This year’s UN climate conference, set for November 6–18, will close out another year marked by record-breaking floods, deadly heat waves, and other extreme weather events on top of a global energy crisis. Yet representatives gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties (COP27) are unlikely to make significant new pledges. Instead, COP27 is expected to focus on whether countries are following through on commitments made last year.
What are the aims of COP27?
Egypt has framed the 2022 conference as Africa’s COP, and a priority is to increase financing for low- and middle-income countries, which have contributed the least to global emissions but suffer the consequences most severely. Discussions will likely include the following issues:
Stronger commitments. At the end of COP26, all countries agreed to come to this year’s conference with more aggressive climate plans. But since then, only twenty-four countries have newly submitted or updated their targets, which are known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), under the Paris Agreement. UN officials have urged countries to show up to COP27 with greater ambition.
Loss and damage. This refers to the unavoidable consequences of climate change, such as the loss of people’s lives due to extreme weather events or the disappearance of coastal communities due to sea-level rise. Poorer nations are disproportionately suffering these damages and have asked wealthy nations to compensate them. Advocates of compensation have called for a formal financing system to collect and distribute funds. The United States and the European Union (EU) have historically opposed such a system; during a CFR event ahead of COP27, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry indicated that the United States will take part in discussions on loss and damage at the conference.
Adaptation. As emissions continue to rise, developing countries are calling for more funds to help them adapt to the consequences of climate change. Examples of adaptation include installing early-warning systems for extreme weather events, building heat shelters, and using drought-resistant seeds. So far, most financing has gone toward mitigation, or efforts to reduce emissions.
Climate finance. Over a decade ago, wealthy nations pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year starting in 2020 to help poorer countries reduce emissions and adapt to the worsening effects of climate change. But so far, they’ve only raised about $90 billion altogether. Low- and middle-income countries—many of which are strapped with debt—will press for more financing from governments, corporations, and multilateral financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. They also want more of this funding to go toward adaptation.
Private-sector commitments. Officials will likely put pressure on corporations that attend COP27 to do more. Last year, hundreds of financial institutions joined the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) and pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. But several firms have quit, and others—such as J.P. Morgan and Bank of America—have threatened to walk away. Many of those that remain in the coalition have not published plans to reach that goal.
In addition to diplomats and business executives, Egyptian officials say up to ninety world leaders could attend COP27. U.S. President Joe Biden reportedly plans to attend, while Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected not to.
Activists and representatives from nongovernmental organizations regularly attend these climate conferences, but their attendance is expected to be lower this year. Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, is only reachable by air. And some youth activists have voiced concerns about prohibitive hotel prices. Protests will likely be few and far between as street demonstrations are illegal in Egypt, though the Egyptian government said it will set up an area for peaceful protests.
Have countries made progress on the goals they set at COP26?
Not enough to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, which means the world’s average temperature will also continue to climb. By the end of the decade, the world is expected to miss the Paris Agreement’s target—to prevent the world’s average temperature from rising 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels. Scientists and UN officials have warned that exceeding 1.5°C of warming will have catastrophic consequences, including devastating sea-level rise, longer and more intense heat waves, and widespread species loss.
Among the COP26 pledges was a commitment by more than one hundred countries to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Since then, more than a dozen other countries joined the pledge, and the United States and the EU launched an initiative to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector. China—the top methane emitter in 2021—has not signed the pledge, though some observers expect it to do so during COP27.
Some countries said last year that they will stop using coal, a leading source of emissions, by 2030. But emissions from coal are expected to increase by 2 percent in 2022 compared to last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The energy crisis prompted by Russia’s war in Ukraine is partly to blame for that, as some European countries that previously relied on Russian natural gas, such as Germany, have returned to burning coal. China, which is the top emitter of greenhouse gases annually, continues to build coal-fired power plants.
Another pledge was to halt deforestation by 2030. Brazil was among the countries that committed to do so, but deforestation of its Amazon Rainforest was higher during the first nine months of 2022 than in any of the same time periods in the last fifteen years.
Have there been any positive developments since last year?
There have been a few. Countries are adding more renewable energy (mainly solar and wind) to their electric grids than ever before. And the IEA expects that the war in Ukraine will spark a greater shift toward clean energy, including nuclear power, with investment projected to increase by $2 trillion per year by 2030.
In addition, several high-emitting countries have made stronger commitments or passed significant climate legislation since the last conference. The United States, the second-highest annual emitter after China, passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which promises more than $365 billion for climate action and could lead to substantial emissions reductions over the next decade. Meanwhile, both Australia and India updated their NDCs.
The rate of emissions is slowing down, though not by much. And countries’ updated targets still aren’t enough to keep to the 1.5°C limit. A new report [PDF] by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says current commitments would cause the world to warm by around 2.5°C by 2100.
This only heightens the urgency of making progress at COP27. “The world has a very unforgiving deadline, and there’s still so much work to be done,” says CFR’s Alice C. Hill.