Forest finance commitments and heart-wrenching speeches: Seven things you need to know from Day One at COP27

UN Climate Change - Kiara Worth

COP27 officially opened in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Sunday (6 November). However, this was a quieter day, with no specific themes on the presidency agenda, giving attendees time to settle in ahead of the two weeks of negotiations and side events.

Monday and Tuesday (7 and 8 November) are the World Leaders Summit part of the COP – the two-day period in which prime ministers, heads of state, special envoys and senior ministers are all set to gather. At previous COPs, these Summits have seen nations announce major new climate ambitions and programmes, like India’s 2070 net-zero goal, and collaboratively agree on new measures relating to specific topics such as forests or cleantech.

While COP27 is expected to be much more discussion-orientated to ensure that major announcement at previous COPs are actually built upon instead of becoming empty rhetoric, new partnerships and initiatives are expected to emerge.

So, what (if anything) was announced during day one at COP27? With world leaders taking to the stage to set the tone for two weeks’ worth of discussions, who said what? And, did crucial aspects to the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact like deforestation, loss and damage get their time in the spotlight?

Here, edie rounds up the seven key stories you need to know about from Day One at COP27.

1) Loss and Damage is formally added to the agenda

This is technically a story from Sunday (6 November). Then, talks to set the broad agenda for negotiations over-ran by several hours but the general consensus is that this was a good thing, as loss and damage are explicitly mentioned on the agenda.

Last year, COP26 attendees failed to formally commit to launching a loss and damage finance infrastructure – a mechanism through which low-income nations most exposed to physical climate impacts could claim a form of reparations from richer nations, which generate more emissions than them. Funding for this could be raised through a windfall tax on fossil fuel firms and other big emitters, to be blended with government funding.

COP26 instead saw nations committing to a two-year series of dialogues on the topic. Egypt has made it clear that it believes further action is needed, particularly after the series of wildfires, floods and droughts observed globally this summer.

2) UK Government triples climate adaptation as part of Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership

As welcomes and keynote speeches commenced in the plenaries at COP27, the UK Government issued a press release noting plans for a new green spending package, which was subsequently announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at COP27.

Sunak, who originally turned down the chance to travel to Egypt for the summit, announced a new package of climate finance measures at various side events during the summit.

Firstly, the Government claims that it is tripling funding for climate adaptation, from £500m in 2019 to £1.5bn in 2025, as part of a broader commitment of spending £11.6bn on international climate finance.

Additionally, the Prime Minister will launch the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership. This new group will consist of more than 20 nations meeting twice a year to track progress towards the Forests and Land Use declaration. The declaration was launched at COP26 in Glasgow last year and aims to halt and reverse global forest loss by 2030.

As part of conservation funding, Sunak also confirmed a new £90m funding package, to support protection and conservation in the Congo Basin, a critical hotspot for global biodiversity that is home to around 10,000 species of tropical plants. Read more here.

3) Nations and businesses step up conservation spending efforts

One of the key themes to have captured the spotlight during the first day of COP27 was that of finance, specifically developed nations working in harmony with developing nations to create financial pipelines to ensure climate-related investments is not only doable, but baked into negotiations.

It was welcome on day one then, that the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition announced that it had more than $1.5bn in corporate spending now committed to the initiative.

LEAF was set up at COP26 had aimed to mobilise at least $1bn to support emissions reductions by ensuring tropical forests that act as carbon sinks are protected from deforestation while protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and members of local communities. With Volkswagen and H&M now joining the initiative, spending plans have already surpassed that milestone and now sit at $1.5bn. Nations including the Republic of Korea and Ecuador also announced new levels of involvement with LEAF. Read the full story here. Also in the private sector, the Finance Sector Deforestation Action saw a host of new joiners for its mission to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from portfolios.

Elsewhere, the Forests and Climate Leaderships Partnership was launched. The initiative brings together policymakers, companies, financial firms and Indigenous communities in a bid to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation this decade in an inclusive manner. More than 25 nations, which collectively account for 35% of forests and around 60% of global GDP, are participating in the Partnership.

4) Antonio Guterres gives another rousing speech

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has become increasingly impassioned and bold in his comments on climate issues over the years. His speech to world leaders at the Summit today was no exception.

He said the world “is on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator” and urged nations to “cooperate or perish”. This cooperation, he said, is particularly crucial between top emitters the US and China. He also called on other emerging economies with fast-growing emissions footprints to show ambition and collaborative spirit.

“Humanity has a choice,” Guterres said. “It is either a climate solidarity pact or a collective suicide pact.” He added: “The 1.5C goal is on life support and the machines are ratling.”

5) ‘Fearless’ Mia Mottley seeks to win over hearts and minds

Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley took one of the first speaking slots at COP26 in a speech that saw her branded ‘fearless’ and ‘a rip-roaring rhetor’. She was also one of the first to speak today.

She said: “I don’t need to repeat that we have the power of choice. I don’t need to repeat that this is the COP that needs action. All of us, as a chorus, have said that. I don’t need to repeat the horror and devastation wreacked upon the earth since we last met 12 months ago in Glasgow.

“What we do need to do is to understand why we are not moving any further… we have the collective power to transform…. But the simple political will that is necessary, not just to come here, but to deliver on them and make a definable difference in the lives of the people we have a responsibility to serve, still seems not capable of being produced.”

Mottley argued that “the global south remains at the mercy of the global north at present,” adding, “this world still looks too much like it did when it was largely under imperialistic empires”. She spoke of Barbados’ challenge of fulfilling its own climate commitments due to inefficient and insufficient global finance flows.

6) Rishi Sunak confirms that he has heard calls to action on Alaa Abd El-Fattah

In the lead-up to COP26, the Prime Minister was facing mounting calls from the general public to raise the profile of Alaa’s case. The British-Egyptian writer and democracy advocate, 40, has been in jail in Egypt for much of the past decade and was formally sentenced in 2020, accused of spreading false information about the Egyptian Government. He has been on a hunger strike this month and this week began a water strike.

Alaa’s family has stated that he will die this week without intervention. They had asked Sunak to make his case an “urgent political priority”. Sunak told broadcasters today that he will raise the issue directly with Egypt’s Government before the day is out. He said the issue is “something that not just the UK, but many countries, want to see resolved”.

Many young activists are skipping COP this year, including Greta Thunberg, partly due to their own criticisms of Egypt’s governance.

7) Early Warnings for All Action Plan launches

Several speakers, including Guterres, used their speeches to argue that early warning systems must form part of climate adaptation efforts, alerting populations to oncoming extreme weather events made more likely by changing global weather patterns and increasing temperatures.

The UN has launched a new action plan with an overarching aim of ensuring that all populations are covered by early warning systems. It calls for governments to invest $3.1bn in the systems between 2023 and 2027 – equivalent to just 50c per person, per year.

“Three times more people are displaced by climate disasters than war. Half of humanity is already in the danger zone,” said Guterres. Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President, emphasised that 60% of Africa in terms of population is not yet covered by early warning systems.

Click here to read the rest of edie’s COP27-related coverage.

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