We are not expecting further big climate reduction commitments from countries this year at COP27. The leaders of China and Russia (the world’s first- and fifth-largest climate polluters) are not attending the event, nor are officials from many of the largest economies, including India and Australia. U.S. President Joseph Biden will make only a short appearance on Nov. 11 along with a smaller-than-usual U.S. delegation. With such middling representation, expectations not surprisingly are muted.
This comes in spite of the fact that increased and more stringent climate reduction commitments are necessary. Countries around the world are failing to live up to their existing commitments to fight climate change, and of the 193 countries that agreed last year to step up their climate actions, only 26 have followed through with more ambitious plans. The world’s top two polluters – China and the United States – have taken some action, but without significant (or any) presences at COP27, we expect the climate negotiations between the two to remain at a standstill (as they have been for months).
An analysis by the World Resource Institute found that current promises by nations would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by around 7 percent from 2019 levels, even though six times that, a reduction of 43 percent, would be necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (the reduction amount agreed to by nations at the Paris COP).
The United States, in passing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), has jumped forward in its ability to make good on its promise to cut emissions by as much as 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. But still, the IRA will get the United States to only about 80 percent of its current pledge to cut emissions – so any new pledge by the U.S. is without legal basis.
Without climate reduction commitments, what will the nations’ focus be?
First thing to expect is discussions with regard to money, money, money. Money in climate talks usually takes the form of adaptation in two ways: (1) who will pay for moving away from polluting energy sources and toward renewables, and (2) who will pay to help nations adapt their defenses against inevitable climate impacts, such as rising seas and heavier rainfall. At COP27, developing countries will be expecting rich nations to outline how they will deliver on a pledge made at COP26 to “double” support for adaptation.
There has been keen interest in new ways to unlock that money. The UN released a series of four reports in advance of COP27 to address the finance gap. In short, these reports attempt to provide clarity on where the world stands in its efforts to mobilize the billions of dollars needed every year for green economies and to build resilience for the inevitable impacts of climate change.
The second issue will be the role of natural gas in a climate future. Russia’s war in Ukraine has put a spotlight on natural gas; it is increasingly obvious that nations must be clear-eyed about what is feasible, politically and socially, in delivering upon the agreements made at the Paris COP. Europe’s efforts to break its dependence on Russian gas has led to new plans for building ports and facilities for importing liquefied natural gas from the U.S. and elsewhere, including in parts of Africa. Building natural gas infrastructure (as opposed to renewable energy infrastructure) in Africa and other third-world nations could put the world on a path to even further and longer dependence on fossil fuels. Some African countries with oil and gas reserves say they are willing to develop this fossil fuel infrastructure: Senegal has been among the most vocal and is leading a push for investments in gas production. But right now there is no common Africa position, particularly around the energy transition and around flexibility in the use of natural gas in particular, to achieve African nations’ objectives around electrification. This lack of cohesion will impede progress on this point at COP27. Further, any development of fossil fuel infrastructure within Africa will necessarily have to acknowledge a further commitment to fossil fuels – and by implication a likely delay in meeting a clean energy future and the objectives of the Paris COP.
We will be watching these two issues carefully in the coming to weeks and will post as to progress at the end of COP27.