The UN Climate Conference saw world leaders gathered in Egypt to discuss climate related issues this November. COP27 occurred in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, and concluded on the 20th of November, running two days past the original end date–a sign of the turbulent debates that world leaders were determined to settle.
The last COP (Conference of Parties) in Glasgow saw world leaders announcing optimistic and far-reaching goals to limit global warming within their countries. This included the groundbreaking commitment to reduce coal usage (which is responsible for 40% of annual CO2 emissions) among top emitters. China alone is responsible for 49% of the world’s coal consumption, while the U.S. occupies second place, consuming 11% of the world’s coal. The primary concern of this year’s conference was to develop implementation plans–how the countries would achieve their lofty goals. However, the breakdown in communication between world leaders inhibited these goals.
In light of the recent report from the World Health Organization that half of the world’s population will be living in a water-stressed area in 2025, climate issues are at the forefront of the international consciousness. However, the UN Climate Conference this year focused primarily on instituting climate reparations that wealthier countries (who have contributed more to climate change) will pay to poorer countries who are suffering the consequences of the wealthier nations’ emissions. The conference led to the creation of a fund that wealthy countries are expected to contribute to and poorer countries can draw from to pay for damages caused by climate issues.
Climate Challenges in Economically Underdeveloped Countries
Pakistan was a key player in COP27 after experiencing historic floods from June to October of this year. The flooding in Pakistan left about ⅓ of the country under water, affecting around 33 million people. The World Bank estimates that economic losses resulting from the flooding will cost around $30 billion, while reconstruction could exceed $16 billion. The economic fallout from the floods caused Pakistan to be a model of the primary issue COP27 set out to address–an economically weaker country suffering from the actions of wealthier countries. Pakistani Climate Minister Sherry Rehman delivered an impassioned speech on day four of the conference, urging her fellow leaders to support a loss and damages fund to prevent the disaster that befell Pakistan from occurring in other countries.
President William Ruto of Kenya pointed out on the second day of the conference that drought-related issues have caused a loss of over $70 billion for Kenya. Instead of investing in education and infrastructure, Kenya is shifting funds around to pay for food aid as a result of the droughts-droughts exacerbated by climate change. He argued that countries like the U.S. have pledged to help and haven’t delivered on their promises, and the Kenyan population is suffering as a result.
Economically underdeveloped countries like Pakistan and Kenya are now asking that wealthier countries such as the U.S. and China to pay up and compensate for the climate change that they had main roles in contributing to. They argue that they have contributed very little to climate change globally, while top greenhouse gas emitters reap the economic benefits and refuse to take responsibility.
Responses from Wealthy Countries
Wealthy countries have been reluctant to accept the financial burden that results from their contribution to climate change. Countries like the U.S. argue that the focus should be on mitigation strategies and reducing emissions rather than placing blame. U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry encapsulated this view at a New York Times event in September of 2022, stating that “There’s plenty of time to be arguing, pointing fingers, doing whatever. But the money we need right now needs to go to adaptation. It needs to go to building resilience. It needs to go to the technology that’s gonna save the planet.”
Despite commitment from countries around the world to slow warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, emissions are still on the rise and fossil fuels remain the norm. At the last COP in Glasgow, countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia pushed back on phasing out fossil fuels, leading to the agreement to focus on scaling back as opposed to elimination. With the current global warming temperature sitting at 1.1 degrees celsius, the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is looking increasingly difficult to achieve.
Regardless of the fact that negotiations between the U.S. and EU led the U.S. to support the fund by the end of the conference, the negotiations during this COP were tense–Blutus Mbambi, program coordinator at the Centre for Climate Change Action and Advocacy in Lusaka, Zambia, said that “I am just, quite simply shocked about the process I have seen.” Wealthy countries agree that the climate crisis is economical as well as ecological, but are hesitant to financially back poorer countries and support them.
There is no consensus among wealthy countries as to who should be footing the majority of the bill. Many poorer countries look to China to contribute, as they are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses (they currently produce 26.1% of global emissions, more than double the U.S.’s 12.67%) and the second largest economy in the world by GDP. However, while delegates from China agree to voluntarily add money to the UN climate fund, they argue that it should only be obligatory for historically wealthier countries with high emissions, such as the U.S..
Takeaways from the Conference
Although a fund has now been created, there is no money in it, as the logistics have yet to be ironed out. Will the private-sector be able to contribute to the fund, or just government organizations? Will contributions be mandatory for all top greenhouse gas emitters, or will only historically wealthy countries be on the hook? Which economically underdeveloped countries will receive funding first? Will past climate disasters be considered, or will countries needing the most urgent aid be prioritized?
Aside from the creation of the loss and damage fund, the root problem of greenhouse gas emissions went unaddressed. There was no final agreement regarding the usage of fossil fuels, largely due to successful lobbying from fossil fuel industries present at the conference. The agreement produced at the end of COP27 said that countries should reduce coal usage unless they are taking steps to reduce emissions, and that countries should stop giving subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
The COP28 conference, occurring next year in the United Arab Emirates, is expected to further develop the fund and will likely center on economic matters and inclusive climate action once again. It is essential to act quickly on climate related issues, as there will come a time when damage to the Earth is irreversible, and if current scientific predictions are accurate, that time is fast approaching. That’s not to say that this conference was a failure or that the loss and damages fund is useless. Despite the unaddressed questions, the fact that this discussion was on the agenda felt like a huge win for economically underdeveloped countries, and was another step forward in the process of easing the damage caused by climate change. As climate change is a global issue, the actions of a select few countries can impact the entire world, making it vital to keep the pressure on government officials and urge them to address climate change issues.