United Nations representatives and the tens of thousands of participants, activists and journalists at international talks in Egypt headed into the second and final week of an annual climate-change summit that put big emitters like the U.S., China and India in the spotlight.
Observers weren’t yet able to predict if a shift in pushing emissions-cutting chatter beyond voluntary efforts closer to measurable and accountable action would emerge.
Delegates, by the conclusion of the Conference of the Parties, or COP27, as this gathering is known, must hammer out a “cover decision.” That’s a shared document that lays out the political goals and often gets named for the conference venue, like last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact.
Still, the prominence of oil and gas industry
representation, even more than at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow did not go unnoticed. The energy sector’s criticized role in any climate talks by some environmental and policy groups clashes with a belief held by others that it will take the sector’s reach and scalability in a transition to wind, solar and nuclear
Other early markers summing up the meetings included small steps between China and the U.S., the world’s top polluters from fossil fuels
and the formalization of talks to compensate poorer, climate change-vulnerable nations whose minerals, metals and energy reserves quench industrial and transportation demand in rich nations.
Egypt has faced scrutiny for its split loyalties to fossil fuel-favoring OPEC, and its own role in drilling for more fossil fuels, in constrast to its leadership within the African continent, which sits at the center of efforts to clean up the sometimes costly human and economic impacts of extracting and burning fuels.
The plight of an Egyptian-held activist on hunger strike remains in the headlines, and logistics at the event have been less than ideal by some accounts, prompting the Egyptian hosts to urge all eyes strictly on the matter at hand: Saving Earth from a hot future, not on how challenging and expensive it is to eat on site.
Here are some of the takeaways from the talks to date.
Oil majors boost attendance at COP27
At least 636 representatives of the fossil fuel industry registered to attend the ongoing COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, a 25% increase over the industry’s presence last year, according to an analysis released by three advocacy groups.
More fossil fuel lobbyists are on the roster than any single national delegation, besides the UAE who has registered 1,070 delegates compared to 176 last year. Within that group, 70 of their delegation this year are classed as fossil fuel lobbyists, according to a report from Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Global Witness (GW).
Global Witness said researchers counted the number of individuals registered — either directly affiliated with fossil fuel corporations, including Shell, Chevron
or attending as members of delegations that act on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.
Read: For first time ever, majority of shareholders push oil giant Chevron to align with Paris climate pact
Twenty-nine countries in total have fossil fuel lobbyists within their national delegations. After the UAE, Russia has the second most with 33.
Big polluters China and U.S. vow rekindled talks
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping committed on Monday to a renewed seriousness in joint efforts to curb carbon emissions after talks had been shelved since August.
A return to the table on this issue by the U.S. and China — the world’s top two contributors to climate change — has been one of the top concerns of the U.N. climate talks. In August, China suspended all cooperation with the U.S., including around climate change, in retaliation for a trip to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The U.S. has said it can flip to net-zero emissions by 2050, but global policy bodies think U.S. efforts to hit 50% of that goal by 2030 looks out of reach. China has said it will take until 2060 for it to hit net zero.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, arriving in Bali for economic talks, said there was no way to address climate change “without the cooperation of all G-20 members and in particular without the cooperation of the two biggest economies, the United States and China.”
Read more: Biden, Xi pledge renewed cooperation on climate as world pressures two top polluters
Will China and India strengthen their climate stance?
One issue is the world’s commitment, reaffirmed in Glasgow, to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). The U.S., Britain and others are pushing for the Egyptian meeting to reiterate that goal and to urge countries to commit to emissions cuts needed to reach it, Alden Meyer, a long-time observer of U.N. climate meetings with the environmental think tank E3G, told the Associated Press.
China and India, however are resisting, he said. “They clearly have buyers’ remorse about agreeing to it in Glasgow.”
That means COP27 participants were looking to the G-20 gathering in Bali and whether leaders there will stick to their commitment, also made last year, to the 1.5-degree climate goal. If there’s a push to drop it at the G-20, it would be a setback for climate-change fighting under undermine COP27.
India made an unexpected proposal over the weekend for this year’s climate talks to end with a call for a phase down of all fossil fuels.
The idea is likely to get strong pushback from oil and gas-exporting nations, including the United States, which promotes natural gas as a clean ‘bridge fuel’ to renewables.
Two diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the proposal was yet to be officially debated said India could be trying to get payback for last year’s meeting, when it was shamed for resisting a call to “phase out” coal.
Climate aid to help low-income countries is edging ahead
The last climate conference, COP26, nearly fell apart over frustration that international finance wasn’t flowing to developing countries. Will there be repeat frustration?
Ahead of the COP27, negotiators agreed after two hurried days of preliminary talks to formally discuss the question of vulnerable nations receiving money for the loss and damage they’ve suffered from climate change.
“Loss and damage” as these efforts are labeled carries undertones of liability and climate justice. The countries that have profited the most and enjoyed the most ease from burning fossil fuels are not the countries who are suffering the worst from climate change impacts. Thus enters the loaded term: reparations.
The push for loss and damage payments differs from climate finance directed toward mitigation and adaptation. “Loss and damage” is considered by most as a third pillar whenever finance is discussed.
Some delegates were already talking about the possibility of a walkout by developing nations unless demands for more aid to poor countries are met.
“Now rich countries need to play their part,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Rich nations did announce an insurance fund, the so-called Global Shield, meant for quick response to climate devastation.
Financial world scolded for ‘greenwashing’
Other financial themes are meant to show progress this week as well.
In 2021, the financial sector arrived at COP26 in full force for the first time. Private banks, insurers and institutional investors representing $130 trillion said they would align their investments with the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, toward a pledge to net-zero emissions economy-wide.
It was an apparent breakthrough, says Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and co-chair of the Voluntary Markets Integrity Initiative, in a commentary. But many observers cried foul and accused the financial institutions of greenwashing, or falsely playing up their eco efforts without real proof of progress.
In the year since then, a U.N. commission has put a red line around greenwashing, delineating what a company or institution must do to make a credible claim about its net-zero goals. Its checklist isn’t mandatory, but it sets a high bar based on science and will help hold companies and investors to account, Kyte says.
What’s more, over the past 12 months, frustration has grown with the international financial system when it comes to climate change, especially with the World Bank Group’s leadership. Its president, David Malpass, was urged by some to step down following comments that favored fossil fuels. Malpass, nominated by the Trump administration in 2019, has clung on for now, but he is under pressure from the U.S., Europe and others to bring forward a new road map for the World Bank’s response to climate change this year.
Kyte said another development to watch for is more public-private partnerships to speed up decarbonization and power the clean energy transition.
Carbon market clean up
Carbon markets, in which lower-emitters can sell their carbon credits to higher emitters for a net effect of turning credits into planting more carbon-sucking trees or pushing other technologies, have been around for years. But they’re constantly up for a remodel.
The U.S.’s John Kerry used COP27 to push a new form of carbon offsets to pay for green energy investments in countries transitioning from coal. The idea, loosely sketched out, is that countries dependent on coal could sell carbon credits to companies, with the revenue going to fund clean energy projects. The country would speed up its exit from coal and lower its emissions, and the private company could then claim that reduction in its own accounting toward net-zero emissions.
Environmental groups worry carbon markets do little to sway demand away from oil and gas. But other issues, such as double counting and lack of transparency, have plagued earlier attempts at these markets. And Kerry’s plan raised some concern that introducuing yet another framework would swamp the globe with too many credits.
Still, voluntary carbon markets for these offsets have grown from $300 million in 2019 to $2 billion currently, though many consider them still relatively small and fragile and in need of more robust rules.
Kyte, of the Voluntary Markets Integrity Initiative, said there is chatter within the halls of COP27 about advances for these markets. For one, a new set of “high-integrity carbon credit principles” is expected in 2023. A code of conduct for how corporations can use voluntary carbon markets to meet their net zero claims has already been issued, and standards for ensuring that a company’s plans meet the Paris Agreement’s goals are evolving.
The Associated Press contributed.