Climate diplomacy is on the move again and in a week’s time we will see delegates, technicians, ministers and civil society representatives flying to Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, to open COP27 just under a year after the disappointing ending for most of the UK’s COP26 in Glasgow. What will start will be a special COP. Initially conceived as a time for updating and comparing the governments’ climate objectives with respect to COP26 with a specific focus on adaptation, in fact COP27 will be above all, the first climate conference since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, a test moment for many Western countries caught between climate ambition and high energy bills.

Where did we leave off?

The final document of the COP in Glasgow, the so-called “Glasgow Climate Pact”, made headlines in 2021 for the last-minute change in the final text, with the replacement of “phase-out” from coal by 2030 with “phase-down” at the urging of India and many developing countries, in the face of yet another Western prevarication about the necessary climate finance. The same document, however, also contained other political indications and agreements, first and foremost the obligation for all countries of the world to update their national climate commitments (NDCs) by COP27 in Egypt.

As of August 2022, only 17 states had deposited updated commitments and it was already clear that the United States, China and the European Union would not update theirs upwards, citing different reasons – we have discussed this here. As of today (end of October) those 17 have been joined by only 9 countries (including the big players India, the United Kingdom and Indonesia), for a total of 26 new or updated commitments out of 196, covering 18% of global emissions (India alone accounts for 7.02%). Far from the expected quantum leap. It remains likely, however, that many countries will deposit updated NDCs close to the start of work or during the two-week COP.

Adaptation and climate finance

Those of us who have followed the preparatory work for this COP27 over the past few months may have felt a certain sense of confusion as to the priorities of the summit. If, according to the Glasgow Climate Pact and what has been repeated in the corridors of European ministries, this should have been a COP on mitigation (hence focused on updating the pledges of countries and possibly on financing the policies of poorer countries), in recent months and in particular in recent weeks the focus of the Egyptian presidency seems to have shifted – also due to pressure from other African countries, the poor international response on NDCs and the international context – decisively in favour of adaptation policies, first in the press releases, then in the values agenda.

While a special focus on adaptation was certainly expected, holding the COP again in an African country six years after Marrakech 2016, recent natural disasters in some countries on the continent and, more recently, in Pakistan, have given political vigour back to the “hot” topic (and we are not referring to temperature) of money needed to respond to climate disaster. Money (and other types of support) for adaptation policies that are needed, and will increasingly be needed, by the most fragile countries and the global South in general to continue to grow and develop without completely depleting their budgets and GDP in policies of safety, prevention and reconstruction in the face of increasingly frequent extreme phenomena. This money, according to the historical responsibility criterion in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, must come from the West and in general from the historically more industrialised countries.

The Green Climate Fund’s latest report, which came out a few weeks ago, builds on the goal of $10 billion in total funding for the fund reached in Glasgow a year ago. To date, in fact, the fund supports 200 projects worldwide (49% in adaptation) financed by $10.8 billion in funds contributed by countries, in addition to $29.4 billion mobilised in co-financing. Figures that seem high, but which, the Third World Network denounces, are far from the $100 billion a year in climate finance promised every year since 2009 (current mobilisation around $80 billion a year) and do not even remotely cover the needs of the most vulnerable, as reiterated by the African delegates at the pre-COP27 in Kinshasa just a few weeks ago. An appeal launched in general towards the COP and in view of the next 2024-2027 period of filling the Green Climate Fund, for which the aim is to exceed – and by a lot – the $10 billion of the first 2020-2023 period, to which, moreover, the United States of America has never contributed.

Expanding on the picture, the latest details from the international renewables agency, IRENA, also sounds ruthless, according to which Africa has attracted only 2% of all global investments in renewable energy in the last 20 years, a clear sign of the lack of structured global governance of resource and capacity transfers even with respect to the needs reported by poorer countries in their national climate commitments.

The political “bomb”: Losses and Damages

In Glasgow, a major disappointment for many developing countries was the exclusion from the Glasgow Climate Pact of the possibility of creating a new financial instrument to support the costs incurred annually by the most fragile countries for Losses and Damages from extreme events. The issue, which seemed destined to simmer under the surface for at least the next two to three years, has instead returned forcefully to the international debate during the June 2022 intermediate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, where a large group of negotiators asked to be able to include in the agenda of the Sharm El-Sheikh works, a discussion on possible financial instruments and no longer only multi-year “dialogues”, considered to be unfruitful.

(Note: as the Italian Climate Network and as members of the pan-European consortium Spark! we have endorsed the position of those countries and have launched a signature collection campaign led by Kenyan activist Elizabeth Wathuti addressed to the governments of the world – you can sign by clicking here). 

Well, the Egyptian presidency of COP27 has finally accepted and endorsed the request of those countries and has put on the agenda, with discussion order “8-F under the section “finance”, a discussion on “issues concerning financing arrangements to respond to losses and damages”. A political breakthrough that was unimaginable before June and in any case difficult to predict even a few weeks ago. It will now be up to the Egyptian presidency and the countries’ negotiators to conduct the discussion in such a way as to achieve some practical goal after the Glasgow fiasco, albeit in an international context weakened by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and with permanent opposition to any new financial instrument on the subject on the part of the United States – which by historical responsibility should become the primary funder.

“What about Russia?”

The Russian Federation will normally participate in the climate negotiations in Sharm El-Sheikh, and – this is Moscow’s opinion – would have no reason not to do so, as it had already participated in the interim negotiations in June, albeit in a context of great diplomatic coldness. On the other hand, the African COP serves the Russian government both as a moment to normalise its international position and to build alliances on the continent. Outside the Western narrative, in fact, the Russian Federation appears much less isolated than it might seem: among the 35 countries that recently abstained at the General Assembly with respect to the condemnation of Russian aggression against Ukraine are the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, but also Algeria, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania. We talked in an article this summer about how some African countries could even profit from the conflict in Europe in terms of fossil fuel exports. So it is no coincidence that in the run-up to COP27, agencies are reporting Russian state visits to a number of African countries, and it was precisely on 25 October that the President of Guinea-Bissau and head of ECOWAS (supranational association of West African states), Umaro Sissoco Embalo, visited Vladimir Putin in Moscow. In the same days the new President of Kenya, William Ruto, declared that in order to lower the costs of families and businesses he would welcome the purchase of fuel from the Russian Federation. The long shadow of the conflict in Ukraine, however, remains central to the negotiations, particularly because of the negative effects it is having on the restructuring of the energy mix in the major western economies.

Article by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor and UNFCCC Contact Point Italian Climate Network

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