/ 29 August 2022

COP27 is a major opportunity for countries to deal with climate challenges

Patchy: Arctic ice cannot form properly under global warming conditions, with knock-on effects worldwide. Photo: Polar Bears International/AFP

COP26 held in Glasgow, Scotland, last year was a tense affair. Some of the critical themes were loss and damage as a result of a changing climate, access to climate finance and widespread climate action. 

Developing countries and vulnerable communities were keen to see real action from major economies and polluters. We cannot keep having the same conversations without employing new and creative solutions to the challenges we face. We have to change the way we speak and the people we influence. We have to find new and increasingly accelerated pathways to our goals.

The initial conversations surrounding promised climate funding for developing nations to build resilience and adapt to climate change were charged, with $20-billion in funding not having materialised. 

At a pre-COP event, the head of the United Nations Development Programme Achim Steiner told the BBC, “Isn’t it ridiculous, that in the midst of a trillion-dollar emergency response economy, that we’re seeing right now, we are haggling over a $20-billion price tag to essentially unleash hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions of dollars, of developing country investments. Time is running out and we can’t find a way in which we can finance this. It’s just not acceptable.” 

Steiner’s position was echoed by Barbadian prime minister Mia Mottley in her opening speech at the summit, during which she highlighted that the communities living on the front lines of climate change are watching and would remember the decisions taken at COP26. 

The summit itself received mixed reviews. Negotiators fought to find common ground, and several multilateral agreements were signed, headlined by South Africa’s “Just Energy Transition Partnership” with the US, Britain, France, Germany and the EU. The programme set out an $8.5-billion funding agreement that would rapidly roll back South Africa’s coal-fired power plants and help them meet their carbon-reduction targets. 

This partnership, along with the acknowledgement of the effects of fossil fuels on the environment in the final declaration, were hailed as the two major happenings of the event.

Climate finance, loss and damage and more direct climate action did not progress as many had hoped, leaving many activists angry at the lack of support being made available to vulnerable communities. Delegates and negotiators called for patience and pointed to COP27 as the next major summit at which a solution to these long-standing problems could be found. In the meantime, developing countries continue to deal with severe weather events and environmental problems. This year there is a chance to address these in Egypt.

International accountability for vulnerable communities 

Where gaps in financing and support have been identified, many communities are turning to innovative local solutions to build a resilient, sustainable future. An example of this is The Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator, which helps island nations respond to the climate crisis. There are also a number of projects all over the continent where communities are harvesting rainwater or coming up with innovative energy solutions, for example

Developing local technology and policy is a key to adapting to climate impacts but funding is critical to growing solutions. Investment from the public sector, considering vulnerability and the myriad competing priorities, compound existing challenges and the injustice of climate change in developing countries where the cost of adaptation is difficult to juggle with other infrastructure and societal needs. 

Private finance can fill the commercial funding gap but far more philanthropy and bilateral grant funding is needed from larger nations which are responsible for, and have grown wealthy from, the carbon in our atmosphere. We need to unleash all of the solutions in our toolkits, including parametric insurance, carbon credits, impact investment and private sector innovation. 

In addition to stronger climate action to maintain a maximum of 1.5°C warming by 2100, decisions need to be made on loss and damage and on concessionary and grant funding. The accountability of major nations also needs to be addressed. As climate activist Vanessa Nakate explains, “[UK COP26 President] Alok Sharma is demanding that low-income countries, who have done relatively little to create the climate crisis, raise their levels of climate action ambition.Yet, [the UK] is expanding a coal mine in Wales and is giving a green light to a new oil and gas field in the North Sea – and considering six more fossil fuel developments.” 

Nakate points to the EU’s recent designation of natural gas as a sustainable energy source, as well as foreign-owned fossil fuel projects across Africa, as examples of counterproductive climate actions. 

“These infrastructure projects will, at some point, become stranded assets. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline will only land Africans with more debt on top of the debt. African nations are already struggling to pay rich nations at crippling interest rates.” 

This adds weight to Steiner’s question prior to COP26 – how can global powers continue to drag their feet on meeting their climate policy goals when funding is made readily available, and policy changed rapidly, if it benefits vested interests?

COP27 must provide answers

This year’s climate summit, being held in Sharm El-Sheik in November, provides an opportunity for decision-makers, non-state actors and activists from vulnerable communities to problem solve from a different perspective. Last year’s summit in Glasgow was marred by accessibility issues due to Covid travel restrictions and the usual barriers of entry that limit or discourage the involvement of smaller nations. Egypt, itself no stranger to climate pressures, has long been a gateway between Africa, the Middle East and Europe, therefore, positioning it uniquely to host the summit. 

Accessibility might continue to be an issue for some delegations but having a global climate summit held on a continent with strong grassroots and indigenous activists calling for climate action will hopefully mean more representation from vulnerable communities and more unique perspectives from indigenous communities. COP27 must provide creative solutions to core issues – and it must be a platform for those of us on the front lines of climate change. Together our voices are stronger.

Racquel Moses is the UNFramework Convention on Climate Change global ambassador and chief executive of the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.