Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Welcome to COP27: Another year, another COP

Since 2009, Moravian University has sent a delegation of observers to the COPs (Conference of the Parties) – the annual meetings of the signatories (“Parties”) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. In a welcome message to COP27 attendees, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt said: 
COP27 in the green city of Sharm El-Sheikh this year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the thirty years since, the world has come a long way in the fight against climate change and its negative impacts on our planet; we are now able to better understand the science behind climate change, better assess its impacts, and better develop tools to address its causes and consequences. 
I couldn’t help but be reminded of a T-shirt that youth delegates were wearing at COP15 in Copenhagen – our first COP: 

And here we are, 13 years later, still negotiating. Those teenagers are now likely in their early 30’s debating if they should have families, how to work and live in a sustainable manner, and worried about not only their future and well-being (climate grief is high), but also the fate of future generations. 

President El-Sisi continued in his message:
Thirty years and twenty-six COPs later, we now have a much clearer understanding of the extent of the potential climate crisis and what needs to be done to address it effectively. The science is there and clearly shows the urgency with which we must act regarding rapidly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, taking necessary steps to assist those in need of support to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, and finding the appropriate formula that would ensure the availability of requisite means of implementation that are indispensable for developing countries in making their contributions to this global effort, especially in the midst of the successive international crises, including the ongoing food security crisis exacerbated by climate change, desertification and water scarcity, especially in Africa that suffers the most impacts. 
Indeed, there is clear science about what is changing and what the likely long-term impacts of climate change will be on human health, cities, infrastructure, biodiversity, and so on. The UNFCCC, one of three “conventions” or international agreements related to the environment that came out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, bound member states to act in the interests of human safety even in the face of scientific uncertainty. At that time, the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had been published in 1990 and there was still much to understand about the science of climate change. Nonetheless, 198 countries (Parties) – including the United States – ratified the UNFCCC which was then enacted in 1994. It had as its ultimate aim to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. Now, three decades later, the three working groups of the IPCC have published the sixth assessment report (AR6, 2021 – 2022), and there is significantly better scientific information and strong consensus about the anthropogenic causes of climate change. 

There appear to be four main goals of COP27 related to mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration.

1. Mitigation: As always, mitigation is a key focus -- that is, the aim to limit global warming to below 2°C, relative to pre-industrial levels. Ideally, ambitious action by all countries in the world will keep the global temperature to no more than 1.5°C warmer. Throughout the airport and on the drive to the hotel, there were signs referring to ambition to action – an apparent rallying cry for COP27. The Mitigation Work Programme (paragraph 27 of decision 1/CMA.3 of the Paris Agreement) calls for an urgent scaling up for mitigation ambition and implementation. The aim is to have countries submit lower GHG emission development strategies than their original NDCs (nationally determined contributions) by COP27 – i.e., low-emission and long-term strategies. You can learn more about this through the third webinar in a series that was developed by the Research and Independent NGOs (RINGOs), Second Nature, and the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) from October 24, 2022. 

It should be noted that a report published ahead of COP27 shows that while countries are “bending the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions downward,” efforts remain insufficient to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century. In other words, to avoid the worse impacts of climate change, more ambitious goals and action are needed. Interestingly, according to a report from the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (IISD), 
COP 26 President Alok Sharma reflected on achievements made at, and since, COP 26, noting that over 90% of the global economy is now covered by net-zero targets. 
In contrast, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Hoesung Lee, confirmed on November 6th that the world is not on track to meet the 1.5°C target. Alas, the political posturing and the science are at odds. Shocking.

2. Adaptation: The original framework recognized that climate change impacts will be inevitable and thus there was a need for adaptation as well as mitigation: 
We must plan for the adaptation of natural and human systems to the unavoidable impacts of a warming climate. 
In an IPPC event at COP27 entitled "Assessing adaptation needs: Findings from the IPCC Working Group II contribution to its Sixth Assessment Report," adaptation needs were defined as "circumstances requiring action to ensure safety of population and security of assets in response to climate impacts." This includes adapting to extreme weather events and enhancing resilience of communities, including those most vulnerable to the impacts. Ideally, there should be a focus on disaster and risk reduction. Assessing adaptation needs is best done at the local and regional levels; for instance, what is needed to adapt to areas prone to flooding is quite different from what regions dealing with extreme drought should be doing. Coastal areas and small islands have unique challenges due to sea level rise, salinization, and storm surge damage. The process should be participatory in nature – utilizing local expertise and indigenous knowledge. This is not the stuff of academic, peer-reviewed publications. The need for a greater focus on adaptation has become more evident the longer we delay ambitious mitigation measures. In the 6th assessment report of the IPCC, there is increased attention on maladaptation – unintended negative impacts from adaptive responses such as having plantation forests (versus native forests) that are monocultures, absorb less carbon, and diminish biodiversity. Currently, there is very little evidence of implementation of truly transformative adaptation measures to date and there has been little monitoring and evaluation for accountability and learning on what works and what does not. 

In just two days, I have heard quite a bit about putting "people at the center" of negotiations and actions and "climate-resilient development." At the IPCC event, it was noted that adaptation cannot be addressed in isolation from mitigation and sustainable development; or in the words of one of the IPCC WG II authors, Siri Eriksen: “We cannot adapt our way out of climate change.” Eriksen went on to discuss the need for an integrated process across society. 

3. Finance: Countries have yet to achieve the finance goals of the Paris Agreement (2015) of annual contributions of USD 100 billion. There are existing (and sometimes unmet) pledges dating back to Copenhagen (COP15, 2009) and Cancun (COP16, 2010). Such finance is critical to meet the clean development needs of Africa, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – all being hit hard by climate change impacts despite having done little to contribute to historic greenhouse gas emissions. The often contentious debate over Loss and Damage (i.e., who pays for the consequences of climate change) also continues. Today, I bumped into a friend, Marlene Achoki, who I met at a Community Based Adaptation conference in Uganda many years ago. She is now a Party (official country negotiator). I asked her what her country's priorities are for COP27. The answer: finance and loss and damage.

As I write about this particular COP27 goal, I can’t help but think of the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk and how that $44 billion could have been put to such better uses. 

4. Collaboration: There are many forms of collaboration: private and public partnerships, community stakeholders working together, global collaborations, scientists and decision-makers, etc. In other words, we need "one international community working for the common good of our shared planet and humanity." From UNFCCC COP27 news:
The advancement of partnership and collaboration will help deliver our four goals and ensure the world is adopting more a resilient, and sustainable economic model where humans are at the center of climate talks. The UN negotiations are consensus-based, and reaching agreement will require inclusive and active participation from all stakeholders. Governments, the private sector and civil society need to work, in tandem, to transform the way in which we interact with our planet. We must introduce new solutions and innovations that help alleviate the adverse impacts of climate change. We also need to replicate and rapidly upscale all other climate-friendly solutions towards implementation in developing countries. 
The Egyptian COP27 Presidency has set out an ambitious vision for this COP that puts human needs at the heart of our global efforts to address climate change. The Presidency intends to focus the world’s attention on key elements that address some of the most fundamental needs of people everywhere, including water security, food security, health and energy security. Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President said: “We’re gathering this year at a time when global climate action is at a watershed moment. Multilateralism is being challenged by geopolitics, spiraling prices, and growing financial crises, while several countries battered by the pandemic have barely recovered, and severe and depleting climate change-induced disasters are becoming more frequent. 
With that reference to geopolitics, I was reminded of both Christian Parenti's book: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the Geography of Violence and the ongoing, senseless Russia – Ukraine war. Besides the unfathomable toll on human lives, infrastructure, and the environment, there has been a global focus on disruption to fossil fuel exports from Russia, the destruction of energy grid in Ukraine and threats to nuclear power plants, and loss of food security with critical shipments of grain from Ukraine being used as a political bargaining chip. 

The first part of the high-level segment of COP 27 (and CMP 17 and CMA 4 -- lots of UNFCCC jargon) is happening during the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Implementation Summit from Monday, 7 November to Tuesday, 8 November 2022. Delegates in that plenary room or watching virtually will hear statements from Heads of State and Government or sometimes a Vice President designee. The list of speakers includes the brand new prime minister of the UK Rishi Sunuk (interestingly, there were also sightings of Boris Johnson in the room) and there will even be a video message from Mr. Volodymyr Selenskyy, President of Ukraine. Noticeably absent from the list of speakers is the president (or VP) of the United States (perhaps due to campaigning for key elections). President Biden will, however, arrive later in the week. 

Today is election day back in the U.S. and it has been a contentious campaign season, even though it is for mid-term elections. This isn’t the first time we have been at a COP during election day (I voted by mail both times, for the record). The most notable was in 2016, the presidential election when we also were in northern Africa (Morocco that year) and we woke up to the news that Donald Trump had defeated Hilary Clinton. For several reasons, including ones related to climate change and global relations amidst a campaign season of xenophobic and deeply divisive comments, the mood was extremely dark. I was prompted to write three blog posts which spoke to the mood at the time:
It remains to be seen what I will write in 2022 post-elections.  

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