Elijah Interfaith Ceremony in London, 13 Nov, during COP27. Credit: Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders.
The UN COP27 climate talks ended with some significant steps forward, a certain amount of holding the line and some steps backwards. Overall, given the contrast between what was achieved and the scale and urgency of the need to move forward, it would be overly optimistic to say the talks were successful.
In particular, there was no real progress on the ‘phasedown’ of coal, oil and gas, building on a call to phasedown coal at COP26 in Glasgow. Without a more rapid phasing out of fossil fuels, humanity is on track to far exceed 1.5℃ of global heating.
It’s hard to know how progress can be made when there were over 600 oil, gas and big agriculture industry lobbyists and CEOs at UN climate summits. Progress was stymied also by the global energy crisis precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and global inflationary pressures after the COVID pandemic.
Yet the urgency of the climate issue could not be clearer, with the human cost so painfully evident in East Africa, South Asia, the Pacific and elsewhere.
ARRCC is grateful to the Global Strategic Climate Communications for much of the following information and the excellent quotes.
Loss and Damage Fund
The key breakthrough worth celebrating was a decision to establish a Loss and Damage Fund. This was the outcome of many years of work which has intensified in the last few years. During this COP, all 134 countries (known as the G77 and China) calling for such a fund spoke with one voice. After an attempt to limit costs by offering a deal to only the most vulnerable, low-income countries, wealthy countries finally agreed to a Loss and Damage Fund, with leadership from the European Union.
The funding arrangements and management of the Loss and Damage Fund will be worked out by a 24-member Transitional Committee, with 14 members from ‘developing’ countries and 10 from ‘developed’ countries. It is generally agreed that the funds need to be at scale and on a polluter pays basis, ie, from wealthy, high polluting countries. An assessment of which countries should pay and which will receive will be a major issue next year.
Despite the influence of fossil fuel lobbyists, the number of dirty energy deals at the COP were outnumbered by clean ones. Renewables are now cheaper than fossils in two-thirds of the world including emerging economies in South America and Asia. Investment in the transition has risen 25% to hit over $708bn this year despite the economic crisis.
On the sidelines, a $20 billion deal was struck to transition Indonesia from coal, with similar arrangements possibly also for Vietnam and Senegal. These ‘JET-P - Just Energy Transition Partnership’ agreements build on the $8.5bn deal struck with South Africa at COP26, and could help accelerate the global energy transition.
African energy access
Although Africa is home to 600 million people in energy poverty, there was no wholesale move towards gas in Africa at this COP. The anticipated gas-industry driven platform “Team Energy Africa” was cancelled at the last minute due to the involvement of convicted fraudster and gas lobbyist NJ Nyuk.
Corporations will need to respond to new UN net zero rules and ensure their plans are to cut emissions and not cut corners. A new taskforce is being called for to advance regulation of corporate net zero commitments in countries around the world.
Other significant developments
- Structural reform of the international financial system to make it fairer and fit for purpose gained momentum. Known as the Bridgetown Agenda, its key champion, Barbados PM Mia Mottley, will set forth a concrete proposal by February to present at the World Bank and IMF spring meetings.
- The US and China have agreed to resume cooperation on climate, after Nancy Pelosi’s visit led to a freeze earlier this year.
- Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have launched a partnership on rainforest preservation.
- Hundreds of millions of extra dollars of funding for poorer nations has been pledged by Germany, Austria, the United States and others (although far off the hundreds of billions needed).
Lack of other progress
Although some countries (including Australia) had increased their emissions reduction targets, the ambitions achieved in Glasgow were barely protected.
The goal of keeping warming to 1.5℃ was kept in the final text of the Agreement but relegated to the section on Science, whereas in Glasgow it sat alongside the solutions to the climate crisis in the Mitigation section.
No phasedown of all fossil fuels
Instead of accepting calls by many countries (including India) and civil society who called for an ‘equitable phase out of fossil fuels’, the final decision still only calls for a ‘phasedown of unabated coal power'.
Thus, oil and gas are not mentioned, and the inclusion of ‘unabated’, without a UNFCCC definition, means that producing countries can go on justifying continued coal production. Likewise, the decision calls for the ‘phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’, but the lack of criteria for what would make a fossil fuel subsidy ‘efficient’ means that subsidies continue.
Another loophole is the reference to ‘low emissions’ energy alongside renewables as the energy sources of the future, so the undefined term could be used to justify new fossil fuel development against the clear guidance of the IPCC and IEA.
Global Shield funding less equitable
The majority of funding that could have gone to a Loss and Damage Fund has unfortunately been directed to a mechanism proposed by the G7 in mid-2022 called the ‘Global Shield’, which tends to favour forms of insurance.
The Global Shield is viewed by civil society’s ‘Loss and Damage Collaboration’ as a way of wealthy countries evading the equity principles of polluter pays and historic responsibility that would be integrated into a UNFCCC mechanism. Hence, at this stage roughly 70% of new pledges went to the Global Shield and the UN early warning systems.
To restore trust, the Loss and Damage Collaboration suggests a cap, of say 20%, on insurance as a proportion of Global Shield spending.
Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders offers a sound assessment of the progress made at COP27:
‘In a year of multiple crises and climate shocks, the historic outcome on loss and damage at COP27 shows international cooperation is possible, even in these testing times. Equally, the renewed commitment on the 1.5℃ global warming limit was a source of relief. However, none of this changes the fact that the world remains on the brink of climate catastrophe. Progress made on mitigation since COP26 in Glasgow has been too slow. Climate action at COP27 shows we are on the cusp of a clean energy world, but only if G20 leaders live up to their responsibilities, keep their word, and strengthen their will. The onus is on them. All climate commitments must be transformed into real-world action, including the rapid phase out of fossil fuels, a much faster transition towards green energy, and tangible plans for delivering both adaptation and loss and damage finance. We avoided backsliding and made progress in Sharm El-Sheikh. Now leaders must stop sidestepping and fulfil their promises to safeguard a liveable future.’
Representatives of the Australian Labor Government were well received in Sharm El-Sheikh, whereas representatives of the former government were seen as blockers of progress. Attending COP27 with a more ambitions emissions reduction target and a strong commitment to the transition to clean, renewable forms of energy, Australia’s change of tune was described as a ‘breath of fresh air’ by US Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry.
While in Sharm El-Sheikh, Australia has signed up to the:
- Global Methane Pledge
- Green Shipping Challenge
- Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership
- International Mangrove Alliance for Climate.
However, some areas of policy remain unchanged, much to the frustration of many, notably in the Pacific. Vanuatu’s new Climate Change Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, advocated that Pacific nations’ support for the Albanese Government’s bid to co-host COP31 in four years’ time should be conditional on an end to new public subsidies for fossil fuel projects.
Indicative of Australia’s new status internationally, Minister Chris Bowen was invited to co-chair talks with his Indian counterpart, Minister Bhupender Yadav, over the promise made in Paris by rich nations to channel $US100 billion ($AUD148 billion) a year to the UN multi-lateral Green Climate Fund.
Although an additional AUD$900 million (over 4 years) in overseas development assistance was ear-marked in the October budget to support development in the Pacific, this was not specifically Climate Finance as such.
Oxfam and others advocate a phased increase of our Climate Finance to reach $3-4bn annually, which they calculate would be our global ‘fair share’ of assistance to climate-vulnerable, low-income countries.
In terms of multi-lateral funding, the current Government has not committed to re-starting contributions to the Green Climate Fund; nor have they pledged contributions to the proposed Loss and Damage Fund, although this is less surprising.
Subsidies for offshore fossil fuel projects
Australia chose not to sign an agreement known as the statement on international public support for the clean energy transition partnership. The partnership, created in Glasgow last year, is backed by 36 countries and five public finance institutions that have committed to direct export credit support towards clean energy and away from ‘unabated fossil fuels’.
Felicity Wade, national co-convenor of Labor Environmental Action Network (Lean) said: ‘It’s disappointing that the Australian government has decided against joining the clean energy transition partnership. While it is great that Chris Bowen has called for reform of multilateral financial institutions to better deliver decarbonisation, it begs the question why Australia hasn’t signed up to ensuring our own international public investments are aligned with shifting from fossil fuels.’
Keeping fossil fuels in the ground
Although new fossil fuel projects are a separate issue, regrettably the federal government’s commitment to the mining and export of coal and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) remains largely unchanged. On 5 September, 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese assured the resources sector and the nation’s key trading partners that Australia will remain a reliable global supplier of coal and gas, as well as clean energy alternatives as the world eventually moves away from fossil fuels.
On the other hand, Minister Plibersek announced in early November that she will be reconsidering environmental assessments for 18 new projects all seeking federal approval for their proposed developments, in the light if their potential climate impacts on Australia’s iconic species. For the first time, this opens the possibility of coal and gas projects being blocked due to climate change.
This was prompted by a potential legal challenge being launched by the Environment Council of Central Queensland.
Faith-based advocacy regarding COP27
Faith-based advocacy took many forms before and during COP27. This included advocacy from ARRCC for a shift away from public support for fossil fuel projects in Australia and a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
ARRCC’s GreenFaith International partners held many actions, some at COP27 and others in New York, Kenya, Uganda, Indonesia and elsewhere. The overarching theme was the promotion of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and, in each location, protests were variously against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, BlackRock or other pillars of support for fossil fuels.
The Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders released the Ten Principles for Climate Repentance on 13th November and held Interfaith ceremonies in London, Mount Sinai, Mount Abu (India) and elsewhere. The ARRCC-organised Contemplative Prayers and Meditation group participated in Australia online.
ARRCC partner organisation, the Pacific Conference of Churches, along with civil society groups, joined the Kioa Pledge just prior to COP27 to establish the Kioa Finance Mechanism to support adaptation needs of Pacific Island communities affected by climate change. The declaration and pledge aim to support communities by reaching out to their partners and those who are willing to support local communities in small- to medium-scale adaptation projects.
‘The Kioa Finance Mechanism will exist as a user-friendly process that communities can access upon request,’ the pledge reads. Requests can range in scale, and can include capacity building, community adaptation projects, utilities access, planned relocation, and more.
Elizabeth Wathuti, Environmental Youth Activist, Kenya
“COP27 may be over, but the fight for a safe future is not. It is now more urgent than ever that political leaders work to agree a strong global deal to protect and restore nature at the upcoming Global Biodiversity Summit in Montreal. The interconnected food, nature and climate crisis are right now affecting us all - but the frontline communities like mine are hardest hit. How many alarm bells need to be sounded before we act?”
Makoma Lekalakala, Director: Earthlife Africa (South Africa)
“This was dubbed the African COP and we were promised a better outcome for Africa, but this was not an African COP, it was just a meeting held in Africa. The cost of delaying important decisions is going to be loss of life, loss of biodiversity, and the erosion of the dignity of the people. But those who are responsible for the climate crisis that we find ourselves in, don’t seem like they care.”
Catherine Abreu, Founder & Director, Destination Zero
"The fossil fuel industry and the elites in their pocket rallied to take over COP27. This is the last act of desperate men who first denied climate science, then delayed climate policy, and now want to usurp real climate solutions with false ones. It's unfortunate this COP failed to live up to the science of 1.5 by addressing the root cause of the climate crises - coal, oil and gas. But don't be fooled: their actions won't stall the inevitable progress unfolding on the ground away from fossil fuels and toward efficient, renewable energy."
Catherine Abreu alludes to the fact that so much more is happening on the ground around the world than what is achieved at COP negotiations. It’s up to us – you, me, our communities, our institutions – to take responsibility for creating the change the world needs.
People of faith have every reason to be at the forefront of this movement for change, so the gift that is our precious earth can be protected for coming generations.
by Thea Ormerod