The United Nations (UN) climate summits are held annually, for governments mostly to agree on steps to limit global temperature rises. They are referred to as COPs, which stands for Conference of the Parties, i.e. the attending countries that signed up to the original UN climate agreement in 1992, the Kyoto Protocol.
This year's COP27, as the name suggests, is the 27th annual UN meeting on climate. We should note here that COVID-19 cancelled the meeting in 2020. This year, it has been taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt where the talks were scheduled to wrap up today (Friday, November 18). But progress has been slow with widely divergent views on offer, and it is now speculated that they may stretch into the entire weekend. Environmental campaigners have reacted to the contents of a 20-page draft agreement, which is likely to be heavily amended before we arrive at the final political agreement, with deep concern.
The notable absence of many heads of government from this year's talks suggests we shouldn't expect too much change to the draft. The executive authority they wield is able to make a difference. Indeed, this year's COP has struggled to shake off the impression of having been almost an afterthought - what with the background of the Russia-Ukraine war, the associated slump in the world economy, and the brakes it put on the world economy's recovery from two years of COVID-19.
Not only has the war threatened to derail the European Union's decarbonisation goals, some European governments have been prompted to reconsider coal, one of the dirtiest and most polluting ways of producing energy, following a sustained period of reduced flows of Russian gas. Given this overall environment, COP27 clearly wasn't top of the agenda for countries around the world as November arrived.
So much for leaders and politicians. Also absent from the list of attendees this year is young Greta Thunberg, the Swedish campaigner who became a household name around the world with her sincere concern for the planet, that drove her to excoriate world leaders and castigate corporations. But Ms Thunberg's reasons for not attending are very different to any world leader. She has drawn attention instead, to how the COP process has become a forum for "greenwashing".
The major breakthrough that developing nations were hoping for this year revolved around the issue of loss and damage payments - that they managed to force onto the agenda of the conference for the first time at COP27. An option for making such payments was excluded from the Bonn climate talks, after pushback from wealthier nations who feared they would be forced to pay compensation for decades. But the EU eventually agreed that discussions should take place at COP27.
Developing countries have been pushing to have a date set for when they might start to receive payments. The draft that was released does not include details on how to establish a loss and damage funding facility - a highly divisive and emotive issue that is seen as a fundamental question of climate justice.
There have been some positive movements coming from the summit. Germany has been spearheading a new, or alternative loss and damage program called the Global Shield, that it hopes would make money available faster for countries suffering from weather disasters.
The Global Shield initiative, coordinated by G7 president Germany, aims to provide rapid access to insurance and disaster relief funding for climate-vulnerable countries following floods and droughts. It is being developed in collaboration with the "V20" group of 58 climate-vulnerable economies. The first group of recipients of the Global Shield packages - called "Pathfinder Countries" - includes Bangladesh.
Unless there is a surprise in store, that's probably the one bright spot from an underwhelming COP this year. But that is no reason to feel discouraged, or to give up on the planet. When something is held annually, we must realise there will be some good and some bad years. The challenge for us is to see that, and buckle up for the long haul. There is a planet still to be saved.
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