A historic Cop27 deal to address the devastating effects of the climate crisis is an important step forward, but the failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions means “our planet is still in the emergency room”, the UN secretary general has warned.
A deal was reached in the early hours of Sunday morning in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to establish a fund to compensate vulnerable countries for the irreparable climate damage they have suffered, in a major breakthrough for nations that are experiencing the most serious effects of the climate emergency.
But on the crucial issue of limiting global heating in an effort to avoid the most catastrophic consequences that could result, many feel that the “Sharm” pact is fundamentally lacking.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said that the conference had made progess, “but let’s be clear: our planet is still in the emergency room”.
“We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this Cop did not address,” he said. “A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map, or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.”
His comments were echoed by prime minister Rishi Sunak, who said “more must be done” to tackle the climate crisis, while Cop26 president Alok Sharma described the target to limit global heating to 1.5C by the end of the century as being on “life support”.
And while he marvelled at the way in which loss and damage funding had come to the fore at the end of this year’s summit, Sir David King, the UK’s former special envoy on climate change, said the destruction will simply increase “unless we can give up on our dependence on fossil fuels”.
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband also expressed “deep concern” that the world was “not going fast enough” to keep the 1.5C target alive.
The final Cop27 agreement failed to include a call to phase down – or phase out – the use of fossil fuels, which are the chief cause of global heating. That’s despite a well-supported call from India for coal not to be “singled out” in the Cop27 agreement, and for the language instead to be broadened to include all fossil fuels.
Instead, the text repeats the language of the Glasgow Climate Pact, calling on countries to accelerate efforts towards the “phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, thus failing to build on its ambition.
There is also no reference to the need for emissions to peak in 2025 if the world wants to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C by the end of the century, as per the latest science.
There is “no sense of urgency, no sense of crisis management”, Sir David said of the reference in the text to cutting emissions. He described the step forward on loss and damage, in the absence of progress on emissions reduction, as “contradictory”.
He pointed to studies that have found that current climate policies put the world on track for a temperature increase of close to 3C by the end of the century. “That is not a liveable planet,” he added. “We’re bowing down to the fossil fuel lobby.”
In a short statement, Mr Sunak said he welcomed the progress made at Cop27, but added that “there can be no time for complacency”. “Keeping the 1.5C commitment alive is vital to the future of our planet. More must be done,” he said.
The language calling on countries to revise upwards their ambition to cut emissions was also criticised for not being strong enough. Last year’s Glasgow agreement requested that countries strengthen their 2030 emissions reduction plans by the end of 2022 – but so far only a limited number have done so.
And while the commitment to keep the 1.5C target alive was reaffirmed in the text, many took the view that not enough action is being undertaken to make this happen, despite Cop27 being billed the “implementation” summit.
“The Egyptian presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil fuel industries,” said Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. The Independent has contacted the Cop27 presidency for comment.
US climate envoy John Kerry was optimistic that the Sharm el-Sheikh summit had “kept the hope of 1.5C alive”, but he said that all major economies must align their 2030 targets with 1.5C and fulfil those targets by halting the construction of new coal-powered facilities, deploying clean energy, and slashing methane emissions.
For those suffering the brunt of the extreme weather and rising sea levels caused by a heating planet, the significance of the breakthrough on the contentious issue of loss and damage should not be underestimated. Vulnerable nations and communities have been calling for compensation for decades, and this year was the first time the issue had made it onto the official Cop agenda.
Mohamed Adow, the executive director of Power Shift Africa, a group that mobilises climate action on the African continent, echoed the “Three Lions” England football song in his jubilation.
“After 30 years of hurt, climate action is finally coming home on African soil here in Egypt,” he said in a statement. “We are making history.”
Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari described the progress on loss and damage as a “monumental achievement for climate justice”.
There were some other bright spots in the text, too. Among them were calls to reform multilateral development banks and other financial institutions, which lend money to help countries recover from climate-fuelled natural disasters but currently do so on inequitable terms for developing nations.
“This Cop caused deep frustrations, but it wasn’t for nothing,” Ms Tubiana said.