The need for urgent action on climate change has never been clearer. The extreme weather this year has broken grim new records across the globe; there have been catastrophic floods in Pakistan and unprecedented droughts in Europe, Africa and China.
Scientists are clear that manmade climate change is driving this trend and have warned that if global warming breaches 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels then it will be impossible for some communities to adapt and for some animal species to survive. Global emissions are still rising, but it is calculated that they must be halved by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 if the 1.5°C limit is to be met.
The Cop27 summit, which began on 6 November, is an opportunity for governments to take decisive action.
What is Cop, anyway?
The Conference of the Parties (Cop) is the United Nations’ annual climate change summit, where delegates from all the world’s countries meet to discuss climate issues and establish agreements on global climate policy.
At Cop21 in 2015 the Paris Agreement was signed. In the legally binding treaty most countries committed to keeping the rise in global average temperatures to “well below” 2°C and ideally below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. They also pledged to set nationally determined contributions (NDCs), otherwise known as emissions reduction targets, and to expand their ambition on these every five years.
Last November Cop26, in Glasgow, attracted 40,000 participants. The total emissions reductions promised at Glasgow still do not add up to what is thought to be needed to keep global warming within the agreed limit, and the climate campaigner Greta Thunberg derided the event as nothing but “blah, blah, blah” – Thunberg has recently confirmed that she will not be attending Cop27, saying the conferences were “being used as an opportunity for those in power to get attention”. Yet Cop26 did result in the Glasgow Climate Pact, which set out a target of a 45 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and also called on countries to revise their NDCs again at Cop27, rather than waiting until the next five-year point in 2025.
[See also: What would make Cop27 a success?]
Where is Cop27 being held?
Cop27 is being hosted in Sharm el-Sheikh, at the tip of the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. The conference has been dubbed an “African Cop”, and issues that are of particular urgency to the continent have become a focus of several conversations at the conference.
[See also: Climate finance: Who pays to close the inequality gap?]
Some have criticised the choice of Egypt as the host country. Egypt has no net-zero target, and the analysts at Climate Action Tracker rate Egypt’s response to the climate crisis as “highly insufficient”. Despite this, campaigners and policymakers hope that significant progress will be made. Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of UN Climate Change, has described Cop27 as the world’s “first opportunity in this new era of implementation to demonstrate progress”.
What dates is the conference taking place between?
The conference began on 6 November and ends on 18 November 2022. It was originally planned for November last year, but the Covid-19 pandemic meant no conference could be held in 2020, so Cop26 and 27 were delayed by a year.
Why is this year’s conference so important?
In the year since Cop26 the world has changed significantly. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a global energy crisis, and this will loom large as delegates gather in Egypt.
[See also: Global carbon emissions tracker 2022: How do countries compare?]
Governments have been warned that they will need to work more closely together to meet net-zero targets, with a recent report by the International Energy Agency stating that failures in international collaboration threaten “to undermine climate progress and delay net zero by decades”.
Which countries are attending Cop27?
Delegates from the 198 parties that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – which is overseen by Cop – are expected to attend Cop27.
The final list of attendees is difficult to verify; many world leaders don’t confirm whether they will be attending until the date is near, for reasons both political and logistical.
Although Russia has good relations with Egypt, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has decided to skip this year’s conference. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting effects on global energy security would likely have make negotiations difficult, to say the least. It is unclear whether or not there will be any Russian delegation at all sent to Cop27.
China’s recent suspension of climate talks with the US may also limit the negotiations that could be held between the world’s superpowers. The US, China and Russia are the three biggest greenhouse gas emitters by volume, and the Egyptian hosts of the summit are urging the countries to put aside their differences so that action can be taken.
US president Joe Biden took to the stage in on Friday (11 November), telling delegates that the climate crisis threatens the “very life of the planet”, and repeating that the US would meet its targets on reducing emissions by 2030. However, analysis published on the second day of the conference showed that the country provided just 19 per cent of its “fair share” of climate aid of $40bn (£35bn) to poorer countries.
Britain’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, eventually decided he would attend Cop27, despite Downing Street initially claiming that “other pressing domestic commitments” would mean he was unable to make it to the conference – an announcement which drew widespread criticism. Sunak’s U-turn may have been partly inspired by former prime minister Boris Johnson, who only a few days earlier confirmed that he would speak at Cop27, in a move some believe was intended to upstage Sunak. At the close of his speech at the conference on 7 November, Sunak told delegates that “as we come together once again in common cause today, there really is room for hope, together let us fulfil it.”
[See also: Boris Johnson tries to upstage his latest replacement at Cop27]
Charles III, despite being a long-standing supporter of Cop and its goals, has not attended this year’s conference, after Truss advised him not to – a request that was left in place by Sunak. That advice has been controversial; the Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood initially said that he hoped “common sense would prevail” and that the King would be able to attend.
As well as world leaders, ministers and negotiators, numerous members of civil society, businesses, NGOs and the media attend Cop. There are fears, however, that many activists and delegates with lower incomes will be unable to go because of high accommodation costs and concerns about Egypt’s human rights record. In addition, the hosts have recently decided to tighten security for the opening Monday of the summit, meaning many civil society groups and even governmental groups may have to cancel their planned events on key issues.
What’s on the agenda?
The UN has published a calendar of themes for the conference. Alongside the first two days dedicated to the world leaders summit, there are days dedicated to finance, biodiversity and decarbonisation, among others. Activists and organisers are also keen for the conference to address the “loss and damage” that climate change has caused, and the financial burden this has left for developing countries. In the closing days of the conference, the EU has agreed to finance a fund for poorer countries to help them adapt to and recover from the effects of the climate crisis.
As the conference is being hosted in an African country, issues that are of particular importance to the continent, such as adaptation to climate change and climate finance, have been a priority. Although Africa accounts for the smallest share of greenhouse gas emissions of any continent, its countries are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Overall, the UN says the key goals of the summit are to “review the implementation of the convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement”, and “adopt decisions to further develop and implement these three instruments”. António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has warned that efforts to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C are “on life support”.
[See also: How industry is key for net zero strategies]
How can I stay up to date?
Key moments from the conference are streamed live on YouTube, and social media platforms have enabled ‘enabled virtual participation’, according to the official website.
You can see all of the New Statesman’s coverage of Cop27 here.