From loss and damage debates to clampdowns on greenwashing: 13 key takeaways from the first week of COP27

Image credits clockwise: from top left: UN Climate Change - Kiara Worth, Mia Mottley, Raul De Lima, Antonio Guterres

Taking place in Sharm-El-Sheikh this November COP27 is a major event in the diary for anyone in the sustainability space. It began last Sunday (6 November) and the real action got started a day later. World leaders from more than 170 nations have been on the ground, alongside tens of thousands of other attendees including ministers, diplomats, negotiators, reporters, businesses, city leaders, activists and civil society groups.

At COP26 in Glasgow last year, nations collectively agreed to update their Paris Agreement commitments within 12 months and signed a new text, the Glasgow Climate Pact – the first from any COP to explicitly mention fossil fuels.

Much has changed since then. Many world leaders have noted that the energy price crisis, largely attributable to Russia’s war in Ukraine, is an opportunity yo lean in to the energy transition and to push for peace. Others are using the occasion to attempt to water down international agreeements. And, as the main negotiations continue, there have been all manner of side events hosted in Sharm and several key new international declarations singned.

Here, the edie editorial team rounds up 13 key COP27 developments we have covered this week.

1) Loss and damage is formally on the agenda, and proving to be a key sticking point

Sunday (6 November) saw national delegations agree on the broad agenda for negotiations despite debates running over by several hours. In a first, loss and damage – compensating low-income, low-emission nations and regions for climate damage impacts – was formally placed on the broad agenda.

The topic was a key sticking point in Glasgow and is likely to be so once more this year. Nations including the US and UK, alongside the EU, remain opposed to creating a loss and damage finance mechanism this year and want interim talks to keep going into 2024, as was agreed in 2022. You can read our explainer on the topic here to recap on loss and damage talks so far at COP27 and in previous years.

2) Bold speeches were given by Antonio Guterres and Mia Mottley, but Rishi Sunak’s was called out as ‘lacklustre’

As usual, the first two full days of the COP agenda were dedicated to the World Leaders Summit. This does what it says on the tin – leaders from all participating nations are invited to give an opening address, following an overall opening with selected speeches.

Among those fronting up the speaker agenda were Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who both gave typically bold speeches.

Guterres said that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator” and urged world leaders to “cooperate or perish”. He urged the US and China, the two largest emitting nations, to restart collaborative climate talks in particular.

Mia Mottley called out a lack of political will for transformative change. She said she “takes no pride” in having to repeatedly stress the importance of capping the global temperature increase at 1.5C to people who will not make necessary change.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also attended despite initially turning down his invitation. Some believe his hand was forced by the fact that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson chose to attend. His speech was swiftly criticised by environmental campaign groups as sanitised and lacklustre. Read edie’s full roundup of World Leaders Summit speeches here.

3) Damning Global Carbon Budget report launched as emissions ‘stocktake’ goes live

After the UN stated last month that the world is on track for a 2.5C temperature increase by 2100 if national climate pledges are delivered in full, another eye-opening report was published on Friday (11 November) by the Global Carbon Budget initiative.

The report warns that the window to ‘keep 1.5C alive’ is rapidly closing and that emissions cuts this decade will likely need to be much deeper than previously thought if this temperature pathway is to be adhered to. The headline message is that there’s a 50/50 chance that the global temperature increase will breach the 1.5C threshold by 2030.

Also launched this week was the world’s largest stocktake of emissions including facility-level data from more than 72,000 locations. Called Climate TRACE, the inventory combines information from satellites and sensors with disclosures from companies and governments. It has revealed that the majority of oil and gas companies are “significantly” under-reporting their emissions, largely due to poor tracking of leaks and flaring.

4) Governments pledge to protect four billion people from climate risks

Day two of the World Leaders Summit on Tuesday (8 November) marked a momentous occasion as the Egypt COP27 Presidency has launched the Sharm-El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda in partnership with the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, and the Marrakech Partnership.

The Agenda is a comprehensive global to-do list to help improve the resiliency of more than four billion people against climate-related risks. It outlines 30 “Adaptation Outcomes” to help protect those living in the most climate-vulnerable communities by 2030.

Actions are divided across five “impact systems” that include food and agriculture, water and nature, coastal and oceans, human settlements, and infrastructure, and including enabling solutions for planning and finance. Read the full story here.

After the Agenda launched, the Race to Resilience campaign for non-state actors went to publish a series of updates, including a new workstream to engage the insurance sector.

5) Early Warnings for All Action Plan unveiled

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.

6) Major new resources launched to help improve net-zero credibility

As COP27 began, the UN stated that major focus should be given to the need to ensure that net-zero targets set by nations and non-state actors alike are credible. Research, including that of Net Zero Tracker and Carbon Action Tracker, has repeatedly shown that many top-level, long-term commitments to net-zero are not backed with science-based interim goals or with solid definitions of what they entail.

The High Level Expert Group on Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities this week published a new set of recommendations on setting short, mid and long-term commitments. These include prioritising deep emissions reductions, in line with science, over offsetting, and ensuring that any offsets which are used are robust.

Then, on Friday, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) published a net-zero ‘Guidelines’ paper. The paper is intended to be a “single core reference text” for any organisation wishing to credibly use terminology relating to net-zero emissions and create meaningful targets. It is available for free.

Elsewhere, the UK’s Transition Plan Taskforce has published its first proposals for guidelines on what corporate net-zero transition plans should include in order for them to be classed as ‘gold standard’. Large firms in high-emission sectors in the UK will be mandated to produce such plans in the coming months and some have already produced them voluntarily.

7) Nations and corporates make sweeping new cleantech pledges

Decarbonisation, a key part of climate mitigation, was the Presidency’s theme for proceedings on Friday. The first major announcement of the day came from the Breakthrough Agenda – an international collaboration launched at COP26 with the hopes of bringing cleantech prices down sharply this decade.

The Agenda confirmed that Cambodia and Austria are now participants, meaning that the initiative covers more than half of global annual emissions and GDP. It also set out 25 new priority action areas for work in the coming 12 months. These include clarifying plans for ending the sale of petrol and diesel light vehicles, preparing to deploy hydrogen valleys and laying the groundwork for net-zero industrial plants and clusters. Read our full story here.

In the private sector, the First Movers Coalition announced 10 new corporate members and confirmed that its members have now collectively made more than $12bn commitments to invest in cleantech. New members include General Motors, PepsiCo and Rio Tinto.

The Coalition also launched a new sector-specific workstream on cement and concrete, whose value chains are responsible for 8% of annual global emissions. Other sectors already covered are steel, aluminum, aviation, shipping, trucking and carbon removal.

8) Sri Lanka sets 2050 carbon neutrality goal

Last year, the big national climate pledge came from India, which set a 2070 net-zero ambition and several shorter-term, sector-specific decarbonisation targets.

This year, the showstopper was Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who on Tuesday launched his country’s ‘Climate Prosperity Plan’.

Spearheaded by a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050, the plan is expected to deliver an economic growth rate that is 1% per year higher, resulting in GDP that is 34% higher by 2050. Overall, it aims to mobilise $26bn in near-term project investments, including a 5GW wind programme.

Sri Lanka will increase renewable energy generation from 35% currently to 70% today, with pledges for transport, forestry, eco-tourism and water all being introduced. The plan has been submitted to the UNFCCC as the country’s long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement, though the Nationally Determined Contributions.

9) New carbon markets initiatives confirmed by African nations and the US

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry marked Finance Day at COP27 (Wednesday 9 November) by launching a new Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA) in a bid to finance the decommissioning of coal and accelerate clean energy deployment in developing countries.

The ETA is a joint initiative from the US Federal Government, Rockefeller Foundation and Bezos Earth Fund, which will work to invest in schemes that create carbon credits. Green groups were quick to say that important details are missing at this stage, including credit prices and whether the credits will be used by corporates to avoid the hard work on deep emissions reduction. Read edie’s full ETA story here.

Also this week, the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP), Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, with the support of the UN Climate Change High Level Champions, launched the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI).

The ACMI has a bold ambition to create a thriving carbon market for the continent, that would see 300 million high-quality credits produced annually by 2030, unlocking $6bn in income and supporting 30 million jobs. By 2050, this would grow to 1.5 billion credits produced annually in Africa, leveraging over $120bn and supporting over 110 million jobs. The ACMI will work on improving standards and credibility as well as simply growing the market rapidly.

10) Net-zero finance alliances post progress updates but keep being accused of greenwashing

COP26’s finance day was a highlight on the agenda, with the UK announcing its ambition to become the world’s first net-zero financial centre and the formal launch of the Glasgow Financial Alliance on Net-Zero (GFANZ) launching with backers representing $130trn.

The affair was a little more subdued this year but still an important day. Developing nations repeatedly made clear their demands for more climate finance and for a better balance of allocations to adaptation.

In the private sector, collaborations on net-zero, collectively representing more than $32trn of assets, announced new members and posted progress updates. Read edie’s roundup of the updates here, including:

  • The $21.8trn Net-Zero Asset Managers Initiative (NZAM)
  • The $3.3trn Paris-Aligned Asset Owners Initiative (PAAO)
  • The $10.9trn Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance (NZAOA)
  • The Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA)

ShareAction argued earlier this week that many banks participating in the NZBA are making decisions which will undermine their targets and called for members to close loopholes in target-setting. For example, many members have targets covering some high-emission sectors but not others.

A report from ShareAction states that while 80% of NZBA members have at least one sector-specific target, just 16% of NZBA members have set interim targets that cover financed emissions in all sectors.

GFANZ, similarly, faced pressure to improve its net-zero guidance and to bring forward stricter measures to stop members from bankrolling companies linked to deforestation.

11) We had our first agriculture-themed day at a COP 

The middle Saturday of a COP is never a day off and is usually a highlight in the calendar for attendees. By this point, the negotiating cover texts are usually takins shape. There is also usually a major climate march, protest or other demonstration in the host city on this day. Due to concerns over policing in Egypt and the nation’s reported clampdown on protests in the run-up to COP27, this year’s protest took place inside the Blue Zone itself.

This year, another notable facet of the middle Saturday (12 November) is the presidency’s chosen theme – adaptation and agriculture. Adaptation usually gets a themed shout-out on the agenda, but agriculture never has. This has disappointed many green groups, who highlight that food systems are currently a key driver of nature loss and contributor to emissions – but can be changed to act as solutions, and, indeed, will need to be if we are to meet climate and nature goals while feeding a growing global population and tackling nutrition-related public health issues.

The Egyptian government honoured the theme by launching ‘Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation’ (FAST) –  a new initiative aimed at increasing climate finance flows to farmers and joining-up knowledge-sharing and policymaking efforts for sustainable food systems. Nations are being encouraged to sign up and the UK, as host of COP26, has already given its backing.

The other big news was a doubling of the funding commitment of the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate from $4bn to $8bn. The scheme is spearheaded by the US and UAE and, with funding from other nations and the private sector, is investing to scale innovative technologies and processes through to 2025.

12) Businesses made their voices heard 

Also on Saturday, the We Mean Business Coalition issued a declaration on behalf of hundreds of businesses, with the help of some famous faces including former President or Ireland and current chair of the Elders Mary Robinson.

The declaration tells delegates at COP27 that 1.5C is “a limit not a target”, and that negotiators should work with the private sector to avert the worse of the climate crisis. Not enough progress has been made since the commitments of COP26, the businesses note.

13) Logistical challenges plagued the conference centre

The edie team aren’t on the ground in Egypt, but we’ve heard from multiple people and organisations who are that the week got off to a bumpy start in terms of the logistics of the conference. On Sunday, people reported queuing for long periods in 29C heat with no shade or water.

Once the World Leaders Summit got underway and crowds swelled, it did not go unnoticed that not all temporary installations at the venue had been completed and that many coffee machines and food and beverage stalls remained closed. Conference organisers moved on Thursday to offer attendees discounted food and free water and fizzy drinks to make up for the inconcenience.

While it’s now been rectified, there was also a raw sewage leakage near to the conference centre. Delegates described a “river” of sewage running down the main road and forming puddles near bus and taxi stands. Fingers crossed that it’s smoother sailing for week two.

Click here to access all of edie’s COP27 content.

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