After Glasgow in 2021, the focus of global attention on international climate change negotiations has moved on to Sharm-el-Sheikh as Egypt takes on the presidency of the UN’s Climate Change Convention for COP27. The University of Aberdeen is represented at COP27 by a team of five staff and students, who are here to showcase the university’s work, advocate for specific causes and observe proceedings.
COP26 in Glasgow left much unfinished business, not least an insufficient commitment by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees C. This target was agreed in Paris in 2015 and reiterated at Glasgow last year. Despite concessions on phasing out coal, and a majority of countries agreeing to decarbonize by 2050 or 2060, the number of countries submitting concrete plans to back-up these commitments has been woefully small over the past year – just 29 submitted updated plans to the UN prior to the start COP27. As the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, famously asked at the conclusion of the Glasgow conference: “When will leaders lead?”
The first few days of the conference have been dominated by unresolved issues around finance. Developing countries achieved a hard-won concession to include discussion of “Loss and Damage” on the agenda. This refers to compensation to meet the costs of recovery from climate events such as floods and droughts caused by the historic carbon dioxide emissions of rich countries. The scope and scale of these payments are the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations and will likely determine whether an agreement is forthcoming by the end of the meeting.
Separately, an expert group of economists released a report estimating the cost of energy transition in emerging markets and developing countries will be a trillion dollars a year by 2030. Prime Minister Mottley was again outspoken. In a session chaired by Nicola Sturgeon she focussed on issues of justice: “We were the ones whose blood, sweat and tears financed the industrial revolution,” she said. “Are we now to face double jeopardy by having to pay the cost as a result of those greenhouse gases from the industrial revolution? That is fundamentally unfair.”
The COP conferences are where the solutions are aired, debated and hard-won concessions are negotiated between governments and parties. As observers we see very little of these intense negotiations, which go on behind closed doors, so our role is to participate in some of the thousands of side events that provide the backdrop to the conference. This allows us to present and debate the science of climate change, engage with leaders from the worlds of politics, civil society, academia and business, and develop the networks that will influence change. It is easy to see why some argue that the intangible benefits of getting 35,000 people together in a remote location on the edge of the Sinai desert don’t justify the financial and environmental costs of the gathering. On the other hand, mass attendance at the COP meetings provides the collective expression of urgency and will for change that are hard for visiting leaders to ignore. The last few days in Sharm-el-Sheikh will determine whether that message has been received.