With the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) coming to a close over the weekend, it is a good time to review the impact of these international climate events. As a reader of the student magazine, I am going to assume that you are more than aware of the importance of the climate situation and don’t need reminding of the current status of climate issues and the importance of preventative action. But with all of the cynical media regarding these conferences, you may be questioning their importance in making a difference to the climate situation. I met with the Green Party candidate Dominic Tristram to discuss this relevance, and what the outcomes of COP27 will be.
Looking at the impact of these conferences, it is clear from our discussion that there are important outcomes from these climate conferences. “It’s easy to be cynical about these conferences, people think ‘how can they justify all these people flying there?’ And I have sympathy for that point, but these conferences are really useful because realistically you can’t get heads of state together unless you have a big conference. Leaders need the PR for their political careers, so if you want to get them together for them to talk about the climate – which we really need them to do – then you have to pander to them getting their press content. There are flaws with the conferences, but they are overall very useful and necessary, especially if we want countries to agree on actually doing something.”
Going beyond the advantage of having world leaders discuss and take action on climate issues, one of the most important results of these conferences is the increased awareness. “This conference is really useful for focusing the media on climate change, it’s in all the press (even the press that is more climate-sceptic), which draws awareness even from people that don’t care about the climate, and it opens eyes to what’s happening. People may be thinking ‘why are all these leaders going and spending time talking about this thing, maybe it is serious.’”
If we look into the outcomes of the conference, COP27 may seem either like it has made substantial progress towards international cooperation or is a disappointing failure in ensuring climate change is slowed. The two main pillars of the climate crisis are firstly to limit, and secondly to deal with the consequences of climate change. Using this to summarise the issues faced by the international community, COP27 has made progress on half of these problems. Over two weeks of extended talks, the c.200 countries agreed upon setting up a loss and damage fund to help the poorer nations with the damaging effects of climate change but failed to make any progress on global greenhouse gas emissions by including a phase down of all fossil fuels.
Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now — and this is an issue this COP did not addressUN secretary-general António Guterres
The key outcome from this COP is the accountability of richer nations such as the UK towards poorer nations suffering the consequences of climate change. This comes after $100bn was pledged to poorer nations at COP26, only for fewer than 30 of the richer nations to deliver their share. After 30 years of calls from developing countries, the implementation of this ‘loss and development’ fund has been agreed upon. The purpose is to allow developing nations which are particularly vulnerable to climate change to have access to a specific climate fund to deal with financial losses from the adverse effects of climate change.
“It’s good that there are smaller nations there which are really being impacted by climate change. This conference in particular is drawing attention to this, having people there saying, ‘you are industrial nations, who have lots of money and made all these emissions, while us relatively poor nations are having to suffer the consequences.’ Us industrial nations are some of the richest in the world, and it is right that we should do what we can, either with money or indirect aid, to help these countries which are suffering from what we have done in the past and are continuing to do.”
The details and structure of this fund are to be set out ready for next year’s COP28, but the concerns from the richer countries are that costs could spiral in costs if legally binding, with so much uncertainty on the financial damage climate change will have, some of the richer nations (especially the US) have highlighted how they are unwilling to commit unlimited funds to this cause.
The other major talking point this year was the fossil fuel phase down. Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow ended with an agreement to phase down coal across the globe, and India this year sought to expand this to all fossil fuels. Calls for this expansion were strongly opposed by major oil and gas producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, which resulted in no agreement being met by the end of the conference. This is seen by many as a failure to reach any meaningful result.
Stonewalled by a number of large emitters and oil producersGerman foreign minister Annalena Baerbock on the lack of progress on fossil fuel cuts
So, you may be asking what the impact of these international agreements is on us? Well, the reality is, it doesn’t. Local and even national issues take a back seat given the international scale of climate conferences. “Realistically COP doesn’t affect people on an individual level in Bath much at all, energy prices are much more linked to the privatisation of energy supplies and the way the market works.” The global nature of these conferences means the focus is on international cooperation and emission cutting, rather than dictating the exact measures countries should take to achieve these goals. So even though these climate conferences have very little impact on students living in Bath, it is the indirect effects of the conferences such as raised awareness and increased government commitments to net-zero that will impact us. “COP is fairly abstract, there’s not much that a government could actually commit to a COP that would make much difference because what sounds like vast sums of money would make very little difference over the whole population.”
COP27 has overall been a successful conference in terms of raising awareness and the approval of the loss and damages fund, but it has also fallen short of the necessary cuts to fossil fuels which are needed to reduce climate change. With COP28 taking place next year in Dubai, we can only hope to see further international cooperation in both financial and emissions-based targets to limit climate change.