This year the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) hosted the 27th the Conference of Parties (COP27), and delegates from around the world descended onto Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, a small city located at the southernmost point of the Sinai Peninsula with intentions of advancing a broad range of climate solutions. Because COP27 was hosted in Egypt, many believed this was an opportunity to elevate climate issues important to African nations and the global South, like adaptation and finance. There were many plans and pledges made last year at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, so the expectation this year was all about implementation. Sameh Shoukry, the President of COP27, even coined this year the “Implementation COP.” Yet, there are many ambivalent opinions about whether or not the conference lived up to its ambitions of implementation.
After reflecting on my experience at Week 1 of COP27, I find myself feeling a mix of emotions about the status of the international climate agenda, the negotiation process, and which voices are included in writing and negotiating the official text/outcomes. I’m simultaneously energized by the radical work of climate justice advocates but also disheartened by the greenwashing that impede progress toward meaningful, just climate policy on the timeline necessary to avoid worsening climate impacts.
My reactions to COP27 are a reflection of the major outcomes. The establishment of a loss and damage fund was a long overdue achievement that seeks to reckon with who is responsible for paying for climate harms. Flooding in Pakistan and Nigeria this year underscored the need for a loss and damage fund as climate impacts continue to disproportionately impact countries in the global South, who’ve contributed the least to the climate crisis. Small island developing states (SIDS) have been advocating for this issue since the 1990s, and the formation of this fund is in no small part the result of their persistent advocacy and leadership within the G77. The success of loss and damage is contrasted by stagnated progress on the phase out of fossil fuels. Parties agreed last year in Glasgow to accelerate toward a phasedown of unabated fossil fuels (specifically coal), and there were hopes that at the “Implementation COP” further measures would be agreed upon to phase out fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the COP27 text only reiterated the COP26 decision and failed to broaden it to encompass oil and gas. Without strong efforts to reduce emissions, the need for loss and damage will only strengthen.
The establishment of the loss and damage fund was a direct result of not only SIDS and developing nations, but also civil society organizations and climate justice advocates from around the world. The energy that the youth, Indigenous, and feminist climate activists brought to the conference re-energized my passion for climate justice work. I attended the Feminist Action for Climate Justice event put on by the Women & Gender Constituency, Women Environment and Development Organization and the Global Marshall Plan Foundation. It was the final event I attended at COP27, and it was by far the most empowering. Zukiswa White, a young feminist activist from South Africa, moderated the event, and when asked how to deliver climate justice to African women, she passionately replied. She said that climate justice means approaching climate work with the understanding that African women are vulnerable as a result of colonialism, capitalism, and extraction. Dominant narratives around climate solutions don’t start with this premise. Therefore, climate policies and solutions are fundamentally unable to ensure land and food sovereignty, housing, health care, self-determination, or climate justice for African women. This was just one example of an activist I encountered at COP whose passion, strength, and grace made a lasting impact on me and empowered me to continue the movement to advance gender justice and climate justice.
The movement, however, is met with strong opposition. Those who prefer the status quo, specifically the fossil fuel industry, seek to influence the international climate agenda to fit their own agenda. Weak commitments on emissions reductions at COP27 are due in part to the 636 delegates from the fossil fuel industry, the most of any previous COP. For further perspective, there were fourteen Pacific Island nations represented at COP who sent a combined 502 delegates. It’s ironic that at the biggest international climate conference, the industry that is directly responsible for climate change has a larger influence than Pacific SIDS whose mere existence is threatened by climate impacts. Unsurprisingly, the solutions the fossil fuel industry is backing, including blue hydrogen and carbon capture, only lock in more fossil fuel production. These “false solutions” don’t address the fundamental problem of the climate crisis: fossil fuel emissions.
With all of this being said, it’s clear there is still a long way to go. COPs are just a small piece of the work that needs to be done to address the climate crisis. Much of the real work happens outside of COP within countries and communities. However, COPs do provide opportunities outside of the negotiations to connect with climate advocates and youth from around the world working in the climate justice space. While I found myself inspired by the energy of civil society and activists, large gaps remain between the demands of these groups and what is actually written in the official COP texts. Bridging this gap is a challenge that future COPs must address if they seek to fulfill their implementation ambitions.