/ 18 November 2022

Last push for consensus as COP27 draws to a close

Egyptian Foreign Minister Samih Shukri makes a speech as part of the UN climate summit COP27 held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on November 18, 2022. (Photo by Mohamed Abdel Hamid/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference called the implementation conference, came to a close on Friday, showing signs of regression, according to early reactions to the draft decision. 

Hopes were pinned on reaching consensus on Friday evening even though history has shown otherwise. Despite two weeks of meetings in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, and mid-year preliminary negotiations in June, the draft decision was considered “raw” on Friday morning. 

“It’s hard to see progress from these talks. The developed world is blocking a loss and damage fund. There’s no progress on the Global Goal on Adaptation. We’re backsliding from the Glasgow decision on fossil fuels,” said Mohamed Adow at Powershift Africa. 

A flashback in time 

The last time the world convened in Africa to collectively take action on alarming warming trends across the planet, COP was hosted in Durban in 2011. The huddle that then foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane convened between three women on a Sunday morning saved the deal through a sleek compromise on wording — the fine prints that have kept climate action locked in intense negotiations for three decades.

That COP was a make or break over the extent to which any global deal on climate change would be legally binding and what form a new treaty proposed by the European Union would take. Finance was a big bargaining tool in the years that followed the Durban Declaration, which gave rise to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). It was the first finance mechanism to support developing countries with climate action. 

South Africa’s lead negotiator, Alf Wills, described the ambiguity in the final text as a necessary move to ensure agreement among divergent parties. For example, India and China fiercely protected the interest of developing nations by going against signing off on a vague legally binding deal pushed by the EU. 

COP26 in Glasgow last year and COP27 wrapping up in Egypt are no different. The Glasgow Pact agreed on in Scotland was the product of another last-minute huddle in which developed nations (EU countries and the US) ensured that all fossil fuels were not included in the text. In contrast, India and China ensured that coal was not singled out for phasing out at the expense of developing nation economies. 

Within a matter of hours, the world was left with a watered-down agreement that went from “to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” to “unabated coal power”, such as those without carbon capture, and “inefficient subsidies”. As the conference drew to a close, the text changed at the eleventh hour to “phasing down unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. 

COP26 president Alok Sharma closed the conference by expressing how “deeply sorry” he was for the final outcome. This time India is again pushing for the inclusion of all fossil fuels in the final outcome, a move that will include oil and gas and not only coal which largely affects countries such as India and South Africa. 

Thando Lukuko, of Climate Action Network South Africa, said: “I think this COP [27] has had several firsts that we haven’t seen in others. There was a serious threat to non-state actor participation and a very strong security presence generally in and out of the conference location. While there were no incidents against civil society groups, it certainly pushed the envelope on some infringements like the right to demonstrate.

“I think the only thing that can repair trust is support or implementation. That means finance, in part, to achieve our climate commitments. These goals without financial flows to realise them are hollow.” 

A final stretch 

On Thursday, COP27 president Sameh Shoukry released a public update on the negotiations before a draft cover text was released on early Friday morning. Civil society groups took to social media to lament the fact that the current text was weaker than that of COP26. 

Shoukry stressed that the main objective was to “adopt consensus decisions and conclusions on Friday that will constitute the comprehensive, ambitious, and balanced outcome of the Sharm El-Sheikh conference”. 

During a noon update on Friday he expressed confidence that a final decision would be reached by Saturday morning, pleading for negotiators to shift into a new gear. 

Bilateral consultations led by various country ministers were ongoing in bilateral, closed-door meetings to achieve positive outcomes which included: 

  • A new adaptation goal to deal with the unavoidable effects of existing climate damage;
  • Rules for a carbon market under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement;
  • A new Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance; and
  • Financing for Loss and Damage.

Other pressing issues on the table have included Africa’s request for the COP to recognise its “special needs and special circumstances” and the main goal, which is to limit global warming to 1.5°C. 

Shoukry has bemoaned the slow progress in the negotiations, which was echoed by UN chief Antonio Gutteres who, on Thursday night, stressed that trust was eroding between the globe’s North and South. 

“This is no time for finger-pointing. The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction,” Gutteres said. 

Loss and damage

On Friday, delegates will also mull over another three proposals to fund climate damage-induced loss and damage in developing countries. This includes an EU proposal for a broad-based donor fund. This is progress from the radio silence on concrete finance for losses and damages from the North but is likely to see fierce opposition from India and China because the proposal indicates that all countries, irrespective of their role in the climate change crisis, must give money towards such a fund. 

But the G77 and China (a negotiating bloc at COP) are hoping for a fund under the United Framework Convention on Climate Change to support rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction. They hope this fund will address non-economic and economic losses and damages associated with the adverse effects of climate change which includes slow onset events like prolonged droughts, land degradation and sea level rise; as well as extreme weather events. 

“I’m fully aware of the national circumstances and positions, but I’m also very much aware of your willingness to be flexible and your sincere commitment towards reaching agreement,” Shoukry said at a noon briefing on Friday. 

“Let me now set out how I see the next 24 hours unfolding. I will now take ownership of all outstanding work and I will look at the outcomes in their entirety. I remain concerned about the number of outstanding issues including finance for mitigation adaptation, loss and damage and their interlinkages. I call upon parties to work together to resolve these outstanding issues swiftly.”

He added: “The global community is looking to us to be bold and ambitious. And it is in your hands as heads of delegation and negotiators to push for ambitious outcomes on all elements of the consideration … what we do here impacts real people impacts real lives.” 

Not enough progress

Powershift Africa’s Adow, told a media briefing that Africa expected justice and ambition from COP27. 

“I’m sorry to let you know that the question of fossil fuel phase out there is no actual progress from last year. So we have had a decision in Glasgow that explicitly called for the phase down of all unabated coal and inefficient subsidies. What we are looking for in Sharma was a decision that calls for the phase out of all fossil fuels,” he said. 

“Rather than actually getting progress allows us to actually move beyond coal, oil and gas, we actually seem to be backsliding.”

He stressed that in its current form, the EU’s proposal for a broad loss and damage fund would exclude a country like Pakistan, which suffered the worst effects of flooding this year. 

The next few hours are critical for Africa and other developing nations at the forefront of the climate disaster. The outcome of COP27 is expected to have wide-reaching implications for the goals of the legally binding 2015 Paris Agreement to keep warming to levels that will leave future generations with an inhabitable planet.