Was COP27 a waste of time (and carbon emissions)?

Every year there's a COP we wonder the same thing, ask the same questions. Every year we talk about the pace of progress decarbonizing the world. We talk about how many fossil fuel lobbyists attend and the logic of flying tens of thousands of people to get together to discuss tackling climate change at the global level.

Having followed the last few COPs very intently, we noticed that the latest installment seemed to - from the outside - have less momentum than previous years.

Perhaps some of that is our interpretation of everything that happened, or perhaps the outcomes weren't quite as headline making so that dampened it all down. Maybe it's a bit of both. Or something else. The negotiations also ran two days over schedule, which also suggests it might have not been the smooth collective, level-headed, and just negotiations we'd all like to see happen at these events.

Nope, we're not going to mention that Coca Cola sponsored COP27 this year . Just not. No way will we mention that. We're through the looking glass people.

Prior to the event there was talk over whether the Paris Agreement* target of keeping global average temperatures "well below" a 2 degrees celsius rise was still possible. Many have argued that the 1.5 goal the science says we'd ideally stick to is no longer achievable.

Looking at the data it's certainly on shaky ground. On the current trajectory it's reasonable to say that we'll probably bust past 1.5 degrees within the next 10 years and then past 2 degrees in the early 2040s and up towards 2.7 by the end of the century. In case you wondered that's not great. (It is still better than where we were only 7 or 8 years ago, looking like 4 degrees or more was the likely outcome).

Even if the 1.5 ambition - which we absolutely believe is our best path for limiting the impacts of climate change - looks unlikely right now progress is still being made.

To us, even if it looks like we'll overshoot 1.5 we should be putting all our fight into making that a temporary situation. Where we peak between 1.5 and 2 degrees and then bring it back down. Looking at the science this would reduce the likelihood of increasingly damaging tipping points as well as dampen the frequency and increasing severity of extreme weather events.

That all said, while it looks like we're tracking behind globally on reducing emissions by 45% by 2030, a lot of progress is happening. And it is speeding up compared to where we were a few years ago.

Some of this is happening in spite of what gets agreed - or doesn't - at the UNs flagship annual Conference of the Parties (COP*).

So, was COP27 a waste of time and carbon emissions? Let's dig in and see how we all feel about it.

Here's the things that came out:

Loss and Damage

A key shiny moment came early on when Loss and Damage was included in the agenda. This simply means the financial support available to countries experiencing the worst effects of accerlating human-caused climate changed.

These countries tend to poorer, developing and in the Global South*. As such, not only have they contributed very little to the problem historically they're also going to continue experiencing the worst effects.

If you've been on one of our online climate courses you'll know how seriously we take climate justice*.

At COP27, 200 countries agreed to create a new fund to support these countries. While this sounds great, the devil will be in the detail when it's launched in the next couple of years and there's already concern that the amount of money will be woefully insufficient. Time will tell, and if we'll be watching it's progress closely (as we are with the Adapation Fund).

Fossil Fuels

Similar to what happened at the end of COP26 in 2021, phasing out the global use of fossil fuels - which is the main driver of climate change - didn't get agreed. We've been again stuck with the idea of a "phase down" which lacks specificity and teeth. No new commitments were reached on this during COP27.

There is no science-based scenario where we continue to use fossil fuels in the way we do that slows or reverses climate change. Even if we're replacing a higher carbon emitting fossil fuel for a lower one. To be on track with net zero* global fossil fuel use should peak over the next few years.

Protecting Nature

For the first time, the final draft of the COP27 agreement included chapters on food, oceans and forests. All three are key tools to be valued both for their climate change fighting value as well as their overarching importance and inherent value. A future where we have supported and restored biodiversity is the one we all should want to make into reality.

Carbon Markets

This one is a bit geeky, but one that's close to our hearts. Article 6 relates to the creation and management of the global carbon markets.

While there was a little progress on countries being able to trade carbon credits, we didn't see any new provisions on transparency within the carbon markets (something we think that is incredibly important for healthy, trustful carbon trading as well as scaling the carbon markets and increasing integrity from where it is today).

We were somewhat disheartend that the issues relating to carbon avoidance weren't discussed. Numerous other issues were also delayed until next year, including reporting and rules on greenhouse gas removal.

What's next?

For us, we're disappointed but in no way demotivated by the events of COP27. As in previous years our collective job is to get on with the work to reduce and remove emissions, irrespective of what happens at COP.

Whatever any individual COPs outcomes, the importance of getting together to discuss all these things and the situation as a global community cannot be overstated. These conversations need to happen and they need to happen at all levels. COP is only one part of the puzzle.

We can absolutely do this, and all can play a role in either reducing emissions - whether we're wearing a hat as part of a government, company or as an individual. We all have a horse in this race.

Next year's event is in Dubai, in the UAE... one of the world's largest fossil fuel producers. Cough. Can't wait for that. Lmao.

If you'd like to go deeper into what happened at COP27, this World Economic Forum article is worth a read. As is this much more detailed Carbon Brief summary breaking down the final agreement text.

Have hope, make progress 💚

For explanations of all the terms in italics with asterisks* check out our Climate Buzzword Dictionary or join one of our free online climate change courses

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