Too little, too late
While there were some breakthrough moments achieved by COP27, Tanya Vatsa laments how they were overshadowed by glaring omissions and failures
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) is the largest multilateral instrument for enabling a global response to climate change. Established in 1992, it boasts a near universal membership. The parties to the Convention meet annually in what is known as the Conference of Parties (COP). The urgency to act was felt thoroughly at the COP21 held in Paris in 2015. The outcome was a legally binding agreement to contain global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels through nationally determined contributions (NDCs) prepared, submitted and adhered to by the member countries.
The Paris Agreement was considered a major step in the right direction till the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change(IPCC) released its report in 2018. According to their climate synthesis report, a deduction of 45 per cent is needed by 2030 to achieve the 1.5 degreesCelsius target and the countries need to peak earlier for the emissions to gradually phase out. By 2020 it was clear that most of the world was falling grossly short of the effort needed to contain warming. The IPCC report had flagged dire impacts of ‘robust’ differences in regional climates as a consequence of climate change and warming: increased temperature in most land and ocean regions, heavy precipitation and precipitation deficits in several regions, increased outbreak of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases.
Seven years after the Paris Agreement, most nations are facing an ‘ecological catastrophe’ brought about by anthropogenic actions over several centuries. In another attempt to address this situation, COP27 was held last month in Sharm-El Sheikh under Egypt’s presidency, at a time when cross-border crises abound.
Minutes of the meeting
The last decade has given humanity a glimpse of the backlash a disgruntled and wounded natural ecosystem is capable of. The sweeping heatwaves across Europe, devastating floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, increased occurrences of hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons, perpetual droughts, especially in the Horn of Africa, left millions dead and homeless. The damage these climate excesses have caused has brought the least developed and developing worlds to their knees. Pakistan and Kenya are prime examples of massive social and economic devastation exacerbated by climate change.
COP27 managed to hammer a breakthrough agreement from the wealthy and developed world over the establishment of a ‘loss and damage’ fund. The initiative was spearheaded by Pakistan and is aimed at providing monetary assistance for the disproportionate burden of global warming borne by the least developed and developing countries.
The other significant issue was regarding limiting emissions to the 1.5 degreesCelsius target. A recent UN climate change report stated that the nations are severely lagging in meeting their respective NDCs and, at the current rate, the temperature is set to rise between 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius by the dawn of the next century (a situation that humanity can ill-afford). Recent circumstances have only adversely impacted the warming. Europe faces an energy deficit as a direct result of the war in Ukraine and the sudden rise in energy demand after the pandemic has led several larger nations to burn more coal for both export and the domestic market.Hence, emissions were high up on the agenda, yet no major stride was achieved, despite an over-extended discussion at the meeting. Neither did the COP set any specific binding targets for emission drawdown, nor did it address the reluctance of several leading economies to drastically cut emissions for the sake of the planet.
Is the climate fund a win-win?
Most leaders have hailed the creation of the ‘loss and damage’ fund as historic, especially after it was accepted by the European Union and the United States. The creation of climate funds stem from the notion that the industrialised world must pay for the historic emissions that have driven the current climate crisis. Yet the ‘loss and damage’ fund is neither the first such fund, nor is it any different from its predecessor. At COP15 in Copenhagen, the parties agreed upon the creation of an ‘adaptation and mitigation’ fund to help the developing and the least developed world to counter and minimize the effects of global warming. They were to provide for US$100 billion every year till 2020. However, no real-time targets were divided among the nations, nor was a proper accountability machinery put in place for the same. According to both OECD and the UN, the developed world could never meet the given target in all of the intervening years and the US specifically fell short of its expected share. (The Trump administration is notorious for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement altogether).
The ‘loss and damage’ fund still awaits specific details and a systematic administration to determine the form it will take, the countries that will provide money, how these funds are intended to be utilised, and which countries stand to benefit. There has also been a severe deadlock over China’s position on the development spectrum. As Beijing fiercely maintains that it is still developing, the West insists that it be treated as a developed country which will deposit money in the fund without having the privilege of being a beneficiary. Apart from this, there also seems to be disagreement about the nature of the fund. The beneficiaries consider it ‘compensation’ but the donors like to call it ‘reparations’. Given the lack of money collected by the previous fund, it is too early to celebrate the agreement of parties on the creation of this ‘loss and damage’ fund.
On the verge of ecological collapse
Historically, every discussion around environment and ecology has been hindered by grave political and economic interests. What eludes our leaders is the fact that, while it may be possible to bring politics and finances back in line after a lost election or recession, it is impossible to resurrect people who have lost their lives in disasters caused byclimate excesses, or to restore the melting Arctic ice and the land that will be lost due to rising sea levels. As our ecosystem has already begun to lash out, our leaders sit at tables and argue about the monetary losses they might incur while reducing or phasing out emissions.
COP27 made two things clear. First, that the global decision-making apparatus is highly unreliable, even in cases which impact them equally. And second, that the leaders have conceded their gross inadequacy in working towards prevention or containment and are now focused on minimising damage (and failing miserably). The shift from an ‘adaptation and mitigation’ fund to a ‘loss and damage’ fund subtly implies that the harm has been largely done and efforts will now be made for recuperation and reparation. The crux of the discussions has now shifted from the ‘cause factor’ to the ‘effect factor’,relaying the message loud and clear that, whatever the leaders might agree upon, it will be too little, too late.
Tanya Vatsa, a law graduate from National Law University, Lucknow and an incoming LLM candidate at the University of Edinburgh, is a former assistant advocate. She is currently a geopolitical analyst with The Synergia Foundation, an India-based think tank. Her writing on international relations has been published by the Diplomatist, International Policy Digest and The Kootneeti