COP27 opens with a rallying call for rich nations to pay up

The COP27 summit sees delegates from nearly 200 countries gather in Egypt’s Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks on how to address the climate crisis.

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Top officials kicked off proceedings at the UN’s flagship climate conference by urging wealthy countries to finally fix their broken $100 billion promise, while the hot-button issue of reparations was adopted onto the official agenda for the first time.

The COP27 summit, which formally opened on Sunday, sees delegates from nearly 200 countries gather in Egypt’s Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks on how to address the climate crisis.

Climate finance, as it has done since the first UN climate conference in 1995, will once again play a pivotal role.

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It follows a series of mind-bending extreme weather events worldwide. For instance, in just the last few months, one-third of Pakistan was completely submerged by historicing, Nigeria recorded its worst floods in a decade and China suffered its most intense and sustained heatwave on record.

“I fully recognize the scale of the challenge still in front of us,” Alok Sharma, a UK lawmaker and president of last year’s COP26, said Sunday as he addressed attendees at the UN-brokered talks.

“We are not currently on a pathway that keeps 1.5 in reach. And whilst I do understand that leaders around the world have faced competing priorities this year, we must be clear; as challenging as our current moment is, inaction is myopic and can only defer climate catastrophe,” Sharma said.

“We must find the ability to focus on more than one thing at once. How many more wake-up calls from world leaders actually need?”

“We must find the ability to focus on more than one thing at once. How many more wake-up calls from world leaders actually need?” Sharma said at the opening ceremony of COP27.

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The 1.5 degrees Celsius limit is the aspirational temperature threshold described in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. It is recognized as a crucial global target because beyond this level, so-called tipping points become more likely. These are thresholds at which small changes can lead to dramatic shifts in the Earth’s entire life support system.

“I will do everything in my power to support our Egyptian friends and the UK is here to reach ambitious outcomes across the agenda, including on mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage,” Sharma said on handing the COP presidency over to Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry.

“We know we have reached a point where finance makes or breaks the program of work that we have ahead of us,” he added. “So, whilst I would point to some of the progress shown on the $100 billion, I hear the criticisms and I agree that more must be done by governments and the multilateral development banks.”

Loss and damage on the agenda for the first time

Countries from the Global South will be looking for reassurance in Egypt that the $100 billion climate finance pledge by rich nations in 2009 to help low-income nations mitigate and adapt to the climate emergency is finally going to be met.

“The current mobilization of efforts raises many concerns,” Egypt’s Shoukry said Sunday, according to a translation.

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“The $100 billion a year pledge has not yet been implemented. Also, the financing currently available focuses on curbing emissions, not efforts — [and] most of the financing is based on loans,” he continued.

Low-income countries, already burdened with debt, have repeatedly called for a move to grant-based finance as opposed to more loans.

“I believe that you agree with me when I say that we don’t have the luxury of continuing in this way. We have to change our approach to this existential threat,” Shoukry added.

“I believe that you agree with me when I say that we do not have the luxury of continuing in this way. We have to change our approach to this existential threat,” Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry said.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The push for this $100 billion pledge to be fulfilled comes amid broader calls for rich countries to compensate vulnerable nations as it becomes harder for many people to live safely on a warming planet.

Climate reparations, sometimes referred to as “loss and damage” payments, are widely expected to dominate the COP27 talks. These payments refer to the destructive impacts of the climate crisis that countries cannot defend against because the risks are either unavoidable or they cannot afford it.

Indeed, for the first time ever, the topic of loss and damage finance formally made it onto the COP27 agenda. The issue was first raised by climate-vulnerable countries 30 years ago.

“We don’t want to be here, demanding finance for our loss and damage response,” a spokesperson said on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, a group of 39 small island and low-lying coastal developing nations largely from the Caribbean and South Pacific.

“We don’t want to be treated as though you are doing us a favor by adding an agenda item or creating a voluntary fund,” they added.

“AOSIS is here to agree to the establishment of a new Loss and Damage Response Fund at COP27 that is operational by 2024. We are here, so that we can go back to our own homes, and not become climate-displaced people in yours. “

UN sees three critical lines of action

Shoukry’s comments follow a flurry of chastening reports from the UN and World Meteorological Organization in recent days.

The UN Environment Program said late last month that there is “no credible pathway” in place to cap global heating at 1.5 degrees Celsius. A separate UN report warned the world is “nowhere near” hitting its targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions, with current plans estimated to see world temperatures rise by 2.5 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, the WMO said the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the Earth’s atmosphere hit record highs last year. These are the three greenhouse gases responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere and driving global heating.

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell on Sunday urgent climate envoys from around the globe to focus on three critical lines of action at COP27. He also doubled down on the need for high-income nations to financially support countries on the frontline of the climate emergency.

“First, we must demonstrate this transformational shift to implementation,” Stiell said. “Every corner of human activity must align with our Paris agreement of pursuing efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”

“The second line of action, we must cement progress on these critical workstreams: Mitigation, adaptation, finance and – crucially – loss and damage,” Stiell said.

“Finally, a third line of action, we must enhance the delivery of the principles of transparency and accountability throughout the process.”

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