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Global climate change efforts ‘on life support’ ahead of COP27

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International commitments to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5C are “still alive, but only just”, according to Douglas Alexander, strategic adviser at Pinsent Masons.

The former cabinet minister said that momentum behind a raft of pledges to curb carbon emissions, agreed by world leaders at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow last year, had “weakened significantly” in the last 12 months. The warning came as delegates from around the world gathered in Sharm El Sheikh to prepare for the start of COP27 on Sunday.

“COP27 begins in a very tough geopolitical and economic environment. Since the host nation, Egypt, is both an African country and a developing one, its government has chosen to focus on the vital issues of global equity. The prospects of significant negotiating breakthroughs over these issues looks limited, however, given the global economic and political context, which helps explain why COP27 is already being framed as an 'implementation COP’,” Alexander said.

Alexander Douglas_March 2020

Douglas Alexander

Strategic Advisor

The energy transition is happening but, as the scientific reports published over recent days confirm, companies and countries still need to speed up the process or risk catastrophic climate change

“The energy transition is happening but, as the scientific reports published over recent days confirm, companies and countries still need to speed up the process or risk catastrophic climate change. 1.5 degrees is still alive, but only just, and is better described as being on 'life support',” he added. Negotiators are expected to address three central issues at COP27: loss and damage, climate financing, and the legacy of the commitments made at COP26.

Alexander said loss and damage caused by climate change was “shaping up to be the central political and financial dispute” of the conference. He added: “The German and Chilean climate ministers have been appointed by the Egyptians to steward these discussions. Climate vulnerable countries are pushing for a dedicated loss and damage finance facility, but both the European Union and the United States remain uncommitted. In his recent remarks, former US secretary of state John Kerry was careful not to pledge support for a specific funding mechanism, but rather to a continuing dialogue through 2023 and possibly 2024.”

Alexander was part of the UK’s ministerial delegation at COP15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009, where world leaders pledged to raise $100 billion for climate finance annually. “Notwithstanding the success of Paris and the progress of Glasgow, that pledge remains unmet,” he said. “The absence of agreement on that $100bn is proving a significant barrier to progress. Prime minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who made such a powerful contribution to the Glasgow COP, is expected to challenge leaders of northern countries in Sharm El Sheikh. Developing nations want them to engage on what's come to be known as Mottley’s ‘Bridgetown initiative’ to reform multilateral development banks to unlock new sources of finance,” Alexander added.

“Finally, the legacy of the commitments made at COP26 will be another core issue discussed over the next couple of weeks. Countries’ efforts in this regard can best be described as avoiding moving backwards. The agreement to phase down coal and phase out fossil fuel subsidies, made back in 2021 in Glasgow, remain essential to dealing with the challenge of dangerous climate change. The statements made and actions taken in Sharm El Sheikh will be critical to reassuring markets, and indeed political leaders, that the energy transition away from fossil fuels continues to move forward,” said Alexander.

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