Frustration is mounting among climate campaigners at Cop27 over the “empty words and promises” of global leaders to take real action to curb fossil-fuel pollution and make binding financial commitments on compensation for the most vulnerable.
“Loss and damage” reparations for countries hit hardest by the crisis were front and centre at the global climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. But while many of the world’s top carbon-emitting countries have agreed to discuss the issue for the first time, few made financial commitments as the first week drew to a close.
Activists say momentum at the so-called “implementation” Cop has been low, leaving developing countries sceptical about what the final “Sharm” pact, where countries commit to further action, will include.
It comes as President Joe Biden touched down in the Red Sea resort on Friday for a few hours on his way to the G20 summit in Indonesia. During his speech, the US leader was heckled by protesters for calling America a “world leader” on climate action.
Mr Biden promised that the US will meet its emissions-reduction target by 2030 and play its part in averting the “highway to climate hell” that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of earlier this week.
The US government was “putting our money where our mouth is”, the president added. He highlighted the new Inflation Reduction Act and said that it would “change the paradigm”.
“Folks, we’re proving a good climate policy is a good economic policy,” he told the conference. “A strong foundation for durable, inclusive and resilient economic growth is driving progress in the private sector, is driving progress around the world.”
But while Mr Biden came to Egypt fresh from better-than-expected results at the US midterms and to laud domestic climate action, events at Cop27 had overtaken him with loss and damage in the spotlight.
Climate activists and leading voices from the Global South said that the pledges from rich countries were not enough.
Theresa Rose Sebastian, a climate and social justice activist from India and Ireland, told The Independent: “My hopes are stagnant [for an agreement]. Because the world leaders aren’t listening to the frontline communities, they weren’t even present for the speeches.
“Biden himself missed the speeches of island countries of Tuvalu and Vanuatu who are watching their islands disappear. The bigger countries are still looking at the loss and damage part of this conference as charity when it should be historic responsibility for the emissions produced and it should not be led by just moral responsibility but legal liability.”
Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a Filipino climate activist who organised the Fridays for Future protest at Cop27 on Friday, said so far, the summit had lacked the “drastic action” and change needed to solve the climate crisis.
She said: “It’s the end of the first week yet it feels like nothing has happened. Only empty words and promises and world leaders getting more creative with the way they lie to us. There’s been some loss and damage finance, but not enough and still no finance facility.
“We’re not seeing any progress on the drastic emission cuts that we desperately need and still nothing on phasing out fossil fuels. The world leaders have a week left to get on track and ensure we’re closer to climate justice.”
Tom Evans, of climate change policy group E3G, told The Independent that while there has been real leadership from vulnerable and developing countries around loss and damage at Cop27, and push to reform the multilateral development banks, the same could not be said of developed countries.
“Without climate finance in place, it’s hard for countries to deliver and to trust,’ he said.
Loss and damage refers to the irrevocable losses of livelihoods and property to nature and cultural heritage as a result of the climate crisis.
Developing nations, facing the worst climate impacts despite relatively small carbon footprints, are demanding that large-polluting countries pay reparations for the fossil-fuel damage which has underpinned their wealth.
“The call for loss-and-damage funding at this conference has been louder than ever before, so it’s disturbing that Biden was silent on paying off the tremendous debt the United States owes as the world’s largest historical climate polluter,” Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Independent.
“If Biden really wants to ensure an equitable world, he needs to confront fossil fuels at home and establish a real plan to help those suffering from the climate calamity they did the least to create.”
Harjeet Singh, of the Climate Action Network, added: “The US has no right to call itself a climate leader. It may be doing things domestically but it cannot be a global leader because here being the biggest historical emitter, they have to come forward with good money and support setting up a mechanism. Here, there is nothing less that we expect from the US.”
At Cop27, rich countries had still not delivered on the $100bn annual climate finance fund for the developing world, which was promised more than a decade ago to begin in 2020.
Countries had arrived in Egypt earlier this week after a bruising year on the domestic front with climate action taking a back seat to the war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, and fuel and food shortages.
A wave of new scientific reports ahead of the summit offered a reality check to the scale of the problem the world faces.
Carbon emissions are at a record high, a dismal finding as the global carbon footprint needs to be cut almost in half by the end of the decade. Climate campaigners are urging world leaders to do more “to keep 1.5C alive” - the ambitious global temperature limit set by the Paris Agreement. The world is tracking for temperature rise of 2.7C this century.