected to lay out ways of increasing the flows of climate finance to developing countries, including for loss and damage.
Discussions about loss and damage are likely to be a key focus at COP27, with many developing countries pressing for the creation of a new mechanism to channel funding to help them deal with the loss and damage that is already occurring and likely to increase in the future. This issue will take on additional significance in view of the growing recognition that global warming is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next few decades. However, it will remain divisive, as some developed countries with large historical emissions reject claims that they owe compensation to those countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
The role of geopolitics
Given the number of significant hurdles ahead, it is not surprising that world leaders, including Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Rishi Sunak are planning to attend the first few days of COP27 to try to give the negotiations added impetus. It is regrettable that the UK Head of State, King Charles, will not attend COP27, given his longstanding and deep commitment to climate action.
But the summit will take place against the backdrop of heightened geopolitical tensions. Europe is suffering an energy crisis following disruptions to supplies of fossil fuels after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The surging price of natural gas has resulted in massive rises in energy bills for both households and businesses, despite significant interventions by the UK Government. European leaders will be keen to see COP27 accelerate the transition to cleaner and cheaper sources of domestic energy, particularly renewables.
It is not clear whether President Putin will attend the summit of G20 leaders due to take place on the Indonesian island of Bali on 15 and 16 November, during the second week of COP27. Previous G20 communiqués have included commitments on climate action.
China, the world’s largest emitter, has broken off bilateral discussions about climate action with the United States, the second biggest emitter, due to the visit in August 2022 to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. And President Joe Biden could face push back on his climate ambitions from Republican lawmakers if they take control of the Senate and House of Representatives in the mid-term elections on 8 November, during the first week of COP27.
With time running out to avoid dangerous climate change, and so many barriers to success, this may turn out to be one of the most difficult climate change summits in human history. The outcome could have profound implications for the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world.
For more information about the Grantham Research Institute’s activities during COP27, visit its climate change summit website.
About the Author
Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Photo: Getting to Net Zero with IFIs and Multilateral Partnerships Seminar. IMF Photo/Alison Shelley, 12 October 2022, Washington, DC, United States. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.