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The UN climate talks closed in Egypt today. The final conclusion – a start on addressing the symptoms of the climate crisis in a breakthrough decision for the most vulnerable, but little to address the root causes of global warming. The influence of the fossil-fuel industry and its supporting states was also on full display, with further weakening of language targeting fossil fuels.

The “balance” of this COP was between the desire of the developed world to see greater mitigation ambition and expand the list of who is responsible for paying for climate action, and demands for recognition and support in the face of escalating climate impacts from the developing world. There has been plenty of compromise, with the baseline of emissions reductions achieved in Glasgow barely protected. More progress was made than many believed possible on “loss and damage” caused by the impact of the climate crisis, with a commitment to set up a financial support structure for the most vulnerable by the next COP in 2023, as costs from extreme weather soar to over $200 billion annually.

But new language on “low emissions” energy alongside renewables as the energy sources of the future is a significant loophole, as the undefined term could be used to justify new fossil fuel development against the clear guidance of the IPCC and IEA. And in the dying hours of the COP, the text was weakened with the 1.5C target relegated from the mitigation section on solutions to the climate crisis to a less central position under “science”.

COP27 – a multilateral process – was impacted by the global food and energy crisis, and a new geopolitics shaped by an increasingly multipolar world and the increasingly obvious impacts of climate change. The deal agreed at Sharm el Sheikh is here.

Loss and damage, but root causes remain unchecked

Support in the text to deal with profound loss reflects gives some optimism, but there is still no clarity on how it will be funded. A reassessment of which countries pay and which receive will also be a major issue next year. In the absence of an immediate source of funding, loss and damage pledges mostly went to the Global Shield and the UN early warning systems, with some commitments to the Santiago Network and country-specific projects. About EUR340m in new pledges for loss and damage were made.

Less positively, the agreement struck in Sharm el Sheikh does nothing to address the root cause of climate change – burning fossil fuels. Countries failed to agree to a fossil fuel phasedown, despite a call to phasedown coal at COP26 in Glasgow. The presence of the oil, gas and big agriculture lobby hung heavy over these talks, with 600+ lobbyists at the summit and a stream of gas deals struck on the sidelines. We are likely to see the industry and its state sponsors continue to assert their influence on the process in the year ahead, with lobbying and disinformation. But despite this effort, the dirty energy deals done at COP were outnumbered by clean ones, and renewables are now cheaper than fossils in two-thirds of the world, and on the sidelines, a $20 billion deal was struck to transition Indonesia from coal, with similar arrangements for Vietnam and potentially Senegal in the offing.

1.5C was referenced in the deal, but only as recognition of the goal – pathways and plans to actually achieve it were absent. Unless world leaders break from the fossil-fuel industry once and for all, it will not be possible to keep pace with the escalating climate impacts we are now seeing clearly arriving around the world.  

Who pays?

India and China have grown to be among the world’s largest economies since the definition of “developed” and “developing” countries was established in 1992. The EU and US want this to be reflected in agreements over who must take responsibility – while China and the Middle Eastern petro-states want the historic balance taken into account, which puts responsibility at the feet of the West. That circle will have to be squared in the years ahead.

Although these talks had been billed as the African COP, they didn’t generate sufficient finance for vulnerable countries, as countries were urged to scale adaptation financing but no longer double it. There will be more to do on this in 2023. Rich countries still haven’t delivered the $100 billion a year of climate financing they promised, which is even more disappointing as at the G20 this week, leaders agreed to “urgently scale up mitigation and adaptation ambition”, with a focus also on loss and damage finance. Rich countries failed to understand the urgency of crises that are a reason to scale up action, not break promises.

This COP also made clear the huge mountain the world has to climb to achieve the global transition. There is a sharper understanding of what needs to happen next both inside and outside this process. To achieve this agenda world leaders will need to make the most of new positive geopolitical developments including Brazil returning to the world stage and the US and China climate rapprochement. 

On the bright side, reform of the international financial system to make it fairer and fit for purpose has gained huge momentum – including acknowledgement in the meeting text. Leaders swung behind the reform of international finance – known as the Bridgetown Agenda, its champion Barbados PM Mia Mottley will set forth a concrete proposal by February to present at the World Bank and IMF spring meetings. Paris will host a summit on this issue in June where the urgent priority is to fix the gap left at this COP and get to work on structural reform of the global financial system. 

An end to greenwashing?

Corporations will need to respond to new UN net zero rules and ensure their plans cut emissions if they are going to be a credible part of the global response to climate change. UN SG Antonio Guterres said there would be “zero tolerance for net zero greenwashing.” A new taskforce is being called for to advance regulation of corporate net zero commitments in countries around the world. 

Next month in Montreal at COP15 of the Convention on Biodiversity, world leaders will gather and can help get back on track by agreeing to an ambitious global deal for nature. We can’t reach 1.5 without protecting nature. Big Agriculture was very much on display at the talks, but it is clear that more attention is turning to its role in opposing progress. Brazil’s new verve could be a real force to change the stalemate on how we fund the protection of our forests, and stricter guidelines on Net Zero and an announcement from the FAO that it will produce a roadmap and milestones by COP28 on how the food system can be compatible with the Paris Agreement, food security, affordability and nature will make it more obvious how out of step the agricultural sector are in addressing this crisis.

Throughout, the presidency has remained under pressure for its approach to human rights. The connection between civic space and climate action was underscored and the struggle for increased freedom in Egypt will continue long after this meeting is over.