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Reflections from COP27: Have we seen enough progress?

Implementation was meant to be the theme of this year’s event, but have we seen enough progress?

Let us look at the four interconnected gaps that should have been addressed.

Climate justice gap

One could argue that this is where the most progress was made. The creation of a loss and damage fund was hailed as a ‘breakthrough’ in the final Sharm El Sheikh implementation plan, yet pledges are still small and dependent on further approvals within developed nations.

Let us remember that the $100bn climate finance pledge to support developing countries has still not been delivered.

COP27: Seven funds to help the environment

As Antonio Guterres emphasised in his concluding speech: “A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it is not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert.”

Adaptation gap

Some progress was also made to close this gap. There was the launch of the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda with clear 2030 outcomes to enhance resilience for four billion people in vulnerable regions.

There was also acknowledgement that the global financial system needs an overhaul to mobilise private capital into adaptation solutions – currently only 2% of adaptation finance comes from the private sector.

Reforming the role of multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, to de-risk the landscape and enable blended finance, was also emphasised in the final conference text.

Ambition gap

Progress made here was underwhelming and disappointing.

A lack of meaningful updates to country pledges known as NDCs (nationally determined contributions) means that we are still on a 2.4°C trajectory, same as last year.

There are no consequences to this lack of action after NDC updates were requested at COP26.

This creates a worrying and widening misalignment between where country pledges are projected to take us (10% increase in emissions by 2030) and what is expected of investors and corporates (50% decrease in emissions by 2030).

On the upside, the importance of raising ambition around food and agriculture was prominently on the agenda with a net zero 2050 roadmap for food expected by the Food and Agriculture Organization by COP28.

Credibility gap

Closing the credibility gap through real implementation action was lacking.

Another long list of implementation initiatives was announced (similar to COP26) but the overall impact on climate outcomes is unclear.

The alliance between Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to address deforestation is one example.

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A deforestation commitment was launched at COP26, and yet, in early 2022, we still experienced record deforestation levels in the Amazon.

There needs to be a stronger mechanism to provide a clear progress update on implementation actions taken and the impact they have.

On a positive note, there were some developments on standards and frameworks including, the launch of the global ISSB standards on sustainability disclosures; the UK Transition Plan Taskforce framework and implementation guide on transition planning; the HLEG expectations framework for net zero commitments from non-state actors to avoid greenwashing; and, the launch of climatetrace.org by Al Gore, which may be a gamechanger in understanding emissions in regions of low disclosure.

Furthermore, in the absence of much stronger regulations and formal carbon pricing, public and private actors are doubling down on their reliance on offsetting and voluntary carbon trading initiatives. John Kerry announced a carbon trading mechanism to help mobilise finance for developing countries.

A number of African countries launched the African Carbon markets initiative with the ambition to reach 300 million credits worth $6bn produced annually by 2030.

These have all received mixed responses given concerns about the integrity and additionality of voluntary carbon markets, as well as the potential for offsetting to distract from real world decarbonisation.

Overall, when it comes to the aim of COP27 providing confidence that the 1.5°C goal is still alive, we do not think it was a success.

While the emphasis on climate justice and adaptation is important, there is only so much one can adapt to extreme climate impacts.

We still need to focus on limiting global warming with urgency and close the ambition and credibility gaps we have highlighted.

Ultimately, emissions are still on the rise and are expected to reach record levels in 2022.

Which begs the question, is it time to consider whether the multilateral COP negotiation process is effective in addressing climate change with the urgency it requires?

Eva Cairns is head of sustainability insights & climate strategy at abrdn

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