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Broken promises at Cop26 are lead-in to betrayals at Cop27

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As world leaders prepare to discuss climate inaction in Egypt, Sarah Bates investigates if any pledges were kept last time and how the Cop process fails
Issue 2830
Cop26 Cop27 climate change crisis global warming

Demonstrations in Glasgow against the Cop26 climate conference (Picture: Andrew Mcgowan)

According to world ­leaders at Cop 26 in November last year, their ­conference was the big one that could solve the climate crisis for good.  But despite these ­headline-grabbing soundbites, the climate negotiations promised little, and it’s looking like Cop27will deliver even less.

As representatives from almost 200 countries ready themselves for negotiations in Egypt this week, the reality of climate change looms ever large. In the 12 months since the great and the good gathered at Cop 26, it’s been a year of unrelenting climate disaster—with plenty more on the horizon.

The negotiations are ­supposed to be about how to the limit global ­temperature rise by cutting ­greenhouse gas emissions. It sounds simple, but the reality is anything but. In Glasgow, nearly 200 countries agreed to improve their ­emissions-cutting pledges, called Nationally Determined Contributions in a year. But only 24 have done so.

Additional commitments since the talks in Scotland remove just 1 ­percent of estimated emissions in 2030. The current targets will see the planet sail clean past a safe temperature for much of the global south. In the unlikely event that countries make good on their promises to slash emissions, it will still mean global heating rises by at least 2.5 degrees.

As a result, the United Nations climate group slammed progress to slash emissions as “woefully inadequate”. A recent report by its climate body saw “no credible pathway” to keep to a 1.5 degree rise that would avoid the worst outcomes.

The handwringing at Cop takes place against a backdrop of increasingly devastating extreme weather events. In Pakistan, floods ­throughout August and September left a third of the country under water. The ­remaining bodies of water pose a huge health crisis for survivors.

And in East Africa, people struggle to survive in the middle of a devastating drought. Some five consecutive rainy ­seasons have failed, and analysts are expecting the sixth, due next March, to do the same. As a consequence, some 22 ­million people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are at risk of starvation.

Aid agencies on the ground in Somalia are saying conditions appear worse than in 2011, where some 250,000 people perished in a devastating famine.

Suffering is intensifying but those in power aren’t doing what’s needed to help the world’s poorest.  The Glasgow Climate Pact agreed last year “urges” rich countries to increase funding to poor countries to around £29.8 billion annually by 2025. This is supposed to help poorer countries deal with “loss and damage” and fund climate adaptation for its residents.

Despite a clear disparity in where the pollution is coming from, rich nations have fought the idea of climate reparations since the idea was first introduced at Cop in 1991. In 2009’s promise they said they would pour huge amounts into the poorest countries. Yet only 80 percent of the promised £89 billion promised annually by 2020 has materialised.

The V20—a group of 20 vulnerable countries facing the worst impacts of the climate crisis—set out proposals for how rich countries should pay up for climate devastation. It has asked for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers. 

It’s right to put demands on the rulers who hash out agreements at Cop. But the broken promises of years of successive climate negotiations show how seriously their ­promises should be trusted.


World leaders did not even ‘phase down’ mining coal  

 “Phasing down” coal use was a key sticking point in Glasgow’s negotiations. Some coal-producing countries, such as India, South Africa and China, blocked an agreement that declared nations would “phase out” the black stuff. 

In place was a promise to “phase down”—a watering-down that apparently brought Cop president Alok Sharma to tears at the end of the Cop26 conference. Whatever the agreement says, any serious attempt to repress the temperature rise would require a dramatic phasing out of coal. It’s estimated more than 40 percent of the world’s existing 8,500 coal plants would have to close by 2030 and no new ones could be built.

Yet at the start of this year, some 34 countries were planning to construct new plants. Flora Champeois of the Global Energy Monitor said, “There is simply no carbon budget left to be building new coal plants. We need to stop now.”

A study released last month showed almost half of the 1,000 companies assessed are still developing new coal assets. And just 27 firms have announced coal exit dates consistent with international climate targets. The analysis showed the new projects could increase the production of thermal coal, used in power stations, by more than a third.

“Pursuing new coal projects in the midst of a climate emergency is reckless, irresponsible behaviour,” said Heffa Schücking, the director of Urgewald. “The coal mining rush is testament to the industry’s complete denial of climate reality. The writing is on the wall, but coal miners refuse to read it,” said Schücking.

And the International Energy Agency said in July that coal burning was set to rise in 2022, taking it back to record level highs of 2013. The war in Ukraine, and rises in the prices of oil and gas, have been an excuse for states to pledge that they want to become more “energy self-sufficient”. 

This has led to several countries reopening old coal mines.


More forests mowed down 

Those in power made wooden promises when it came to reducing deforestation at last year’s Cop. The British government boasted this was the “biggest step forward in protecting the world’s forests in a generation”. Some 145 countries, including Brazil, signed up to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. 

And the promise came backed up by £14 billion of public and private funds. The funding is supposed to go to poorer counties to restore damaged land, tackle wildfires and support indigenous communities. But things were looking shaky right from the start. A similar pledge in 2014 promised to stop felling forests by 2020. An assessment from the Forest Declaration Platform in October declared, “Not a single global indicator is on track to meet these 2020 goals”.

It said there would need to be a fall of 10 percent each year to reach deforestation by 2030. But last year it only fell by 6.3 percent. And in 2021, deforestation actually increased in Brazil, Bolivia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Paraguay—four of the five countries with the largest areas of forest.

Fran Price, at the World Wildlife Fund, said, “There is no pathway to meeting the 1.5C target or reversing biodiversity loss without halting deforestation and conversion. It is time for bold leadership and daring solutions.”

Cop27 mobilisations Sat 12 Nov, 12 noon, London Shell Building. Details of protests in other cities at climatejustice.uk/cop27

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