Compromises with little benefit at COP27


The decision to fund poor and vulnerable nations that are experiencing some of the worst effects of a changing climate, while welcome, is being criticised as a distraction from the lack of outcomes at the annual UN Climate Change Conference

The Conference of the Parties failed to make progress in Egypt around key goals of reducing emissions to hold the world’s temperatures at 1.5 degrees or closing the funding gap to support the world’s poorest nations to adapt to extreme weather and reduce emissions, though University of Canterbury Professor Bronwyn Hayward says the establishment of a Loss and Damage fund is a significant win.

“It will contribute to disaster relief and recognises the harm already caused to poorer countries by richer ones who have used significant amounts of fossil fuels historically.”

However, New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute’s Adrian Macey says it will provide little immediate benefit.

“At least another year will be needed to make the new ‘funding arrangements’ (note a fully stand-alone fund was a bridge too far) operational. Expect much more of the same fraught discussions.

“See references to the ‘many institutions and stakeholders’ and ‘previous work under the UNFCCC’ – they’re already doing relevant work.

“The new arrangements are to ‘complement and include other sources, funds, processes and initiatives’. It also, sadly, creates yet another bureaucratic mechanism to service.”

“So first, there is little or nothing fundamentally new here. Second, this decision and all the days and nights of negotiations which preceded it do absolutely nothing to advance the core task of limiting global warming.

“Third, it demonstrates the steeply declining marginal utility of COPs.

“Yet again a COP has been ridiculously over-hyped by everyone from the UN Secretary-General down… and has failed to meet the unrealistic expectations raised. This is a very bad signal which further erodes public confidence.

“It is now a complete misnomer to see COPs as either the yardstick for or the determinant of global progress towards limiting global temperatures and adapting to the effects of climate change.

“In fact, COPs are becoming a distraction, more counterproductive than productive.

“The Paris Agreement gave climate change adaptation and finance the same prominence as mitigation in its core objectives and is now fully operational bar some details. Rather than requiring ever more input from COPs, it is enabling and providing guidance for autonomous action, by both government and non-state actors.

“‘Loss and damage’ was a distraction from the core goals. Of course no-one can oppose financial assistance to developing countries for the consequences of climate change they have suffered. But a bit like Amartya Sen’s point that famine does not mean there is not enough food, there is actually not a massive shortage of money to assist developing countries – certainly or at least the most vulnerable among them.

“There are multiple windows already for assistance. A lot more money will be needed in the future. But much of what’s being talked about under ‘loss and damage’ can already be financed through bilateral or multilateral programmes. Creating a new basket with a new label does not and will not increase the total funds available.

“In a negotiating sense, this topic served to force negotiations back into an outdated and counterproductive binary North-South, rich-poor, developed-developing, zero sum framing – all duly bought into by the NGO community.

“This framing, which produces interminable conflicts and stalemates, is the single biggest obstacle to negotiations progress.

“The trope that ‘we did well out of the industrial revolution now it’s our turn to give something back’ is less and less valid. Historical contribution to warming is not static. China is already at #2 and other emerging economies are catching up.

“Loss and damage has fulfilled a similar function some other topics that have arisen in the negotiations, all of which have served to extract concessions from the industrialised (another outdated label) countries as the price for cooperation on the main goal.

“When it was first raised, no-one knew what it was supposed to cover. There is no chance of broad acceptance of any commitments based on ‘liability’ or ‘compensation’. What is certain, assuming a new fund or window is agreed, is that yet another inefficient bureaucratic mechanism will be created in the UNFCCC to service it.

“In terms of the global goals, the most useful feature at this COP may be one that has nothing to do with the COP – the US Energy Transition Accelerator, a public and private sector scheme to help countries mobilise investment in their clean energy transitions.

“It has several innovative ideas – including that recipient countries will be able to sell any carbon credits generated. (This is unlike New Zealand’s forthcoming international carbon markets foray to meet our 50/2030 target where we will be getting the credits.) It’s one example of autonomous action.

“This paralysis of COPs is abetted by poor negotiating tactics by Europe and some others, especially those most concerned about ‘international reputation’. It now looks as if some face-saving language on mitigation from developing countries will secure an outcome on loss and damage. But what does that really amount to in terms of global progress?

“What matters most now is not grand declarations on unattainable targets but the speed of the energy transition, most of all in the 20 or so countries that make up 80% of global emissions. And that means trillions of dollars of investment by 2030 – another scale altogether from the amount or money realistically in play under loss and damage.

“The COP has contributed nothing to this.”