Five Major Storylines From the COP27 Climate Summit

Delegates agree to a loss and damage fund, but some experts worry the conference didn’t go far enough to address climate change

An aerial view showing a heavily flooded residential area in Pakistan.
Flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains and exacerbated by human-caused climate change has killed nearly 1,700 people in Pakistan this year. Countries at COP27 agreed that major emitters of greenhouse gases should create a fund to deal with similar crises. FIDA HUSSAIN / AFP via Getty Images

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or the 27th edition of the Conference of Parties (COP), came to a close on Sunday. Negotiators stayed in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for two days longer than planned as they worked on the final text of the conference’s agreement, according to CNN’s Ivana Kottasová, Ella Nilsen and Rachel Ramirez.

Every year, nearly 200 countries meet at COP to discuss how to address human-caused climate change. Here are five of the major storylines coming out of this year’s conference.

Nations agree to create “loss and damage” fund

The countries agreed to create a fund that will support poorer nations that have faced the brunt of natural disasters exacerbated by human-caused climate change. These countries bear a disproportionate burden, having contributed only a small percentage of the world’s carbon emissions.

Delegates did not decide the specifics of how the fund will operate. By the agreement, a committee with representatives from 24 countries will determine where the money for the fund will come from, what it will be used for and other details over the next year, writes the New York Times Brad Plumer, Max Bearak, Lisa Friedman and Jenny Gross.

Vulnerable countries have been seeking compensation for damages caused by climate change for 30 years, but wealthier nations, including the United States, resisted the idea. This year’s breakthrough occurred because a coalition of developing countries stayed unified, CNN writes. And Pakistan, which faced catastrophic flooding this year, emerged as a leader calling for the fund at the conference.

“So many people all this week told us we wouldn’t get it,” said Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, the climate envoy from the Marshall Islands, according to Reuters’ Valerie Volcovici, Dominic Evans and William James. “So glad they were wrong.”

Delegates take weak action on fossil fuels

While the loss and damage fund is a historic agreement, experts have pointed out a gap in the conference’s resolutions: Countries did not make a move to begin cutting out all fossil fuels.

Instead, the agreement only called for a reduction of coal use and the “phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” per CNN. It also did not ask countries to make stronger commitments to limiting global warming, per Reuters. Current policies will eventually lead to 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius of warming this century, compared to pre-industrial levels, per the Times. Because of this, some delegates worry the agreement does not go far enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that we weren’t able to go further,” U.K. lead negotiator Alok Sharma told journalists, according to the BBC’s Georgina Rannard.

“The loss and damage deal agreed is a positive step, but it risks becoming a ‘fund for the end of the world’ if countries don’t move faster to slash emissions,” Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, climate lead for the World Wide Fund for Nature, tells the Times.

Ukraine’s president emphasizes how war contributes to climate change

In a virtual address at the summit, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that ending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is essential to fighting climate change.

In response to the economic sanctions imposed by Western countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe. Dozens of countries have started to use coal for fuel as a result, according to the Guardian’s Fiona Harvey, Nina Lakhani and Damian Carrington.

Since the invasion, countries in the European Union have also been importing natural gas and are building facilities to receive tanker ships carrying these gas supplies, according to NPR’s Rebecca Hersher, Lauren Sommer and Michael Copley. The new terminals could double natural gas emissions by 2030, per a new report from the climate think tank Climate Action Tracker.

Zelenskyy also said the war has led to the destruction of five million acres of Ukrainian forests, per the Guardian. Forests play an important role in capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Brazil’s president-elect says the country will end Amazon deforestation

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president-elect, appeared at the climate conference and announced that his country will have “zero deforestation” in the Amazon rainforest by 2030, according to New Scientist’s Madeleine Cuff. “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon,” he said at the conference.

The pledge is a major reversal of the current administration’s policies under Jair Bolsonaro, who oversaw a loss of more than 13,000 square miles of the Amazon’s tree cover between 2019 and 2021, according to Mongabay’s Alec Luhn. Thirteen percent of the rainforest is destroyed, per the publication, and this year, spurred by deforestation, wildfires in the Amazon reached a five-year high.

Despite Lula’s optimistic rhetoric at the conference, preventing further destruction of the Amazon could be challenging, since right-wing parties have control of Brazil’s Congress, per New Scientist.

Authorities stifle protests

Historically, large protests have been a big part of the climate conferences, per CNN. Protests serve as “a reminder to everyone on the inside—myself included—that we had to do more,” Inés Yábar, a climate activist who also attended COP as a delegate three years ago, tells Wired’s Gregory Barber.

But this year, protests were only allowed to take place inside of a designated zone, which was located “out near a highway and away from the conference center or any other signs of life,” as the Guardian’s Ruth Michaelson wrote in October. Protesting is also mostly illegal across Egypt, according to CNN.

The lack of opportunities to protest is “taking the teeth out of climate activism,” Dana Fisher, a sociologist studying environmental protest movements at the University of Maryland, tells Wired.

On November 11, four American climate activists were kicked out of the conference for briefly protesting during a speech from President Biden. After displaying a banner that read “People vs. Fossil Fuels” and giving what they called an Indigenous war cry, the protestors lost access to the rest of the summit, according to CNN’s Ivana Kottasová.

“Inside the [conference venue], that is supposed to be U.N. territory,” Jacob Johns, one of the activists, tells CNN. “So, for the U.N. to be denying people free speech in that space that is supposed to be theirs is just, you know, a slap in the face.”

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