Tangible Action On Climate Change At COP27 Despite Disagreements

Some political leaders are making progress in combatting climate change at COP27 while others are playing the blame game.

COP27 flag.

World leaders gathered in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm el-Sheihk this week for COP27, to grapple with how little progress has been made on climate commitments amid rising global temperatures that are raising sea levels and storm intensity. Divisions between poor and rich nations about how to pay for the green technology transition could not be sharper, and with some exceptions, a blame game dominated the first few days of COP27. Some major countries are absent: notably Russia, China and India.

The Conference of the Parties—the 197 Nations that agreed to the Convention on Climate Change in 1992—are gathering on the coast of the Red Sea for the 27th time (hence the name COP27) since committing to keep temperature increases within 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels. The mechanism to reach this goal are cuts in greenhouse gas emissions—an economy-limiting proposition. Yet it is clear that year after year of platitudes, photo opportunities and handshakes are not generating meaningful progress. Financial assistance and a concrete policies must play a larger role.

Countries recently hit by devastating hurricanes or severe droughts and massive fires often did not profit from the industrial revolution two centuries ago and are resentful at the notion that they too must bear some of the burden in shifting to greener economies. “We were the ones whose blood, sweat and tears financed the industrial revolution,” noted Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Mottley in the first day of COP27. “Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution? That is fundamentally unfair.”

While a new hurricane is hitting the Bahamas, the COP15 pledge of $100 billion dollars per year from developed countries to developing countries for climate-change mitigation remains unfilled. Some European governments announced modest steps at COP27, pledging cash for a new loss-and-damage fund. Scotland promised $7 million, Ireland offered 10 million euros, and Austria said it would pay 50 million euros over four years. But it remains far from the amount pledged and even farther from the actual need. 

Interestingly, Switzerland promised to net out half its own greenhouse emissions by 2030 in part by providing financial assistance to developing nations in reducing their emissions. Two years ago, Peru and Switzerland signed a historic carbon offset agreement in which Peru would receive money from Switzerland to fund sustainable development projects such as credit for small and medium-sized companies to invest in energy efficiency and electric buses. The resulting emission cuts will be counted against Switzerland’s national targets. Swiss motor fuel importers collect the needed money via a levy on customers and these funds are passed to Peru. A few days ago, Switzerland signed a similar deal with Ghana in which emission cuts would be obtained by providing families with efficient lighting and better stoves and Senegal, Morocco, Thailand, Mexico, Chile and Argentina are engaged in negotiations for similar deals. Such net-zero shell-game arrangements, however, do not reduce carbon emissions.