Newbies at Cop, which is in the throes of its 27th gathering and being attended by almost 30,000 people, can find its size overwhelming. But Nathan Gray has found his bearings and relishes the opportunity to have deep conversations about climate change with people from all over the world.
He feels “Ireland is talking the talk, but at the moment we are not walking the walk” as its emissions are on track to rise this year. “The biggest contribution Ireland can make to Cop27 is working to meet our agreed upon emissions reduction targets,” says Mr Gray, who is a postgraduate researcher on the carbon sustainability of advanced transport fuels at UCC.
He says it’s important to bear in mind that not every Cop will result in a Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, he hopes a meaningful result is possible, especially on financial compensation for countries already suffering from the climate crisis.
The critical issue of loss-and-damage finance, billed as the litmus test for Cop27, was added to the formal agenda at the last minute after 30 years of resistance from wealthy countries. That was a big early win for developing countries.
“But the refusal to include ‘liability’ or ‘compensation’ and the expected delay of any decision until 2024 has seriously undermined trust with countries already dealing with the aftereffects of devastating floods and droughts,” says Ross Fitzpatrick of Christian Aid Ireland.
“Even worse is the attempted sleight of hand by several countries, including Ireland, to package up pledges for loss and damage as new funding when instead they are coming out of existing contributions.”
The bottom line is “we are still not seeing the commitment to deliver crucial finance needed to support countries on the frontline of the climate crisis”, Mr Fitzpatrick says. The target of providing $100 billion (€96.4 billion) per year to poor countries by 2020 has still not been met and negotiations on the new long-term finance target got off to a bad start with developed countries “seeking to drag down ambition”.
“Ultimately, wealthy, polluting countries largely responsible for the climate crisis have so far failed to deliver ambitious emissions reductions needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees – and pledges made by world leaders are insufficient and leave us facing climate disaster.”
Moreover, week one at Cop27 has seen wealthy countries like Ireland fall at the first hurdle to show real leadership on climate justice, he says.
Unless they are fully prepared to acknowledge their ecological debt to those bearing the brunt of the worst impacts of the crisis, we are unlikely to see a just and equitable outcome, Mr Fitzpatrick says. There is still time to change direction but it will require political leadership on a scale which has been sorely lacking so far.
“As we get to the end of the first week the tensions rise in the negotiating rooms and the trade-offs between agenda items begin,” says Cop veteran Dr Tara Shine of Change By Degrees.
Outside that cauldron Cop27 is the busiest she has been to. “Pavilions and meeting rooms are full of events sharing solutions and making new commitments. The challenge will be making sure all these commitments are met in a transparent way. We need more show and less tell,” she says.
Ireland is undoubtedly making a real contribution and is well represented by Government, NGOs, business and academia, Shine says. “Collectively we are good networkers and that helps Ireland punch above its weight. Ireland is proactively engaging in the negotiations on key issues for this Cop like loss and damage and the global stock take. But we need to match our efforts here with emission reductions at home to be credible leaders.”
Is she hopeful for a meaningful outcome? “Yes and no. It is positive so many actors are now involved in Cop and pushing for action. But we need so much more to change to keep the 1.5-degree goal from slipping away. That is the most important action for humanity.”
Loss and damage will be a key outcome but it only arises “because we have failed to honour our commitments and reduce emissions”, she says. “The most vulnerable people and communities need 1.5 and loss and damage [support] to survive. Every sector, business and town can play its part in keeping 1.5 alive.”
Climate policy specialist Sadhbh O’Neill says finance has dominated so far. “Carbon money” is everywhere – specialised intermediaries, consultancies, investment funds, banks, lenders, accountancy firms. It crops up in the climate finance and loss and damage debates, with “new announcements on carbon markets every other day”, she says.
“But it’s mostly private finance. There’s tonnes of money floating around, even the fossil fuel industry are here hunting for ‘sustainable’ projects to invest in – and developing countries meanwhile are verging on bankruptcy.
“It is galling.”
There is no magic money tree for poor countries at Cop: “if you want finance, you have to pay for it, with your land, your own mitigation plans and business opportunities”. Carbon credits ultimately allow rich countries and companies to continue business as usual instead of investing in radical decarbonisation efforts, Ms O’Neill says.
A lot has happened in building up voluntary carbon markets since she first started coming to Cops in 2016. “Bilateral agreements are starting to shape up and some developing countries are being enticed into hosting projects, which will deprive them of the mitigation outcomes on their own inventories,” she warns – so they won’t benefit in terms of their carbon accounting.
“Having said all that, it is quite something to be here. A sample of the people of Planet Earth are here, in all our variety and glory – though not representative. I’ve seen hardly anyone from southeast Asia or China.”
She says: “I love that sense of the human family coming together at Cop. But all is not well under the surface of collegiality and networking. We are in deep, deep trouble.”
For UCC postgraduate student Raffaella Pizzichetti, Cop27 has been educational. She has become expert in tracking the many side events organised in the pavilions by scientists, together with various plenary conferences to help policymakers make the right choices to combat climate change.
While it was good to hear about Ireland’s contribution to the Global Shield initiative, “there is still much work to do to cover the loss and damage budget needed to compensate the most affected and vulnerable countries for the destruction caused by climate change”, says Ms Pizzichetti. Her research focuses on energy recovery from wastewater, improving the energy efficiency of water treatments and improving global water resilience.
With Ireland the EU’s second highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, “to make a substantial contribution to a meaningful Cop27 outcome, a strong plan for implementation of [its] existing mitigation plan should also be presented”, Ms Pizzichetti says.
The world is nowhere near meeting the 1.5-degree goal agreed under the Paris Agreement, and is projected to hit 2.5 degrees, she says. “I understand negotiation takes time due to the complexity of dealing with the needs of many different countries. But it’s made worse by those commitments that are not being met.”