‘A significant breakthrough’: What do climate leaders make of the final COP27 agreement?
COP27 has finally concluded more than 24 hours beyond its scheduled end time. Nations made a historic commitment on loss and damage funding, but some fear that oil and gas interests have had too much sway over pledges to cut emissions. Here, edie rounds up the reaction from green economy groups and COP veterans.
The past two weeks have seen more than 30,000 people descending on Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the UN’s 27th annual climate conference. There have been countless side events, commitments from non-state actors and speeches from world leaders and climate activists during the jam-packed agenda. And, of course, throughout it all, negotiators from around 190 nations have been working around the clock to provide the latest final agreement.
That deal, the Sharm-El Sheikh Implementation Plan finally came in the early hours of Sunday (20 November). The final session kept getting moved back and finally began at 3am local time. The new agreement builds on the Glasgow Climate Pact from COP26 last year, which was praised at the time for “keeping 1.5C (the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious temperature pathway) alive”.
Some experts believe that this year’s text is disappointing in this regard – that it is a ‘Glasgow minus’ rather than a ‘Glasgow plus’. With the UN having warned just last month that the global temperature increase is set to hit 2.5C this century, attendees were urged to listen to the science and increase ambitions. However, many oil and gas-producing nations relied heavily on arguments relating to efficiency improvements, man-made carbon capture technologies and the need to maintain energy security amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
However, there have been some breakthroughs. Thanks to the tireless work of the nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis, the G77 had been pressing hard for an agreement to be reached here and now on Loss & Damage, rather than allowing discussions to continue until late 2024. A dedicated Loss & Damage fund is set to begin operating next year, after the EU made a U-turn early on Saturday. The US subsequently conceded that it would not block consensus in this area by classifying this as a ‘red line’ issue.
More detail is also provided in reforming multilateral development banks to rapidly scale climate finance and dedicate a greater proportion of climate finance to adaptation. This issue was thrust into the spotlight from the start of the conference, initially by Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
Below, we’re rounding up all the latest reaction to the agreement from COP experts and green groups. If you want to see what business leaders think of the final agreement, check our dedicated coverage here.
European Climate Foundation chief executive and Paris Agreement architect Laurence Tubiana:
“This COP caused deep frustrations but it wasn’t for nothing. It achieved a significant breakthrough for the most vulnerable countries. The Loss & Damage fund, a dream at COP26 last year, is on track to start running in 2023. There is a lot of work still to be done on the detail, but the principle is in place and that is a significant mindset shift as we deal with a world in which climate impacts cause profound loss.
“We also broke the taboo around discussing our broken international financial system. There is momentum behind the push to restructure the World Bank and IMF to make them not only fairer for the vulnerable but also so that they meaningfully support renewables.
“The influence of the fossil-fuel industry was found across the board. This COP has weakened requirements around countries making new and more ambitious commitments. The text makes no mention of phasing out fossil-fuels and scant reference to the science and the 1.5C target. The Egyptian Presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petro-states and the fossil-fuel industries. This trend cannot continue in the United Arab Emirates next year.”
Power Shift Africa’s executive director Mohamed Adow:
“COP27 has done what no other COP has achieved and created a Loss & Damage fund to support the most impacted communities of climate change. This has been something that vulnerable countries have been calling for since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and has been a part of the formal negotiations since COP19 in Warsaw in 2013. Countries have also agreed on the process for working out its funding.
“It is worth noting that we have the fund but we need money to make it worthwhile. What we have is an empty bucket. Now we need to fill it so that support can flow to the most impacted people who are suffering right now at the hands of the climate crisis.
“However, on a global fossil fuel phase down it’s sad to see countries just copying and pasting the outcome from last year’s COP26 in Glasgow. Its deeply saddening that countries couldn’t agree to commit to a phase-down of all fossil fuels, not just coal, as contained in the Glasgow Pact. The science is clear, the impacts are getting worse and we know that renewables are the future. Polluting countries need to leave coal, oil and gas in the ground if we’re going to keep global heating from running out of control.”
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados:
“When we came here there was a great philosophical chasm on how we’d approach these issues, particularly on loss and damage. Thanks to the countries who took the leap, it’s a significant move forward.
“There have been complaints that the text is not perfect and indeed it is not … but we have all moved forward, must not allow the search for perfection stop us from doing what is possible and pragmatic. We are grateful to see so many elements of the Bridgetown initiative included, and we look forward to the reform of the multilateral development banks.
“We have to concede that action and ambition have lagged behind our advocacy, the time has come to make sure they catch up. We must recognise this historic moment in this historic country when we took a big step for climate justice.
“We have a compromise that gives satisfaction but not joy. We now have to keep working to get to the point that we can sing joyfully that we are doing what we must and what the people of the world expect of us.”
Alok Sharma, COP27 president:
“Emissions peaking before 2025 as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text.
“Clear follow through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text.
“Clear commitments to phase put all fossil fuels. Not in this text.
“And the energy text weakened in the final minutes. Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5C was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support.
“All of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider if we have fully risen to the challenge….Each of us will have to explain that to our citizens to the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities and ultimately to the children and grandchildren to whom many of us now go home.”
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current chair of the UN Elders:
“We avoided backsliding and made progress in Sharm el-Sheikh. Now leaders must stop sidestepping and fulfill their promises to safeguard a liveable future.
“In a year of multiple crises and climate shocks, the historic outcome on loss and damage at Cop27 shows international cooperation is possible, even in these testing times. Equally, the renewed commitment on the 1.5 global warming limit was a source of relief.
“However, none of this changes the fact that the world remains on the brink of climate catastrophe. Progress made on mitigation since Cop26 in Glasgow has been too slow. Climate action at Cop27 shows we are on the cusp of a clean energy world, but only if G20 leaders live up to their responsibilities, keep their word, and strengthen their will. The onus is on them. All climate commitments must be transformed into real-world action, including the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, a much faster transition towards green energy, and tangible plans for delivering both adaptation and loss and damage finance.”
The Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho:
“Despite an important breakthrough on loss and damage, COP27 did not go far enough to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and ramp up climate targets around the world. However, the rapidly increasing pace of clean energy investment globally and the growing number of businesses taking on net-zero targets show us that market trends are well ahead of the global political consensus and that the urgency and benefits of tackling climate change are recognised by large parts of the private sector.
“Looking to the year ahead, we need to see more nations showing how the move to net-zero emissions can deliver more, not less, economic prosperity for their citizens. By rapidly plugging the gaps in its Net Zero Strategy, the UK Government can unleash the significant private low carbon investment needed to build a prosperous, resilient and net zero emissions economy in the UK and set an important international precedent in doing so.”
IEMA’s chief executive Sarah Mukherjee:
“At the beginning of the COP27 talks we highlighted the catastrophic human risks associated with global warming. These risks still remain in place, despite some important developments at this year’s COP27, including support for a loss and damage financing fund for developing nations, and new commitments on emissions reductions and renewable energy, while the significance of Brazil’s return to the world stage as a climate leader cannot be overstated.
However, much more needs to be done to support the Global South in adapting to the worst impacts of climate change, and to deliver the green skills and jobs necessary for a sustainable and low-carbon economy.
IEMA is well placed to support the high-level measures agreed in Sharm El Sheikh, and will continue to make the case for a radical increase in green skills and knowledge across all sectors as we prepare for COP28 in the UAE next year.”
Cambridge Zero director Professor Emily Shuckburgh:
“Unless we put a drastic brake on greenhouse gas emissions, the human and economic impacts of climate change will inexorably rise, taking an especially large toll on the world’s poorest societies.
“We have to do better. And this COP showed that most of the world’s governments want to. With the economics of clean energy advancing year-by-year and the impacts of dirty energy becoming clearer and clearer, those governments that aren’t yet on board are undeniably failing their populations. Science shows there is no time to lose in peaking and lowering global emissions, energy trends show that’s in reach, and solutions across all sectors of the global economy are poised to be deployed. It will take radical collaborations between academia, business, finance, governments and civil society, but it can be done – so let’s just do it.”
Bernice Lee, Research Director, Futures; Hoffmann Distinguished Fellow for Sustainability, Chatham House:
“It has often been said that climate action is moving from target-setting into the implementation phase. What COP27 shows is that as we enter the implementation phase integrity and accountability will be ever more critical, as the voices of the vulnerable economies and the youth remind us time and time again.
“This compromised outcome is also a reminder that not only the delivery of climate action begins at home, as does the bread and butter politics of money and influence. It is significant that the link between fossil energy and climate impacts is made in the international arena, regardless of whether it appears in the final agreement. As the dust settles, there will be many questions and reflection over tactics chosen by different parties and actors.”
The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s senior associate Richard Black:
“No one got everything out of this COP that they wanted – but then they never do. However, when you look at progress over the last three years, it’s been significant on several fronts. There is a meaningful discussion on support for the most impacted countries that looks certain to result in the establishment of some kind of financing mechanism, the urgent need to phase down all fossil fuels is receiving much more attention, and many countries have made real progress on reducing methane emissions.
“Stimulated by a number of factors including cost reductions and concerns about energy security, clean energy is making tremendous progress in the real world, which has been reflected back to delegates here. Wind and solar power are growing exponentially and electric vehicles even more spectacularly, while heat pumps and green hydrogen are also poised to get much cheaper very quickly. All of this is cutting into the market for fossil fuels and steering further investment and government action towards the clean energy economy.
“UN climate summits could take decisions that speed this up sufficiently to deliver the 1.5C temperature goal, but fell short here. However, decisions made in capitals and boardrooms are the real key to acceleration. In China, in India, in the EU and other places, they’re being taken. For the most vulnerable countries, however, the UN process has to deliver more, and quickly – because the further climate change goes, the bigger hits they will take.”
Christian Aid’s pan-African policy advisor Joab Okanda:
“This is a victory for climate-vulnerable countries and civil society who have been demanding this outcome for 30 years, for the first-time vulnerable communities have a fund dedicated to supporting them to deal with the devastating loss and damage they have suffered. It has been a long fight for developing countries to get this fund, the devil will be in the detail and still need to see it filled with money, but it is a positive step forward towards climate justice.
“It’s disappointing that despite all the warm words from world leaders at the start of this summit about the seriousness of the climate emergency, countries couldn’t even commit to a phase-down of all fossil fuels.
“Coal, oil and gas is the elephant in the room, in some cases literally, considering the large number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27. Everyone knows we need to phase out the cause of the climate crisis and until countries actually start doing it, the world will remain on a perilous path…More fossil fuels means more loss and damage.”
Friends of the Earth Africa climate justice campaigner Babawale Obayanju:
“The fact that the outcome only talks about ‘phasedown of unabated coal power’ is a disaster for Africa and for the climate. Oil and gas must be also be phased out, swiftly and fairly. One small word, ‘unabated’, creates a huge loophole, opening the door to new fossil-based hydrogen and carbon capture and storage projects, which will allow emissions to continue. We don’t need more gas extraction in Africa, devastating our communities for the benefit of rich countries and corporations. What we needed from COP27 was agreement to a rapid, equitable phase-out of all fossil fuels.”
WWF’s executive director of advocacy and campaigns Katie White:
“While a deal on loss and damage finance is a positive step, it risks becoming a down payment on disaster unless emissions are urgently cut in line with the 1.5°C goal. By refusing to phase out fossil fuels, governments have failed to reach a more ambitious agreement than in Glasgow last year and put our health and security at risk.
“Time is running out and we need to see a much stronger shift from promises to action. We cannot fight the climate crisis without protecting and restoring nature and tackling unsustainable food systems. As attention turns to the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal next month, the UK government must lead from the front in securing a game-changing global deal to reverse the loss of nature by 2030 and bring our world back to life.”
Oxfam International’s executive director Gabriela Bucher:
“The establishment of a loss and damage fund is a monumental achievement for vulnerable developing countries and communities at the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“Given the urgency on the ground, the fund must be operationalised as soon as possible. Rich countries largely responsible for warming our planet should immediately mobilise substantial new and additional resources to pay for climate-related damage in vulnerable countries.
“While we applaud the establishment of the loss and damage fund, we remain deeply concerned about countries’ failure to agree on an equitable and urgent phase-out of all fossil fuels. The world is on track for a catastrophic 2.8°C of warming.
“Rich countries, especially the US and those in the EU, have failed to use their power and resources to meet their fair share of responsibility and their moral and legal obligations.
“Rich countries have broken their $100 billion climate finance promise and successfully blocked language at COP27 that would have required them to compensate for earlier shortfalls through increased climate finance in subsequent years. Climate finance is needed in the trillions for adaptation and mitigation. Given their responsibility for the climate crisis, rich countries at least could have provided a clear roadmap on how to deliver the $600 billion they had promised between 2020 and 2025.
“We are also dismayed by the discussions to enhance the Gender Action Plan, which was at the heart of the UNFCCC processes for gender-responsive climate action. Gender was only marginally mentioned, if at all, in the climate talks’ decisions.”
The Global Climate and Health Alliance’s executive director Jeni Miller:
“COP27’s agreement to establish a Loss and Damage fund is a major win for addressing health and other impacts in countries most impacted by climate change – and for global solidarity. This important and historic step is long overdue, and vitally important to address the real and human impacts of climate change on people who have contributed least to its making.
“However, despite support from over 80 countries, governments’ collective failure to deliver a clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels puts us on course to go beyond the already dangerous 1.5C global temperature rise, and locks in further increase in Loss and Damage due to climate impacts on people’s health and livelihoods.”
Ashden’s chief executive Harriet Lamb:
“Throughout the negotiations, Alok Sharma put in a heroic individual effort, but UK leadership was largely absent as the government sidestepped its responsibilities to push for those climate promises made in Glasgow to be turned into measurable funding flows.
“The fundamental challenge of phasing out fossil fuels and limiting global temperatures rise below 1.5C remains a major stumbling block and overshadows any other perceived wins. A disappointing lack of progress on adaptation funding for low-income countries to finance affordable, green energy access means there is still much work to be done to provide the millions most in need, including the refugees already displaced by extreme weather events, with the climate justice they deserve.”
The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) policy director Eliot Whittington:
“Beyond the breakthrough [on loss and damage] and some incremental progress elsewhere, the Sharm El-Sheikh Implementation Plan fails to deliver the promise of its name. At a time when more action is required to deliver 1.5C, far too many countries came to the talks with the desire to water down ambitions and back away from their global commitments. Without significantly strengthening commitments to move away from fossil fuels and cut the carbon emissions that cause climate change, then loss and damage will be catastrophic and unmanageable in the mid to long term.
“The small gains made to address climate change in Sharm El-Sheikh are inadequate in the face of a growing climate threat that is likely to worsen the multiple crises facing the world. Governments, businesses, investors and civil society now need to reflect on how we can urgently raise ambition and accelerate action further because every time we fall short, we open the door to increased unnecessary economic costs, human suffering and environmental destruction.”