Amid growing demand from poorer countries for compensation for damage caused by climate disasters, negotiators from around the world are set to begin their annual two-week climate deliberations on Sunday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
This year’s UN climate summit, known as COP27, is being held under the shadow of an ongoing war in Europe, which, among other things, is contributing to a serious economic downturn and the straining of countries’ capabilities to urgently respond to the climate crisis.
The war in Ukraine has disrupted global energy supplies, upset calculations for the transition to cleaner non-fossil fuels and is threatening to undo the marginal gains made on the climate change front in the last few years. The war is the second shock in as many years, coming close on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic, at least, had the silver lining of causing a temporary, but welcome drop in global greenhouse gas emissions. The hope is that the Ukraine war might force countries to make a faster transition to newer non-traditional sources of energy, in a case of a crisis becoming an opportunity. However, the negative fallout of a prolonged war, particularly in economic terms, is more direct and immediate.
The consequences of the war on global climate action is likely to dominate discussions at the Sharm el-Shaikh summit. However, that is not the only thing on the top of the minds of climate negotiators. This year has seen unprecedented climate disasters — a historic heat wave in Europe, the worst flooding ever in Pakistan, and a wave of droughts and floods in several parts of the world.
Smaller countries have for long been arguing that they are suffering for no fault of theirs. While their contribution to global emissions are meagre, they face the worst impacts of climate change.
These countries’ demand for compensation is institutionalised in the climate talks in a separate track of negotiations on a loss and damage mechanism, but progress on this front has been painfully slow. However, this particular track is expected to receive some momentum this year. Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change, Sherry Rehman, who had brought this up during the flooding in the country in August and September, has received a lot of support from climate groups and will be among the high-profile figures at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Unlike the previous climate summit in Glasgow last year, the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting is not expected to produce headline-grabbing outcomes. But there are important matters to be taken care of, nonetheless.
There will be several preparatory meetings for the first stock-taking exercise next year, as mandated by the 2015 Paris Agreement. This is supposed to be a comprehensive assessment of gaps in the global response to climate change, including on the availability of finance and technology, and the ways to fill up this gap. A periodic five-yearly stock-take of climate actions is an important process enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
Several countries, including India, have also been pushing for the creation of a clear definition of climate finance. Under the international climate framework, rich and developed countries are obligated to provide money, and also technology, to developing countries to help them fight climate change. But the scale of finance flow has been inadequate and well below the minimum levels promised by the developed world. In addition, there have been accusations of ‘greenwashing’ and double counting of money meant for other purposes. Several countries are now demanding that what counts as climate finance must be clearly defined, and clear accounting methods must be developed for these flows. Until a couple of years ago, India’s department of economic affairs used to publish an annual white paper on climate finance that highlighted the large gaps between promises and delivery.