COP27: What is it and why is it important?


COP27 is due to take place in Egypt from 6 to 18 November 2022. The summit comes at a time when there are acute energy issues across the globe, increasing numbers of extreme weather events and worrying data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ("IPCC") which indicates we may not be doing enough to avoid the worst aspects of the climate crisis.

COP27 acts as a critical opportunity to assess what has been achieved since COP26, which took place in Glasgow last year, and to hopefully enable countries to come together and set meaningful targets for reducing global carbon emissions and work towards other key mitigation and adaption solutions to the climate crisis.

What is COP27?

COP27 is the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ("UNFCCC"). The summit will be attended by over 30,000 people, including the heads of state of the countries who signed the UNFCCC, as well as a variety of climate experts, business leaders and campaigners. These individuals are all coming together in order to agree and accelerate action on the Paris Agreement and build on the work of COP26. Egypt is hosting the summit this year in Sharm el-Sheikh from the 6-18 November 2022.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted in December 2015 by 197 countries around the world. Its central aim is limiting the global temperature increase to 'well below' 2°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to further limit increases to 1.5°C.

The Paris Agreement marked a turning point in the global effort to tackle the climate crisis, as it was the first-time nations from around the world entered into a legal binding agreement to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

The agreement works on a five-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate actions to be carried out by signatories. The initial target for 2020 required countries to:

  • Announce 'nationally determined contributions' (i.e. the effort by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change);

  • Reveal their long-term strategy to decarbonise their economies by 2050; and

  • 'Developed' countries to scale up their climate finance under the UNFCCC to at least US$100 billion per year by 2020 – to help states considered to be most vulnerable to the impact of climate change

COP27 will mark 30 years since the UNFCCC was adopted and seven years since the Paris Agreement was agreed at COP21 in 2015. COP27 has been described as an 'African COP' in reference to its location as well as to the expectation that it will place African countries, being some of the most severely impacted by the climate crisis, in the spotlight of discussions.

Why does COP27 matter?

As set out by Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, "this year’s report tells us that unconditional NDCs point to a 2.6°C increase in temperatures by 2100, far beyond the goals of the Paris Agreement. Existing policies point to a 2.8°C increase, highlighting a gap between national commitments and the efforts to enact those commitments. In the best-case scenario, full implementation of conditional NDCs, plus additional net zero commitments, point to a 1.8°C rise. However, this scenario is currently not credible."

The IPCC has warned that even 2°C is likely to lead to more extreme weather events and negative impacts on the planet. For instance, "with 1.5°C of global warming, one sea ice-free Arctic summer is projected per century. This likelihood is increased to at least one per decade with 2°C global warming." We have already witnessed this year a number of extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, including record high temperatures in the UK this summer, severe flooding in Pakistan and Somalia facing its worst drought in 40 years.

COP27 is therefore essential in creating new pledges and actions on the climate crisis to ensure the reduction in global emissions necessary to meet the 1.5°C goal. In addition, it provides a vital opportunity for action to be taken with regards to adaptation and climate finance, as seen at (4) below.

What happened at COP26?

COP26 was seen as a crucial opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved, and what more needed to be achieved, in order to meet Paris Agreement targets. The agenda for COP26 focused on developing carbon mechanisms, funding for loss and damage, finance and 'nature-based' solutions.

While there were some positive outcomes of COP26which included interim targets for the achievement of 1.5°C global temperature rise, a commitment by over 100 countries to end deforestation by 2030 (with Brazil being amongst the signatories) and the reaffirmation of a previous pledge from developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually to developing countries, it would appear that limited progress has to date been made against these goals. 

For instance, while deforestation rates have slowed in the last year, the Forest Declaration Assessment published a report in October 2022 stating that "not a single global indicator is on track to meet [the] 2030 goals of stopping forest loss and degradation and restoring 350 million hectares of forest landscape," and it appears that pledge from developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually to developing countries will fall short again in 2022.

The recent election of Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva in Brazil is hoped to slow deforestation in the Amazon, with the future President saying he is "open to international co-operation to protect the Amazon."

As noted above, although COP26 ended with a pledge that countries would put forward revised and strengthened NDCs, only a fraction of Paris Agreement signatories have so far done that. The UK's pledge was updated in September 2022, however the Climate Change Committee's 2022 progress report to Parliament, delivered in June 2022, indicated that there are "currently significant risks in the plans for meeting the UK's 2030 NDC under the Paris Agreement."

What is the agenda for COP27?

In addition to the agenda items above, COP27 is also expected to further unresolved items from COP26 such as 'Loss and Damage'.

This focusses on funding for dealing with the destructive impacts of climate change which cannot be avoided either by mitigation or adaptation, with some developing countries (who are often impacted most directly) calling for this to be formally added to the COP27 agenda. There will also be thematic days on topics such as: science, youth & future generations, water and biodiversity.

The UK and COP27

Despite the UK hosting COP26 in 2021, it remains undecided as of the time this article was published whether the UK's Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, will attend COP27. In a statement from Downing Street, it has been announced that the Prime Minister may yet still attend, if sufficient progress is made on preparations for the autumn UK budget.

This move has been criticised by both opposition leaders and various environmental organisations, with the Prime Ministers commitment to net zero and previous climate change agreements being questioned. That said, newly appointed Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, and COP26 President, Alok Sharma, will be in attendance. King Charles will also be hosting a reception for key COP27 figures at Buckingham Palace on 4 November.

In the lead up to COP27, Mr Sharma travelled to the DRC in early October to attend the Pre-COP meeting. One of the aims of this visit was to highlight the importance of the rainforest in the Congo Basin, which is the second largest rainforest on the planet (300 million hectares). By way of comparison, the UK is made up of approximately 24 million hectares of land in total.

Mr Sharma recently invited world leaders to come together at COP27 to establish the Forest & Climate Leaders Partnership to accelerate the commitment made by 140 countries at COP26 to halt forest loss and land degradation, while delivering sustainable economic development needs.

What will Travers Smith be doing in the run up to COP27?

Over the coming weeks, Travers Smith will be publishing a number of articles to keep you informed of all the key developments and news in the run-up to, and during, COP27.

For further information please contact:

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