[Burning issue] Outcomes of the COP-27

COP

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Context

  • The 27th Conference of Parties (COP-27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded on November 20 and the outcomes of the conference seem to be a mixed bag of achievements and failures.
  • In this context, this edition of The Burning Issue will expand on the outcomes of COP-27 and India’s steps and stand taken during the conference and finally a way forward.

What is COP?

  • The word ‘COP’ is an acronym for ‘Conference of the Parties. The ‘parties’ are the governments around the world that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty agreed upon in 1994.
  • Every year, the COP is hosted by a different nation and the first such COP meeting – ‘COP1’ – took place in Germany in 1995. The conferences are attended by world leaders, negotiators, and ministers, and also by representatives from civil society, business, international organisations, and the media.
  • The latest COP-27 edition convened in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt with the theme  “Together for Implementation” and to renew and extend the agreements reached in the historic Paris Agreement.  

Major Positive Outcomes of COP27

  • Loss and damage Fund: Developing countries have been seeking financial assistance for loss and damage – money needed to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of countries devastated by extreme weather – for nearly three decades. Finally achieving agreement on a fund is a major milestone. Now comes the difficult part – the fund must be set up, and filled with cash. There is no agreement yet on how finance should be provided and where it should come from.
  • World Bank reform: A growing number of developed and developing countries are calling for urgent changes to the World Bank and other publicly funded finance institutions, which they say have failed to provide the funding needed to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. Reform of this kind was widely discussed at Cop27 which could involve a recapitalisation of the development banks to allow them to provide far more assistance to the developing world.
  • Adaptation commitment reaffirmed: Building flood defences, preserving wetlands, restoring mangrove swamps and regrowing forests – these measures, and more, can help countries to become more resilient to the impacts of climate breakdown. But poor countries often struggle to gain funding for these efforts. Of the $100bn a year rich countries promised they would receive from 2020 – a promise still not fulfilled – only about $20bn goes to adaptation. In Glasgow, countries agreed to double that proportion, but at Cop27 some sought to remove that commitment. After some struggle, it was reaffirmed.
  • First High-Level Expert Group Report: The highlights of the meeting included the launch of the first report of the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities. The report slammed ‘greenwashing’ – misleading the public to believe that a company or entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is – and weak net-zero pledges and provided a roadmap to bring integrity to net-zero commitments by industry, financial institutions, cities and regions and to support a global, equitable transition to a sustainable future.
  • Launch of Executive Early Warnings for All initiative: Also during the Conference, the UN announced the Executive Action Plan for the Early Warnings for All initiative, which calls for initial new targeted investments of $ 3.1 billion between 2023 and 2027, equivalent to a cost of just 50 cents per person per year.
  • Launch Master plans to accelerate decarbonization: Another highlight of the conference was a so-called master plan to accelerate the decarbonization of five major sectors – power, road transport, steel, hydrogen, and agriculture – presented by the COP27 Egyptian Presidency.
  • The FAST initiative: The Egyptian leadership also announced the launch of the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative or FAST, to improve the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions to transform agriculture and food systems by 2030.
  • Tipping points and Health: Since Cop26, the IPCC has published the key parts of its latest vast assessment of climate science, warning of catastrophic impacts that can only be averted by sharp and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. A reference to the key finding of “tipping points” was put in. These include the heating of the Amazon, which could turn the rainforest into a savannah, transforming it from a carbon sink to a carbon source, and the melting of permafrost that releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Also inserted was a reference to “the right to a clean healthy and sustainable environment”

Where did COP 27 Lack?

  • Lack of support for the 1.5C target: COP27 is widely condemned for failing to offer any strong language in support of 1.5C, the critical climate threshold for humanity. While realistic hope of reaching the target is all but exhausted, striving to get as close to it as possible remains imperative.
  • No structure defined: The loss and damage fund has been established but the funding source and scale of this financial facility and its operating procedures have been left to a transitional committee which will present its report at COP-28 next year.
  • Indirect Gas promotion? : The final text of Cop27 contained a provision to boost “low-emissions energy”. That could mean many things, from wind and solar farms to nuclear reactors, and coal-fired power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage. It could also be interpreted to mean gas, which has lower emissions than coal but is still a major fossil fuel. Many countries at Cop27, particularly those from Africa with large reserves to exploit, came to Sharm el-Sheikh hoping to strike lucrative gas deals.
  • A baseline of emission reduction not touched: There were many agreements in this COP 27, but the baseline of emission reduction fixed in Glasgow could hardly be touched. It discussed “low emission” energy sources with renewables as future energy sources. It is feared that the development of new fossil fuel technologies may start under the guise of an undefined term like this low emission.
  • Only Coal ‘phase down’: It is disappointing that COP27 did not build on the decisions of COP26. Failing this, a strong message on the phaseout of fossil fuels could not be delivered. COP 26 called on the parties, inter alia, to move towards low energy systems through an unabated phasedown of coal. By failing to agree to phase-out fossil fuels at COP27, leaders have failed to strengthen the signal that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end and are keeping us on course to climate catastrophe. The world cannot afford to reduce coal in the first phase and then turn to oil and gas. This year’s COP didn’t show much emphasis on moving away from fossil fuels, and that’s disappointing.

India’s participation and stand

India’s announcements at the 26th and 27th Conference Of Parties (COP) are now the pillars of its climate leadership.

  • Announcement of a long-term strategy (LTS) for low carbon development: If COP26 last year was a watershed moment because the Prime Minister announced the country’s plan to go net-zero by 2070, this year’s COP27 in Egypt will be remembered for the country’s path-breaking announcement of a long-term strategy (LTS) for low carbon development. With this, India joins the coveted list of 56 countries that have submitted their LTS documents to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • Addition of Carbon Dioxide in its LTS: There is a lot of scepticism about carbon dioxide removal (CDR), but India’s addition of CDR in its LTS shows we are open to new technology and will pilot these for climate change. The country has a strong forest policy and will continue to protect its forest and expand tree cover to act as a carbon sink.
  • India hails Loss and damage adoption: India has welcomed the adoption of the agenda item ‘Loss and Damage’ at COP27. India also expected action from rich countries in terms of climate finance, technology transfer and strengthening the capacity of poor and developing countries to combat climate change.
  • Sought clarity on the definition of climate finance: The 27th edition of the Conference of Parties (COP) to UNFCCC will also seek clarity on the definition of climate finance. The absence of a definition of climate finance allows developed countries to greenwash their finances and pass off loans as climate-related aid. India is very clear that the world needs a multilaterally agreed definition of climate finance.
  • India’s Long-term strategy (LTS) for Low Carbon Development: The key takeaways from this flagship strategy that will guide India’s actions in the coming five decades.
  • Prioritised six strategic sectors: electricity, transport, urban, industry, carbon dioxide removal and forests. Of these, electricity and industry sectors together account for over three-fourths of India’s CO2 emissions, while rapid changes are happening in the transport and urban systems.
  • Second, finance and investments. India has identified finance as a key enabler for its LTS vision. According to a Council on Energy, Environment and Water assessment, India will need $10 trillion to achieve the 2070 net-zero target. The LTS has moved beyond this high-level number and done a comprehensive assessment of the finance issue.
  • Third, changes to LiFE: LiFE is India’s call for citizens, communities, industry leaders, and policymakers of the world to adopt a lifestyle for the environment. The LTS nudges people to make simple yet effective sustainable choices, industries and markets to scale these, and government policies to support them. LiFE elevates the importance of individual contribution to the larger climate goal, giving it as much importance as industry and policy-level actions, an aspect largely missing from the climate discourse till now.
  • Fourth, invest in research and innovation. India’s LTS notes the relevance of research and innovation and identifies multiple technologies in the energy and industry sectors that need to be explored and scaled up. While the emphasis on innovation is great, it only focuses on technology-related innovations. Innovations in business models are equally important to push low-carbon technologies.
  • Fifth, adaptation, resilience and international cooperation. The LTS emphasises the need for strengthening basic infrastructure like irrigation systems and disaster-resilient buildings, institutional infrastructure for better disaster response, and raising incomes to bolster the capabilities of individuals and communities to adapt to the long-term impacts of climate change. This needs international cooperation, and multilateral initiatives and platforms.

Some lacking in the strategy

  • Non-inclusion of Carbon pricing mechanism: A crucial element missing in India’s long-term strategy. It could have included carbon pricing through the emission-trading scheme as a key instrument. The Centre has already announced the creation of a domestic carbon market and the lok sabha has passed it. This is going to be an important element of India’s strategy, but the LTS is quiet about it.
  • Lack of mechanism to assess progress: India’s strategy should present a mechanism to assess progress towards its intermediate goals and course corrections if necessary.

Way forward

We know that drastic emissions cuts are now needed to keep up with the Paris Agreement goals and keep the 1.5°C temperature limit within reach. This means we urgently need a commitment to:

  • No new fossil fuel investments;
  • Concrete plans to reduce global production and consumption of coal, oil, and gas, and
  • Decisions to end government support for all of these fossil fuels.”
  • For India, The next iterations of the LTC document should add more actionable information by proposing the prioritisation of sectoral actions based on modelling studies, assessing implications for economic growth and jobs, and the feasibility of various sectoral actions.
  • It will help government policies and private markets to move in the desired direction and make the LTS a detailed road map building on the guidelines presented in Egypt.

Conclusion

  • COP 27 is an important milestone for achieving concrete progress and moving the needle on the climate agenda. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, set the tone of the Conference, stating, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
  • There are also major opportunities for increasing energy security through enhancing energy efficiency. This too will contribute to addressing global climate change.
  • India did well to preserve its equities at COP27 and in supporting the constituency of developing countries. It is well placed to use its forthcoming chairmanship of the G20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to take the lead in tackling climate change through its example.
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