It is already one week into the 27th edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP27), and the most important negotiations on critical issues are just about to begin.
The fingers of the over 50,000 attendees of the summit in Egypt are crossed as they all look forward to how the second week, expected to be the week of negotiation, will pan out.
Like all previous COPs, COP27 kicked off with a ceremonial opening plenary on Sunday, 6 November, where the summit President, Sameh Shoukry, was officially announced by Alok Sharma, his predecessor.
This was followed by a two-day world leaders summit themed: “Climate Implementation Summit”. It hosted over 100 heads of state and governments who spoke about climate change, concentrating either on what their countries intended to do about it or on the challenges they are grappling with as climate change effects heighten.
Over the two days of intensive engagement among these leaders, issues around food security, innovative finance, just transition, investing in the future of energy (green hydrogen, climate change and the sustainability of vulnerable communities) and water security, took the centre stage at the six roundtables featured at the high-level event that was concluded on Tuesday.
Afterwards, as with previous COPs, the remaining days would focus on the themes such as finance, science, youth and future generations, decarbonisation, adaptation and agriculture, gender, water, civil society, energy, biodiversity and solutions.
Meanwhile, politicians and business leaders have stepped up to announce various new pledges, coalitions and projects within this first week with droves of sideline events across beautifully decorated pavilions in the blue, green and red zones at the venue of the conference.
On 12 November, activists stormed the streets and premises of the summit calling for climate justice, raging against superficial commitments and rallying against political inaction.
By the start of the second week on Monday, this year’s COP negotiations are expected to commence in a bid to finalise a workable communique that would shape climate actions before the next summit in 2023.
But many COP attendees do not seem to have a clear view and understanding of how the COP climate negotiations are done since the event often takes place in closed-door sessions away from the public eye.
COP and diplomacy
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, one of the attendees from Nigeria and the Director-General of the Forests Research Institute of Nigeria, Adesola Adepoju, said COP negotiations do not start at the conference but that it is an engagement that has been ongoing in the past.
“An event like this is not where the negotiations actually start. It is an engagement of the past cumulative work by all the negotiators particularly by the lead negotiators of all the countries and those that were given some aspect of the negotiations to do,” he said.
He said most of the time, lead negotiators travel to Bonn in Germany which is the build-up that leads to the final COP summit being held annually.
Mr Adepoju explained that all countries belong to a group and that Nigeria belongs to the African Group of Negotiators (AGN).
“In the African group, they must take positions together. It is what they agreed to in their test that is now brought together to the general negotiations table of the G77 and China on behalf of the African group,” he said.
In the second week of COP27 starting Monday, it is expected that delegates will hand over proposals to their ministers and lead negotiators.
Nigeria’s delegation at COP27 is led by the Minister of Environment, Mohammed Abdullahi, while the ministry’s Director of Climate Change Department, Iniobong Abiola-Awe, is the country’s lead negotiator at the summit.
The aim of the negotiation phase at COP, according to experts, is to draft a document that all countries would agree on – an ambitious task and one that sometimes results in compromises.
According to a report, the draft texts are written in the strange, sterile language of international diplomacy and an inordinate amount of time is spent on wording: and debates on whether something “should” or “will” happen can stretch on for days.
They also sometimes end up littered with square brackets, which denote areas where there is significant disagreement.
Major concerns for Africa, other countries
There are lingering concerns that the climate change negotiations during most COPs portray underlying inequalities between industrialised and developing nations.
An aspect of the inequality is bordered by the overrun of COPs beyond the schedule. This, analysts say, is inefficient and unfair to the delegates of vulnerable countries.
In 2015 when the Paris agreement was endorsed, parties agreed that every five years, countries would return with more ambitious plans to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and tackle global warming. But only 26 countries have reviewed their Nationally Determined Contribution documents between last COP 26 and now, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, said on Sunday while delivering his remarks at the opening plenary of COP27.
This year, a major agenda being put forward by developing countries, mostly on the African continent, is the “loss and damage finance,” to assist helpless countries to cope with the impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, and where losses are permanent as in the case of floods, disaster and sea level rise.
Although, following the official announcement of Mr Shoukry as the new COP27 President, “loss and damage” made it to the agenda items during the procedural opening on Sunday.
Ahead of COP27, the item (loss and damage) was still uncertain but it finally crept into the agenda after being put forward by negotiators (including developing countries) after robust discussions among the 194 parties to the UNFCCC.
At the plenary, the COP27 president said this year’s deliberations on climate issues must consider the needs of developing countries (Africa) because they are least responsible for emissions and are the most affected by the global impact of climate change.
“As a COP hosted in Africa, it must consider the needs of the developing countries and ensure climate justice through availing the appropriate finance and other means of implementation, as countries that are the least responsible for emissions are the most affected by climate change,” Mr Shoukry said.
Dozens of Africans and other developing countries are clamouring and are longing to see actionable commitments made towards loss and damages in this year’s summit.
Likewise, many young negotiators from Africa are also pushing to have a seat at the negotiation table in order for their yearnings and aspirations to be heard and attended to.
“They cannot be deciding for us, we want to go into negotiations, we want to make the decisions, we want to be involved in policy-making and implementation and we want to be collaborators and co-designers of solutions to the effects of climate change that are facing us,” Rose Kobusinge, 26, a Uganda-based climate justice advocate told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview.
What happened at COP26?
Last year, the main outcome of the UN climate COP held in Glasgow, Scotland, was the “Glasgow Climate Pact.”
The pact included a commitment to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies and “phase down” coal. Although many countries were disappointed by the final text, which was downplayed in several places.
The Glasgow summit witnessed several multilateral agreements between groups of countries. These included commitments to slash methane emissions, stop deforestation and end financing for overseas fossil fuels. But the promise of $100 billion annually in climate finance from developed nations remained largely unfulfilled.
Little progress was made on climate change adaptation but none on “loss and damage” finance.
“It is not as if the developed world leaders are not considering the loss and damages agenda, but they are saying decisions cannot be made in a rush. They are saying let’s take things step by step,” said Christopher Wright, a climate change professional.
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