In 2015, an ambitious global agreement was reached to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Has COP27 succeeded in keeping that goal alive?
November heralded the 27th Conference of the Parties: the UN’s annual meeting that is aimed at reviewing the progress being made on tackling climate change, and how best to move forwards. The event is attended by all those nations who are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), though this year it was also notably attended by more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists. The overarching aim of COP 27 and the hope of many onlookers around the globe, was that the world’s leaders would do everything in their power to 'keep 1.5 alive'.
What is 1.5 and Why is It So Important?
During COP21 in Paris in 2015, a legally binding international agreement was signed by more than 190 countries to limit global warming to no more than 2°C, but preferably no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Although half a degree of difference might not seem much, this amount is a global average, and the difference between 1.5°C and 2.0°C of warming is a whole new climate regime. According to a major study published in 2016, this 0.5 degree difference is the difference between our oceans having a handful of coral reefs left, or none at all. It is the difference that would prevent doubling of water scarcity within the Mediterranean region, and according to the IPCC, it would also prevent a doubling of the number of wild plants and animals at risk due to climate change, and reduce the number of people facing climate poverty by almost 1,000 million.
What Was Achieved at CP27?
An agreement was reached at COP27 to implement a new fund to support vulnerable poorer nations who are bearing the brunt of climate-change related damage. The details of how this fund will be set up, how money will be distributed and who will contribute is yet to be made clear, though no mention was made of fossil fuel companies contributing, despite them being on target to make record breaking profits of more than $800 billion this year. It’s worth noting too, that in 2009, a promise was made to poorer nations that by 2020, wealthy nations would collectively contribute $100 billion a year to poorer nations, to help them address threats and damages imposed by climate change. This promise has not been kept, and although it sounds like a huge sum, it only equates to approximately one 20th of the UK’s GDP. It also raises the rather coldly clinical question of what price tag we should place on lives, communities, ecosystems and even entire nations destroyed by climate change.
Where Did COP27 Fail?
Negotiations were tense and emotional at COP27, with the EU threatening to walk away over weakened emissions reductions proposals, and Seve Paeniu visibly holding back tears over the future of the island nation of Tuvalu. The most crucial failure at COP27, was the failure to reach any strong agreement on the phasing out of fossil fuels. This agreement was what the world needed to keep 1.5 alive, and prevent catastrophic climate change, but instead, fossil-fuel wealthy nations and perhaps the presence of more than 600 fossil-fuel lobbyists, prevented this agreement from being made. The final agreement contained weak and vague language about 'low emissions energy' which leaves the door open to gas, or even coal and oil with carbon capture and storage technology – technology that is in its infancy and is still highly inefficient.
Is 1.5°C Still Achievable?
The authors of IPCC’s latest climate change report, have already answered this question: An anonymous poll published in Nature (one of the world’s leading publishers of scientific research) reported only that 4% of the report’s authors who responded to their poll, believe that 1.5°C is still achievable. The majority anticipate 3°C of warming – an outcome that could be reasonably described as 'apocalyptic'. The failure of COP to address the most critical issue – that of phasing out fossil fuels, suggests that the other 96% are correct. With COP28 now set to be held in the United Arab Emirates - one of the world’s biggest oil exporters and home to some of the world’s biggest oil reserves, it’s difficult to argue with them.
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