Another UN climate meeting has come and gone. Yet again, it will make no difference whatsoever. The fossil fuel industry will continue to expand. Greenhouse gas emissions will increase. The climate crisis will get worse.

Here’s a brief overview of some of what came out of COP27.

Loss and damage

COP27 did reach an agreement to set up a fund to compensate countries for the loss and damage caused by the climate crisis. This is important. But the details are hopelessly vague, or completely non-existent. Where the money is going to come from, and when, is anyone’s guess.

The governments taking part in COP27 did reach a decision “to establish new funding arrangements for assisting developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, in responding to loss and damage . . . ”

They will set up a “Transitional Committee” with “a view to operationalizing the funding arrangements”. And they will invite,

international financial institutions to consider, at the 2023 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, the potential for such institutions to contribute to funding arrangements, including new and innovative approaches, responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change;

The idea of trusting the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund with “innovative approaches” to funding arrangements is a recipe for disaster.

It sounds to me like an invitation to develop a scheme to ensure that the governments and corporations responsible for the climate crisis will avoid paying reparations to the communities suffering the consequences of the climate crisis – while allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue profiting from pollution.

Governments also agreed that they will hold ministerial consultations before COP28 “to advance consideration and understanding of a possible outcome on this matter”.

The inclusion of loss and damage in the “Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan” is long overdue. But the text agreed on, when translated into English, means nothing more than kicking the can as far down the road as possible.

Carbon trading

COP27 failed to reach an agreement (once again) on the rules for carbon trading under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. In Glasgow, at COP26, governments agreed the general rules for implementing Article 6 and said that the first credits should be issued by the end of 2023.

There are three main parts to Article 6:

  • Article 6.2 creates the basis for trading carbon credits (or Internally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes – ITMOs – as they are called in the UNFCCC system) between governments;
  • Article 6.4 sets up the mechanism for trading carbon credits (or Article 6.4 emissions reductions – A6.4 ERs – as they are called in the UNFCCC system) between governments. This mechanism will replace the Clean Development Mechanism – and will be even worse than the CDM because we now have even less time to address the climate crisis than we did when the Kyoto Protocol created the CDM in 1997; and
  • Article 6.8 covers non-market approaches to addressing the climate crisis. It focusses on international cooperation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building, without carbon trading. Needless to say, Article 6.8 has been largely sidelined in the UNFCCC negotiations.

Apart from the obvious problem (which isn’t on the UNFCCC’s agenda) that carbon trading does not reduce emissions and is a distraction from the urgent need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, there are several problems still to be resolved with Articles 6.2 and 6.4.

The first problem is deciding what type of operations should be allowed to generate carbon credits. This could include anything from planting trees, avoiding deforestation, improved cookstoves, biofuels, hydropower dams, and carbon-capture machines.

The Wall Street Journal comments that, “It remains unclear whether activities such as planting trees that soak up carbon dioxide would be eligible for the creation of credits representing removals of carbon dioxide.”

The second problem is that the methodologies to be used to quantify exactly how many carbon credits each of these operations might generate are still up in the air. One example of this problem is raised by Gabon’s plans to issue 90 million carbon credits. The Coalition for Rainforest Nations calls these “sovereign carbon credits achieved under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism”.

But as Dirk Nemitz, team leader of the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use unit at the UNFCCC Secretariat, told REDD-Monitor, the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ does not use or define the terms “REDD+ mechanism” or “credits”.

COP27

A third problem involves regulating and monitoring this proposed carbon market. As Simon Evans of Carbon Brief notes, “The accounting and reporting machinery around Article 6 carbon trading is almost entirely impenetrable.”

And COP27 managed to take a giant leap in the wrong direction when governments agreed two paragraphs on confidentiality and Article 6. The first paragraph starts as follows:

The participating Party may designate information provided to the Article 6 technical expert review team during the review as confidential.

Even carbon trading proponents agree that this is a mistake. “This is one of the few substantial things that they agreed on and this is moving in the wrong direction,” Aadith Moorthy, CEO of Boomitra Inc., a US-based soil carbon trading company, told the Wall Street Journal.

One observer told Carbon Brief that,

“The confidentiality provisions on [Article] 6.2 are embarrassing. You could drive a space shuttle through that loophole and have plenty of room on all sides.”

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels finally made an appearance in a UNFCCC agreement at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. But all the text did was to call on governments to accelerate “efforts towards the . . . phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. No deadlines. No mechanism for stopping subsidies. And the inclusion of the word “inefficient” makes the statement pretty much meaningless.

One year later, nothing has changed. The same text is simply repeated in the “Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan”.

COP27

COP27 agreed that there should be an “increase in low-emission and renewable energy”. That could mean just about anything, including wind and solar energy, nuclear power, coal with carbon capture and storage, or fossil gas. It’s a gift to the fossil fuel industry, in other words.

None of this should come as a surprise given that there were 636 fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27. That’s over 100 more than registered to take part in COP26.

Forests

The “Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan” “emphasizes” the importance of protecting “forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards”.

This doesn’t represent any progress on anything agreed in Glasgow. The Glasgow Declaration on Forests includes a commitment to “working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation”.

But the Glasgow Declaration on Forests is just another in a long line of meaningless UN declarations. After signing the Glasgow Declaration, Indonesia’s Minister for Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya announced that “Forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is obviously inappropriate and unfair”.

COP27

Since COP26, there have been no meetings of any significance to take the Declaration forward.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, the UK launched a “forest and climate leaders partnership” which is supposed to monitor countries’ pledges under the Glasgow Declaration on Forests. The US and Ghana will co-chair the partnership.

But the governments of Russia, Brazil, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Peru are not part of the partnership. That means that nearly half of the world’s forests are outside the “forest and climate leaders partnership”.

 

Teaser photo credit: By IAEA Imagebank – Day 3 at COP27 (cop27_0164), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=125207766