Vital groundwork is being laid for the loss and damage fund. But 43 billion barrels worth of oil fields are set to be approved this year.
It’s been six months since COP27, when world leaders and delegates met to agree the latest plan to curb climate change.
Headlines during that fraught fortnight in Egypt were dominated by discussions about a loss and damage fund to compensate disaster-struck developing countries. Campaigners’ hopes were raised by the issue making it onto the agenda at the start of the UN climate summit.
But there was no room to relax until the final gavel dropped on Sunday 20 November, confirming that the terms of this long-sought fund were accepted by all blocs.
“It was an incredible win to get that outcome,” recalls Teresa Anderson, climate justice lead at poverty and injustice charity ActionAid. “It finally felt like the UNFCCC was doing what it was supposed to do on the tin.”
But less tears of relief were shed over the wider agreement - the ‘Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan’ - which failed to reign in the use of fossil fuels.
There were other wins beyond the breakthrough on loss and damage, however.
I was at the conference and it was packed with high-level drama, as well as fruitful side agreements, productive pavilion talks and colourful protests. For a refresher on the top stories from the summit, go to our dedicated page.
At this halfway point between COP27 and COP28 in Dubai at the end of November 2023, we take stock of what progress has been made so far - and what still needs to happen en route to a safer climate deal.
How significant was the loss and damage fund agreed at COP27?
Loss and damage finance was initially requested in 1991 by the first chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
“That is the lifespan of an ask,” says Michai Robertson, AOSIS’s senior finance negotiator, comparing the 31 years it took to the time it takes to become an adult.
But the new fund is yet to make its mark where it’s needed most. “A person a couple of miles away from me [in Antigua and Barbuda] wouldn’t really understand the gravity as yet and feel the impact of these funding arrangements,” he tells Euronews Green.
“But it kind of begs the question; if only we had decided on a similar arrangement like this 30 years ago.”
Loss and damage had been acknowledged at previous conferences, and some solutions sketched out - which were also more fully realised at COP27. ‘The Santiago Network’ was established at COP25 in 2019, aimed at providing technical assistance for developing countries to confront loss and damage.
It’s been framed as a precursor to actually implementing activities, explains Robertson. For example: setting up tools to quantify loss and damage, or running feasibility studies to understand the economic or social aspects of a given action.
After a few years in UNFCCC policy hinterland, the network was finally properly set up at COP27, with parties agreeing to create a diverse, real-world advisory board.
“[Loss and damage] is a weird space to think about,” adds Robertson. A former colleague of his, Professor Lisa Vanhala at University College London, is next month giving a lecture on the subject titled ‘governing the end’. The phrase has chimed with him; summing up the “realistic art” that comes with hoping for the best while planning for the worst.
“There’s loss and damage that will happen, that’s irreversible, that is happening,” he says, and an orderly, cooperative approach is the only way to deal with it.
How long will it take to get the loss and damage fund working?
The plan is to get the new fund operationalised at COP28. To that end, a transitional committee (TC) has been appointed to propose how the fund will work exactly.
Their first meeting in Luxor, Egypt at the end of March went relatively smoothly - a good show of faith according to campaigners. Though it's not the stuff of headlines, necessary procedural decisions were made.
“Six months on they haven’t done 50 per cent of the work needed; they’ve done a quarter or less,” says Anderson. “But it was probably wise that they spent the first session drilling down into the landscape of what climate responses are, what needs are, what the different modes of financing and action could be.”
Three more TC meetings are planned before COP28, providing space to make more critical recommendations - such as which countries will pay into and benefit from the fund.
Those invested in climate justice can’t just have “blind faith” that developed countries will move at the speed and scale that’s needed, however.
Or that the private sector will step up as required. A mandatory discussion on its role is coming, but, asks Robertson, “why is it that these companies are not coming forward to say voluntarily that ‘I see that you all are trying to set up this fund? We acknowledge our part in it from a global solidarity perspective, we want to cooperate, here are some initial set of commitments that we are making as a private sector entity.’
“I don’t think there’s ever been that sort of narrative really that has caught on in the broader public on them paying it forward.”
How else has climate finance progressed?
Another big part of the TC agenda is funding arrangements; looking at how the new fund will fit into the wider ecosystem of climate finance.
Here, developing countries are anxious to avoid having the same old conversations about the need for the loss and damage fund. “If they haven’t learned what the gaps are by now, then they’re more stupid than we give them credit for,” says Anderson.
“Because we all know that the Green Climate Fund is there to deliver funds for mitigation and adaptation. And we know that humanitarian funding is there to deliver funds in the immediate aftermath of disaster.”
The Green Climate Fund [GCF] is the world’s largest climate fund, established in 2010 and given sharper focus after the Paris Agreement in 2015. It aims to support developing countries to lower their emissions and adapt to climate change.
Loss and damage covers the many other economic and intangible impacts that the climate crises wreak on vulnerable countries. From slow onset events like rising sea levels consuming coastlines and livelihoods, to the degradation of dignity, biodiversity and even sovereignty.
The GCF is currently calling on countries for a third round of pledges to replenish the pot established in 2010. The US recently announced a $1 billion (around €90 bn) top up - its first contribution in six years. While Robertson, who also advises the GCF, is “happy to see the signalling”, he says it's still unclear whether the billion is a new commitment from Biden, or a partial fulfilment of the $3 billion promised by Obama and reneged on by Trump.
Earlier this month Germany pledged a record €2 billion - the largest single contribution in the Fund's history.
Meanwhile, wealthy nations are this year set to meet their overdue $100 billion (€90 bn) climate finance pledge to developing countries, three years later than promised.
"It is frankly an embarrassment that it hasn't been possible to mobilise this money yet - especially taking into consideration that really, when being honest, we need trillions," Dan Jorgensen, Denmark's minister for global climate policy and development, told Reuters.
A new collective goal on climate finance is now under discussion, due to be decided by November 2024.
What progress has been made on the just transition?
One of the other notable firsts from COP27 was the creation of a ‘just transition work programme’, or JTWP for short. This is a dedicated work stream, looking at how the move to clean energy - under the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C - can proceed fairly, addressing rather than exacerbating inequalities.
“There was one element that was across everything for us, and it was the just transition pathways,” Mohamed Nasr, Egypt’s chief climate negotiator, told journalists in March.
“We have been talking a lot about phasing down, phasing out, phasing up, and all these nice phasings, but we have not moved forward from the phasing into looking at the enablers of these transitions. And a just transition work programme from our point of view was very much needed.”
Annual “high-level ministerial round tables” are part of the plan, with the first taking place at COP28 next year. The co-chairs of an informal consultation last month reported they were “very pleased with the active engagement by Parties” so far.
The next intersessional climate change conference in Bonn next month will give more structure to the JTWP.
“A just transition has the potential to really draw people towards the change rather than force them to it,” says Anderson. Nasr too spoke about the need for a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ approach to persuade countries to follow a 1.5C aligned track.
“It needs to be expedited, but it is a just transition - social and economic, under the umbrella of climate change,” he said.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is in contact with government negotiators and asks for a JTWP that has active trade union engagement.
“The COP27 decision refers to ‘social dialogue’, this means with the organisations that represent the workers. The JTWP that will be decided at COP28 should include workers representation,” says ITUC’s global climate policy negotiator Bert De Wel.
Will COP28 finally see a fossil fuel phase out?
COP27 did not get a grip on fossil fuels. Despite an alliance of more than 80 countries seeking to declare a phase-out of all fossil fuels, the deal only maintained COP26’s agreement to phase down coal. This may in part be due to the influence of the 636 fossil fuel lobbyists who attended the summit - more than the combined total of the ten countries most impacted by climate change.
“A growing number of countries are pushing for COP28 to call for an equitable phase out of all fossil fuels. This will be one of the key battlegrounds at COP28,” Kelly Trout, research co-director at Oil Change International (OCI) tells Euronews Green.
“Where COP27 failed to call for a rapid, equitable phase out of fossil fuel production and use, COP28 must succeed.”
But doubt has been cast on the likelihood of the UAE, which receives half of its revenue from fossil fuels, providing the leadership required on this front. President-designate Sultan Al Jaber has been criticised by campaigners for not renouncing his role as chief executive of the petrostate’s national oil company Adnoc, which has big short-term expansion plans.
As Parties continue their vital work away from the conference spotlight, the fossil fuels industry is quietly getting on with its business too.
In 2023, Rystad Energy (a Norwegian consultancy considered the gold standard for data in the industry) projected it was on track to approve new fields for development containing 34 billion barrels of oil equivalent of reserves. That’s nearly double the volume of reserves approved for development last year, according to OCI.
Though COPs have so far failed to stem emissions globally, some significant progress has been made with the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA). The core members of this international coalition, founded by Denmark and Costa Rica, have promised to end new oil and gas extraction and set a Paris-aligned deadline for oil and gas production in their territory.
And BOGA has gained momentum in the months since COP27, with Vanuatu joining last month.
Meanwhile signatories of the Glasgow Statement, now known as the Clean Energy Transition Partnership, are (partly) seeing through their pledge to end public finance for fossil fuels projects.
Countries such as Canada, the UK and Finland are already shifting $5.7 billion €5.2 bn) a year out of non-renewables, OCI reports.
Are COPs quick enough to end the climate crisis?
“It’s generally frustrating,” Robertson says of the pace of change. “Because of how we make decisions, on the basis of consensus, and the UNFCCC and the multilateral process, you have to really go at the pace of your slowest person.”
But this also lends it a unique legitimacy “that maybe no other process in the world” can achieve, he says. As with the 30-year long wait for a Loss and Damage fund: “190-odd countries have come together to say that yes, we agree to this way forward.”
Campaigners are keeping a close eye on the detail of discussions during this inter-COP period. But understanding the highly technical workings of the UNFCCC isn’t a prerequisite for climate action.
“Ultimately” says Trout, “the most momentum is still outside the official UNFCCC process, with people and communities fighting and stopping new expansion projects, and pushing their governments to act.”
Almost 6 months to the day, midway through COP27, hundreds of people marched through the official Sharm El Sheikh venue, a first in UNFCCC history.
“The outside public… helped us a lot, I think, with getting that decision [on Loss and Damage] in Sharm,” the AOSIS lead says. “It was a lot of the media, it was a lot of the civil society, and it was a lot of general people on the ground that allowed us to have that impetus behind us. And so I think, continuing to have that behind us as we operationalise it is going to be quite crucial.”
That people power will be essential in “holding to account a lot of really powerful players” in the months and years ahead, he adds.