COP26: Was it helpful?  COP27: What to expect?

Dec 15, 2021

COP26: Was it helpful?
COP27: What to expect?

Participants at one of the COP26 venues in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Credit: OCHA/Jaspreet Kindra

The world’s most vulnerable communities pinned a great deal of hope on last month’s COP26 in Glasgow. They anticipated the world putting the brakes on the rising global average temperature, preventing a rise beyond 1.5°C, and for more resources to help them cope with and adapt to the impact of a changing climate.

But did the twenty-sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) deliver?

We asked aid workers, scientists and climate activists — many from countries extremely vulnerable to climate change — for their thoughts on COP26 and their hopes for COP27, to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.

Climate scientist Balgis Osman-Elasha being interviewed by Filipino climate-justice activist, Marinel Ubaldo in an event organized by OCHA at COP26. Credit: OCHA/Jaspreet Kindra

Climate finance for adaptation doubled, but what does it mean?

The Glasgow Climate Pact — the climate deal struck at COP26 — urges developed countries to at least double their 2019 commitment to provide climate finance for adaptation to developing countries by 2025.

In 2009, developed countries had agreed to provide US$100 billion per year to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. But by 2019, developed countries had provided only $80 billion, of which only around 25 per cent (roughly $20 billion) was allotted for adaptation.

This means that “the amount will only reach $40 billion annually by 2025, with no details provided on the road map between 2021 to 2025,” said Harjeet Singh, Senior Adviser at Climate Action Network-International. Calling the amount “highly inadequate,” Singh added: “It is important to recognize that delay in adaptation finance to vulnerable people will lead to more loss and damage.”

Loss and damage broadly refers to the negative effects of climate change that cannot be avoided through mitigation or adaptation. Citizens being forced to relocate and to give up their land, cultural identity and right to human dignity are crucial loss-and-damage issues for vulnerable countries.

Balgis Osman-Elasha is a senior scientist from Sudan and a lead author of the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She noted that the provision of adaptation finance “remains challenging for developing countries, with most of the funding available through loans and other non-concessional instruments.” Osman-Elasha also said that the “inability to access climate finance aggravates problems that vulnerable countries are already facing.”

Despite “promising steps in the right direction, what we got in Glasgow is still too little too late,” said Maarten van Aalst, Director of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre. He feels that what we need even more is “transformational change in how we manage risks.” Over $450 million was announced for locally led adaptation at COP26, which van Aalst sees as a welcome development. “It signals that while we surely need attention for the quantity of adaptation finance, it may be even more important to ensure that it actually reaches those worst affected,” he added.

Osman-Elasha said: “It is important that the world leaders treat climate adaptation with the same level of urgency and seriousness as COVID-19.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his disappointment with the decisions on adaptation at COP26, saying: “Adaptation isn’t a technocratic issue, it is life or death.”

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Loss and damage raised but did not push the envelope

Scientists are increasingly recognizing that as the Earth faces an unprecedented rate of warming, largely due to human-induced climate change, we will be, or are already being, exposed to situations to which we cannot adjust or adapt. Permanent losses are already being experienced, such as the loss of a way of living or farming, especially in low-income countries unable to provide their citizens with sustainable alternatives.

Saleemul Huq is a senior scientist from Bangladesh and lead author of the adaptation chapters in the third and fourth IPCC assessment reports. He maintains that “we have already entered the new era” of loss and damage, and “the impacts will only get bigger every year and it will be unavoidable to discuss it in future COPs.”

Low-income countries have been asking for loss and damage to be acknowledged at the climate negotiations, and they have sought financial and technical resources to help them cope. But loss and damage has become a polarizing issue, with some in the developed world believing any acknowledgement would lead to a demand for compensation.

The 2012 COP, held in Doha, agreed to set up a mechanism to address loss and damage at the 2013 COP in Warsaw. Six years later, the COP in Chile set up the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage (SNLD) to develop the mechanism’s work, such as by providing technical assistance to vulnerable countries.

Singh explains that at COP26, developing countries “demanded a financing facility to assess and meet the needs of developing countries and communities to recover from devastating floods, storms and rising seas. However, they have been offered the Glasgow Dialogue [on averting and dealing with loss and damage], a process over the next three years, which ignores the urgency of the situation and the needs of millions who are losing their homes and incomes to the ongoing climate emergency.”

The COP26 deal also strengthened SNLD, urging countries to fund its operationalization outcome. Huq said that while this was “a positive result,” it was centred only on technical assistance and was not actually about addressing loss and damage.

A display highlighting COP26 at the Glasgow Central train station. Credit: OCHA/Jaspreet Kindra

Dealing with loss and damage now

Van Aalst, who was the coordinating lead author of the IPCC’s special report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change, reckons that as the world has done too little too late, “we are now dealing much more prominently than before with the third branch of climate discussions: loss and damage.” (Mitigation and adaptation are the two other branches.)

He added: “Possibly thanks to the terrible disasters even in the richest countries, Glasgow featured a more prominent and realistic discussion on this topic [loss and damage] than at previous COPs. From disasters to displacement, the challenges are right in front of our eyes. And the humanitarian community is very clear: simply funding more and more response is not the way out.”

Zinta Zommers, a climate expert with OCHA and an author of IPCC’s forthcoming Sixth Assessment Synthesis, echoed similar concerns: “…our adaptation options have not been widely implemented nor effective at lowering risk.

“Hopefully, the additional adaptation finance and the focus on providing technical support on loss and damage will help the most vulnerable countries be able to take greater action. Whether or not this goes to the most vulnerable people remains to be seen.”

On a more optimistic note, Huq cited developments outside the UNFCCC, such as the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, contributing GBP2 million ($2.6 million) towards a new Loss and Damage Fund. Huq said the fund will “take on a life of its own going forward.”

An impromptu protest by activists at the COP26 venue in Glasgow. Credit: OCHA/Jaspreet Kindra

Pledge to end deforestation

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use was issued at COP26 to end deforestation by 2030. The pledge was signed by more than 120 countries, representing about 90 per cent of the world’s forests.

“Protecting and restoring nature was rightfully recognized as crucial to reach the 1.5 Celsius goal,” said Osman-Elasha. She noted the decision as “most relevant to vulnerable people in Africa, who are largely dependent on nature and natural resources for their livelihoods.”

She added that world leaders pledged $2 billion to support the restoration of 100 million hectares in Africa. “This could help with scaling up funding for nature-based solutions in the drylands of Africa, for example for the Great Green Wall.”

Four-year-old Dylan Nissim’s parents brought him to the COP26 venue to make him aware of climate change. Credit: OCHA/Jaspreet Kindra

Looking ahead to COP27

In a message of hope to disappointed climate activists at COP26, Secretary-General Guterres said: “We won’t reach our destination in one day or one conference.”

On that note, Huq said that the issue of loss and damage “will be raised again in COP27 by the incoming Egyptian presidency, and indeed again in COP28 and beyond.”

Osman-Elasha would like to see higher levels of commitment to help vulnerable countries adapt and become more resilient. She said COP27 should also set clear timelines and quantifiable targets for climate adaptation, such as achieving zero vulnerability by 2050, parallel to the target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions set for the same year.

She added: “I am glad that COP27 will be held on African soil, in Egypt. This provides a chance for stronger and more effective participation by African countries and for coming together as one voice. It is a chance for Africans to stress the need for prioritizing Africa-relevant solutions and push for a powerful African leadership of COP27.”

Van Aalst said: “While Glasgow achieved a small step in the right direction, the heavy lifting remains ahead of us towards COP27.”

Zommers hopes to see “meaningful increases” in countries’ efforts to cut their greenhouse gas emissions “so that we are able to meet or stay close to” preventing the global average temperature from rising by 1.5°C.

She also hopes that arrangements to fund actions to help minimize, avert and address loss and damage will finally materialize in COP27.

Secretary-General Guterres offered some final uplifting words: “Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward. I will be with you all the way. COP27 starts now.”

People tie messages of hope to stem climate change from school children on the fence around the COP26 venue in Glasgow. Credit: OCHA/Jaspreet Kindra

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