Will HodsonConsumer Champion and founder of How to Save It
Over the past two weeks, nations from across the globe have met in Sharm-El Sheikh to discuss the defining issue of our generation: solving the climate crisis. Although this is one of the ‘smaller COPs’, particularly when compared to Paris in 2015 or Glasgow last year, there have still been important discussions that will help to limit the impact of global warming.
Over the last two decades, a scientific consensus has emerged that we need to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C by 2100. Keeping temperature rises below these levels will help to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
COP27: the death of a dream?
The first major step to realising this goal was achieved during COP21 in Paris. During that conference, it was agreed that the goal should be ‘well below’ 2C, and to pursue efforts to limit rises to 1.5C.
But for many, the language around COP27 signalled the death of the 1.5C dream. However, the problems achieving this stretch back to before the conference in Egypt. Indeed, at COP26, the official read out was delayed due to last minute negotiations over whether coal should be ‘phased out’, rather than ‘phased down’. In the end, those advocating for the less radical language won out, much to the dismay of the visibly emotional COP President, Alok Sharma.
And at COP27, the reference to phasing out fossil fuels was not included in the key cover text that accompanied the conclusion of the conference. For many, that signalled that the language agreed at COP26 will be the prevailing narrative on this key issue for at least the next year. In the UK, it is encouraging that the Government is investing in energy efficiency to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but this needs to be rolled out quickly and effectively.
Getting reparations over the line
The other big issue that dominated the conference was the call for countries most impacted by climate change to receive reparations from historical emitters. Whilst this is not a new development – some have been calling for a form of reparations for decades – but it certainly came with a renewed vigour this year. In a coordinated effort, thousands of young people embarked on a ‘global climate strike’, some 6 weeks before this year’s conference, calling for compensation for those most impacted by climate change.
The argument for reparations is a relatively simple one. Those who have historically emitted most, such as developed countries or countries experiencing rapid growth, should compensate those for whom the unintended consequence has been increasingly erratic climates.
Nowhere are the impacts of climate change more stark than in Tuvalu, where rising sea levels have threatened the very existence of the tiny collective of Pacific islands. In response, the Government launched a ‘Digital Nation’, replicating itself in the metaverse to maintain its culture, landmarks and heritage. It is unlikely that Tuvalu will be the only place that will have to take this kind of drastic action, either.
But whilst developed countries promised $100bn a year for climate reparations as far back as 2009, the rhetoric has been more forthcoming than the financing. Indeed, this target has been pushed back to 2023 after commitments were not followed through, resulting in the 2020 target being missed. And whilst research has shown that the cost to affected nations is likely to be between $1 and $1.8trn by 2050, the calls for this investment are only likely to get bigger.
On a more positive note, this issue gained more traction than limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C, with a breakthrough agreement to provide ‘loss and damage’ funding for the countries most impacted by an ever-changing, shifting climate. The deal, which was agreed by nearly 200 countries, will kick start necessary investment to support the most vulnerable.
So, overall, we haven’t learned much about how the globe seeks to address climate change, and the methods that will get us here. But what we have seen is a shift in tone from major economies in their thinking toward reparations. It signals that major countries are beginning to accept responsibility for rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns.
The hope is that this will usher in a more collective and collaborative approach to solving the most important issue of our lifetimes. But we will have to wait until future conferences to know if our hopes are to be fulfilled.