Your one-stop COP shop
This weekend, the climate world will turn its attention to a small seaside town in Egypt. COP27, the United Nations' annual climate conference, kicks off Sunday. Countries will spend the next two weeks talking about their plans to cut back on planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
My colleague John Woodside compares these conferences to "commuting through a busy train station" — thousands of people in a crowded hall heading this way and that, rushing from one event to the next. It's not just government officials who make the trip to the world's biggest climate conference, either: climate advocates and industry representatives "turn up in huge numbers to influence their governments one way or the other," John says.
"For that reason, COPs are a strange mix of high-level diplomacy, protests and information sessions, all with a trade-show vibe in the background."
Over the next two weeks, John will be on the ground following those negotiations closely for Canada’s National Observer. I caught up with him earlier this week to ask about what this year's conference will be like, which issues are up for debate and why Canadians should care about what goes on in the faraway negotiating rooms of COP27.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
Have a great weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
What to watch for at COP27
There have been a couple bright spots in the leadup to COP27: Brazil just elected a president who has vowed to stop deforestation in the Amazon. The United States is investing nearly US$370 billion into its transition away from fossil fuels through the Inflation Reduction Act, putting pressure on countries like Canada to follow suit. And the European Union is urging its members to develop a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty after Vanuatu put the idea in front of the United Nations General Assembly earlier this fall.
But if last year’s conference in Glasgow was tense — thanks to COVID restrictions, vaccine inequality and long-simmering frustrations over climate finance — this year’s negotiations will be even more so. Between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s energy crunch, soaring inflation and sky-high gas prices, COP27 seems poised to collide with a geopolitical hurricane that could cause countries to backslide on their climate goals.
Here are the top three issues we'll be following at COP27:
The $100-billion promise. More than a decade ago, rich countries made a pledge to help developing nations adapt to climate change and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020, they vowed, they would send US$100 billion a year to vulnerable countries. Two years past the due date, rich countries are still behind schedule, and Canada is one of the nations responsible for helping them get back on track. Alongside Germany, the federal government released a progress report last week detailing their plans to make more money readily available to developing nations and get the private sector on board.
“Climate finance is the major negotiating point at COP27 because it's become a bottleneck for countries negotiating other things,” John explains. Because rich countries have so far failed to deliver on their $100-billion promise, “trust is broken, and some countries (like India last year, for example) do not want to increase their own climate ambition without the money being provided. After all, those countries are least responsible for historic emissions but will feel the full force of the crisis.”
Who’s going to pay for loss and damage? Sometimes called climate reparations, loss and damage “has been a sticking point for many years,” John says. Vulnerable countries impacted by climate disasters are calling for compensation from their wealthier — and often more polluting — counterparts. Many of the nations most affected by a changing climate have done the least to cause it, and once disaster strikes, it can take months or even years for communities to pick up the pieces … if they ever do. Take Pakistan, for example, where at least 33 million people have been directly affected by recent flooding. Officials estimate the rising waters that swept through the country earlier this year have caused more than $40 billion in damage.
However, rich countries are reluctant to get on board with the idea, John explains, “because they don't want anything that could hold them liable for damages they've caused by burning fossil fuels.”
On this front, the EU has shown some support for discussing the matter. Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault — who’s heading up Canada’s COP27 delegation — could also play a part in moving the needle. He told Canada's National Observer in May that he was exploring how to get past the question of liability that has rich countries so concerned.
Making good on Glasgow. Last year’s climate conference was big on promises — tackle deforestation, stop funding unabated fossil fuel projects abroad, slash emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas — but action is what counts. Convincing countries to step up their ambition and follow through on climate commitments will be a big part of this year’s conference, John tells me.
“These conferences are always about scaling up action and ambition because there is no way to move too fast on saving the planet. But when you drill down into the commitments countries made last year, we see that there's a gap between rhetoric and action,” he says. “Closing that gap is a major issue this year. Paper progress is no good for anyone.”
More on COP27
More CNO reads
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There was no glut of cash for carbon capture in Canada’s fiscal update. Ottawa put forward some money for the technology, but nothing close to what the U.S. government is offering, Natasha Bulowski reports. Also in the update: Contracts for difference.
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