100 heads of state, over thirty thousand delegates, and representatives from 190 countries. It’s not often you get such an international cohort of people, who hold such power- financially, socially, and politically- under one roof. But once a year, since 1995, these people have gathered in a variety of destinations, for one event; COP.
This year's COP27 was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, just under a month ago on the 6th of November. The attendees represent a force for change, and each year the world waits with bated breath to hear the decisions of our leaders as to the new and improved plan they’ve devised to combat what is now, potentially, our biggest threat; climate change.
After a last-minute extension to the Summit, for country leaders to agree upon the final documents, the outcomes were praised by many but met with disappointment by most. The UK’s lead climate negotiator, minister Alok Sharma, noted that the phase-down of coal, and phasing out of fossil fuels, were not in this year’s final agreement. In his closing speech, he said this- “All of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider if we have fully risen to the challenge.” If not, he added, the heads of the wealthiest nations and worlds organisations “will have to explain that, to our citizens, to the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities, and ultimately to the children and grandchildren to whom many of us now go home.”
This frank and heartfelt message did not stand alone. Nakeeyat Dramani Sam, the 10-year-old Ghanaian poet, addressed the need for reparations for climate injustice. Citing the scientific fact that we have less than a decade left before the effects of global warming get much worse unless we immediately stop polluting at this rate, she ended her speech with a simple message: "Have a heart and do the math. It's an emergency.” After she had finished speaking, she received a standing ovation. The lack of jargon and statistics within this plea exhibits a freshness and directness often overlooked by the adults in charge of these summits.
It is a simple fact that capitalist enterprises fighting against the efforts of those trying to save the environment, and ignoring the death toll that this climate disaster is resulting in, must wake up and reorganise their priorities.
Hopefully next year, at COP28, nations will be held to their agreements and build on them, rather than stagnating or reversing the excellent work done so far. The key, it seems, is listening to the statistics alongside the voices of the underrepresented and the young, working together to craft roadmaps that listen and respond to the needs of the planet and humans alike, rather than the wants of capitalist enterprises.
Let’s take a deeper look at a couple of things worth noting about this year's summit.
Loss and Damage Fund
For the first time in 40 years, there have been four consecutive seasons of below-normal rains in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHoA), resulting in 37 million people facing acute hunger. In Pakistan, unprecedented rainfall has led to deadly flooding, displacing 630,000 people and affecting the lives of 33 million.
These are just two of many natural disasters that this year has seen. These are just the beginning of what’s to come if more is not done to curb our use of fossil fuels and emissions. Statistics show that between 1751 and 2017, the US, EU, and UK accounted for 47% of cumulative CO2 emissions compared to just 6% from the entire African and South American continents. It is deeply unjust that the effects of climate change are felt most by developing countries, resulting in irreparable damage and countless human lives lost.
For 30 years Small-island nations have been sounding the alarm about climate change, campaigning for a reparations fund to be agreed upon. Finally, after pressure from the G77, a bloc of developing countries, and a recent IPCC report, the wealthiest countries agreed to formally set up a Loss and Damage Fund.
While many, including Sherry Rehman- climate minister for Pakistan, expressed that this “30-year-old journey of ours has finally, we hope, found fruition today”, the agreement has already been met with contempt by some.
Before the summit, the US pushed back against the term “loss and damage” itself, while along with the EU and other wealthy nations, opposition was expressed to an official fund, ‘for fear that admitting to their historical role in the climate crisis would open them up to unlimited liability’.
During the final stages of the agreement, it was noted that China, a part of the G77 developing nations bloc, is now a huge emitter of CO2 emissions, and has ample economic ability to join the wealthy countries in donating to the fund, rather than be one of its recipients. The who, what, and how of its structure remains unclear, but hope is high that finally, those in need will receive proper aid.
A transitional committee is now expected to meet before the end of March 2023 to arrange how the fund will be operationalised, putting this forward to countries at the COP28 climate summit in November 2023. In the meantime, it was agreed that $230 million would be given to the Adaptation Fund, a charity operating since 2010 to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. Thus far, they have committed US$ 923.5 million to projects and programmes that work towards climate justice. The new fund’s transitional committee would be wise to take cues from organisations like the Adaptation Fund as to how they should proceed.
Concerning Resurgence of Fossil Fuels
While wealthier countries scramble for fresh gas supplies, eyes have turned towards African nations as a potential source of more fossil fuels, a contrast to the clean energy we should be pursuing. Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, stated that Europe is “wanting to turn Africa into its gas station”. This is a hypocritical move, considering European nations have previously asked African nations to avoid digging up reserves of gas and oil and instead focus on green alternatives, until, that is, they were hit by an energy crisis themselves.
With energy prices skyrocketing across Europe due to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Western nations have put their clean energy initiatives on the back burner and are seeking cheaper fuel by working with African nations including Namibia, Mauritania, Tanzania, and Senegal. Shell and TotalEnergies are developing new oil fields at these locations for export and to generate energy for local communities.
Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared their intention to invest in gas projects in Senegal, while Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy at COP27, was quick to assert that Germany was still prioritising clean energy. She stated their new gas contracts were short-term, while they have also signed a deal to help fund a fully-renewable energy system by 2030 in Kenya.
With Germany most affected by Russia’s “weaponising of energy", carried out by restricting gas flow to Europe via the Nord 1 Pipeline- cutting deliveries by 75% in June before completely shutting it down in late August- it will be interesting to see whose statements ring true; Schulz’s or Morgan’s.
Namibia's petroleum commissioner, Maggy Shino, said they are “going to develop all of our energy resources for the benefit of our people because our issue is energy poverty".
While 600 million Africans still lack access to electricity, a fact far too widely ignored by the Western press- this statement from Shino is a fair one, but there are concerns that this could exacerbate the climate crisis, leaving African nations worse off in the long run.
Whether the benefits of these new gas and oil wells being tapped- such as the potential to give 970 million people access to energy for clean cooking- outweigh the dangers- such as a return to reliance on and acceptance of fossil fuels- seems a question too big to even consider.
Instead, we should collectively look towards the potential for harnessing the power of the sun and wind. When only 0.6% of the $434 billion invested in renewables worldwide was allotted to the African continent, as reported by BloombergNEF, there is so much more to be done to give these countries the funding they need to create what should be a powerhouse of clean energy.
Western governments, and energy companies, must put their money where their mouths- and energy sources- are, giving those less fortunate to rise up and work cohesively together, to save our planet and provide everyone with an equal quality of life while doing so.
Next year’s COP28 will take place in Dubai.