COP27 draft decision reflects challenges to climate change progress

Draft cover decision for COP27 released; negotiations on key topics ongoing.

A first draft of the COP27 cover decision text was released on Thursday 17 November. The text attempts to bring together all the topics covered in the COP conference including food, energy, emissions, biodiversity loss, and more.

The draft is designated a “non-paper”, a very clear signal for its unfinalized nature. This is underlined further by the presence of 14 “Placeholders” peppered throughout, but particularly in connection with critical sections connected to funding and financing of the primary COP objectives. For example, in the “Cooperation and cross-cutting action” section, a placeholder is present for the special needs and circumstances of Africa, reflecting deep disagreement connected to economic development and growth and to food security and energy exploitation by countries on that continent.

The draft also points to the serious financing challenges facing any attempt to meaningfully address climate change. While reiterating Paris Agreement resolutions, it highlights the $4trn per year required to invest in renewable energy, technology, and infrastructure in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But the draft is extremely vague on how this financing challenge is to be addressed, simply saying that it “will require a transformation of the financial system and its structures and processes”, something that would involve “governments, central banks, commercial banks, institutional investors and other financial actors”.

Net zero emissions by 2050

In connection with the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) at the heart of the Paris Agreement, the draft highlights a very significant shortfall. According to the “emission gap report”, this shortfall is a staggering 25% for unconditional NDCs and 35% for conditional NDCs that would be required to limit global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C respectively.

The phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities” utilised in the COP26 cover decision occurs five times in the COP27 draft. The inclusion of this language underlines the basic source of tension in the negotiations. This tension is no only connected to the very different national capabilities that exist to address climate change, but also to the very different ways in which climate change will impact specific countries or groups of countries around the world along with real divergence in their ability to respond meaningfully to that impact and to protect their economies and, ultimately, their citizens.

The draft is unambiguous in its criticism of developed nations in this context, expressing “deep regret that developed countries who have the most capabilities financially and technologically to lead in reducing their emissions continue to fall short in doing so, and are taking inadequate and unambitious goals to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, while they continue to emit and disproportionately consume the global carbon budget.” But it seems that very little tangible progress in the area of financing and in particular the contentious issue of loss and damage has been made. Progress in the latter area is limited to the recognition of it as a serious point of contention and welcoming the fact that it has been included as a “sub-agenda item” for the first time.   

As the note which leads the report states, negotiations on global adaptation goals, loss and damage, mitigation and quantified goals on climate finance amongst other topics are ongoing. And one cannot help but feel that the optimism of COP26 has been much dampened by the economic and geopolitical crises of 2022 and their tangible and political consequences, including what seems to be a return to a more insular world view globally.