Ending in a stalemate?
The increasingly vocal stance of developing nations at COP27 towards the materialisation of 'loss and damage' funding has raised some hopes around climate finance but concrete outcomes remain elusive
The 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) took place during November 6-18, in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt. Ever since the first Conference of Parties (COP1) in Berlin in 1995, COPs have been used to review what 'parties' (the countries who signed up) have achieved, and measure their progress. The COP is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC, and assesses progress in combating climate change.
As COP27 has taken place against devastating extreme weather events like heat waves and floods, Ukraine –Russia war, a 'generational' energy emergency, and a global economic slowdown, the summit faced the risk of being overshadowed by other elements of the current global crisis. A deliberate attempt was made by some COP27 delegations for Taiwan to be included in the annual climate talk's process which China strongly criticized and urged the summit to stick to the 'One China Principle' under which it regards Taiwan as part of China, reports Reuters.
Coca-Cola whose plastic waste has increased between 2019 and 2021 to reach 3.2 million tons, as reported by The New York Times, is a sponsor of COP27.
Agenda for COP27
Mitigation of GHG emissions: The world is not on track to achieve the Paris Agreement's stated goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) synthesis report prepared by the UNFCCC finds that despite updates to many country pledges, the world is still on track to cross the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature threshold to about 2.1–2.9 degrees Celsius by 2100. Also, developing countries have raised concerns over the UNFCCC's principle of equity. They viewed it as an attempt by developed countries to impose greater mitigation targets on all countries—rich and poor— rather than a greater burden on historical emitters.
Climate finance: At COP 26 in Glasgow, developed countries noted with "deep regret" that the USD 100 billion target of climate finance, first determined in 2009, has not been delivered and is expected to be delivered only by 2023.
Loss and damage: At COP26, the G77 and China negotiating bloc—representing 80 per cent of the world's population—had united in their demand for a loss and damage (L&D) finance facility. The developing world demanded money for irreparable climate damages that adaptation could not prevent. But the demand was pushed back by developed countries such as the USA and Switzerland. COP27, for the first time, included this thorny issue of "loss and damage (L&D)" — meant for the financial support of developing countries already being hit by climate-fuelled disasters, such as floods or crop-withering drought, reports Economic Times.
Global Goal on Adaptation: The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) was established under the Paris Agreement (COP21), with major support from the African Group of Negotiators to drive adaptation action. At COP 26, the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh (GlaSS) work programme was established till 2023 to define the GGA and set up robust tracking mechanisms. GlaSS workshops were expected to take place at COP 27 as well.
India at COP27
India played an important role in the COP27 negotiations on specific issues important to India in particular, and developing countries in general.
⁕ At COP26 in Glasgow last year, India made two significant commitments: It promised to meet 50 per cent of its energy needs from renewable fuels by 2030 and transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2070. In COP27, India has submitted its long-term strategy to mitigate GHG emissions.
Launching the strategy at COP27, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said India's approach to low-carbon development was based on four key considerations — low historic contribution to global warming, energy needs for development, commitment to low-carbon growth according to national circumstances and the need to build climate resilience. The strategy emphasizes on 'climate justice', 'sustainable lifestyle' and the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. It also imbibes the spirit of LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), reports NDTV. India's contribution to the world's cumulative emissions so far is less than four per cent.
India submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) its long-term plan to achieve net-zero target by 2070, emphasising climate justice, sustainable lifestyles, and equity. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to submit long-term low-emission action plans to help achieve the global goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius as compared to the pre-industrial average. Net zero means achieving a balance between the greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere and those taken out.
Though the strategy document does not specify mid-term targets or goals, the government's other policies do offer insights into the net-zero pathway. The National Hydrogen Mission launched in 2021, for instance, aims to make India a green hydrogen hub. The country also has clean energy plans such as 20 per cent ethanol blending with petrol to burn less fossil fuel by 2025 and an electric vehicle project has been on the government's anvil for at least five years. In addition to that, the government has ambitious plans for solar energy generation. The International Solar Alliance and the Coalition of Disaster Resilience Infrastructure have already been launched.
It is estimated that electricity-driven four-wheelers should constitute 70-80 per cent of road traffic. However, China dominates the market of the EV supply chain. That's perhaps one reason why fossil fuels continue to constitute a significant part of the energy mix in the strategy document; it talks of using methods such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) to remove GHGs before they enter the atmosphere. Though these technologies are currently expensive and of uncertain utility, in recent times, CCS has become a key constituent of decarbonization strategies of countries such as the UK, reports Indian Express.
India's quest for decarbonizing its economy rests on a 'Trishul' (trident) strategy — power, industry and agriculture. These are the three prongs that together accounted for 80 per cent of the country's 3,274 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCo2e) in emissions in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. To decarbonize by 2050, India needs investments of at least USD 7 trillion. And India's progress towards net zero by 2070 will depend on how successful it is in facilitating an orderly transition to a clean economy, reports Business Standard.
The Environment and Forests Minister of India, Bhupender Yadav, who represented the Indian government at COP27, underlined the need for checking emission levels, which he said was crucial for initiating climate change. The minister said that India was committed to both domestic action and multilateral cooperation on climate change and further informed that considering per capita emissions, for an objective scale for comparison, India's emissions were, about one-third of the global average. If the entire world were to emit at the same per capita level as India, the best available science tells us that there would be no climate crisis. Citing the IPCC's AR6 reports, he said that the responsibility for warming was directly proportional to the contribution to cumulative emissions of CO2. All CO2 emissions, whenever they take place, contribute equally to warming. India's share is less than four per cent of the historical cumulative emissions from the pre-industrial period (1850) till 2019, the Minister added.
But India's statement did not touch upon the key issues being deliberated at Cop27, such as financial support from developed countries and fossil fuel cuts. Nevertheless, India has submitted a proposal that limiting global warming requires a phase-down of all fossil fuels. Last year in COP26, it opposed the coal phase-out, leading to adoption of the phase down clause instead. This year India wanted to expand this phrase to include oil and gas. Reacting to this proposal, The European Union has said it would support India's proposal to phase down "all" fossil fuels as long as it "doesn't diminish the earlier agreement we had on phasing down coal,".
⁕ On the issue of 'loss and damage finance', the debate was heated up on the question of whether big current emitters like India should also pay for it. As per a report by Times of India, the European Union (EU) spiced up the entire debate by clearly saying that China should contribute funding to the 'loss and damage' finance to help vulnerable countries to cover the cost of climate damage.
During the first week of the climate talks, developed countries desired that all top 20 emitters, including India and China — and not just the rich nations which are historically responsible for climate change — discuss intense emission cuts. India pushed back the attempt with the support of like-minded developing countries, including China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan, reports Outlook. India has said no to mandatory contribution to loss and damage finance.
⁕ India, Brazil, South Africa, and China on Wednesday (16 Nov) opposed the carbon border adjustment mechanism being proposed by the European Union at the ongoing United Nations Conference COP27, reported the Associated Press. Under the carbon border adjustment mechanism, tariffs will be imposed on imports of carbon-intensive products effectively from 2026. Carbon-intensive products are materials that release a large amount of carbon dioxide gas when used such as fossil fuels.
⁕ India has opposed the developed world's efforts to extend the scope of mitigation to agriculture at the ongoing U.N. climate summit in Egypt, saying rich nations do not want to change their lifestyles to reduce emissions and are "searching for cheaper solutions abroad".
Expressing concern over the draft text on agriculture, India said developed countries were blocking a pro-poor and pro-farmer decision by insisting on expanding the scope for mitigation to agriculture, thereby compromising the very foundation of food security in the world. India made it clear that the world is facing a climate crisis today because of the excessive historic cumulative emissions by the developed nations. "By seeking to extend the scope of mitigation to agriculture, the developed countries want the world agriculture, lands, and seascapes to become a site of mitigation for their profligate and excessive emissions," India said.
It may be recalled that the process of extending the scope of mitigation to agriculture was started in 2021 when a methane pledge was made. The initiative was announced by the United States and European Union in September 2021, when only nine countries had signed the agreement. These included Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Mexico and the UK. Then at COP26 104 countries have promised to cut their methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030. India, the third-largest source of methane emissions, is not a signatory. DownToEarth reported that at least 22 countries from Africa have signed the pledge.
Outcome of COP27
The UN climate agency on Thursday published a 20-page first draft of a hoped-for final agreement. It is highly likely to be reworked in the coming days as climate envoys strive to reach an overarching deal before Friday's deadline. It repeats many of the goals of last year's Glasgow Climate Pact, including pursuing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and calling for continued efforts to "phase down" unabated coal power.
The first draft does not, however, push for a phase-down of all fossil fuels, as India and the European Union had requested. The UN paper said it "welcomes" the agreement to include "loss and damage" payments on the agenda for the first time, but does not include details on how to establish a loss and damage funding facility — a highly divisive and emotive issue that is seen as a fundamental question of climate justice, reports CNBC. The draft remained silent on loss and damage funding.
On Friday morning, the United Nations climate agency published a 10-page revised draft, negotiating the text of the deal that delegates at the COP27 summit are hoping to agree to in the coming days. On the vexed issue of how to provide financial assistance to poor countries suffering the worst ravages of climate breakdown, there is little of substance because countries are still fiercely debating the possibility of a new fund, proposed by the EU in the early hours of Friday, reports The Guardian. A European Union proposal buoyed hopes of progress at the COP27 climate summit on Friday — its final scheduled day — as the 27-country EU said it would back one of the toughest agenda items financing for countries wracked by climate-fuelled disasters. But with several other sticking points dogging this year's UN climate talks, COP27 has been extended by a day.
AFP reported that at the fag end of the meet a Deal has been reached on 'loss and damage' fund. The deal includes the amount of financing required, and the annual increase rate. Details on the final declaration of CoP27 are awaited.
"There is clearly a breakdown in trust between North and South, and between developed and emerging economies. This is no time for finger pointing. The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction," said UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. UNFCCC, which was initiated primarily by the leaders of Europe and Japan during the 1992 Earth Summit at Rio, is in shambles. It appears COP27 has ended in a stalemate, with wealthy nations once again letting down poor countries.
USA, China, India, Brazil and African countries now set the agenda and make their voices loud and clear. Speaking at the COP27 summit, Brazil's President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva brought into focus his strategy for attaining "zero deforestation" at Amazon rainforests. Making a heroic entry at the COP27 summit in Egypt, Lula da Silva renewed his pledge to fight deforestation and offered to hold future UN climate talks. He called on wealthy nations to make good on their COP15 pledge to set aside USD 100 billion per year for adaptation and demanded additional funding for loss and damage, noting that the countries least responsible for climate change were those currently suffering from it the most. Developing nations demand climate damage funds, saying anything less is betrayal.
Though the UNFCCC has helped to create a huge green economy and market for renewable energy, the dominance of fossil fuel in the energy mix of most countries – both developed and developing — is still very strong. The EU is increasingly getting side-lined.
In 2008, the United Nations (UN) announced a Global Green New Deal — which has been used to describe various sets of policies that aim to make systemic change. The China and USA's top climate envoys, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, both told the Wall Street Journal that formal talks between the sides have resumed at CoP27. It appears that the two largest economies of the world are strategically prepared to take maximum advantage of this 'Green New Deal'!
Rich world's climate hypocrisy has been exposed. For decades, they have used successive COPs to engineer a trillion dollar 'climate economy'. They have converted a global crisis into an opportunity. Realising the ugly truth about CoP, the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has rightly said, "The COPs are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing". Fossil fuel starved countries of western Europe and Japan, who promoted UNFCCC in 1992, are looking for an escape route to avoid their climate obligations. They are in a Catch-22 situation now.
Views expressed are personal