The issues prioritised by developing countries must be placed front and center with loud voices and clear asks
The 27th Conference of Parties (CoP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt this November. The expectations from the event — termed ‘African CoP’, ‘Adaptation CoP’ and ‘Implementation CoP’ — depending on who you ask, are high, and much hope rests on the unity and strength of voices from the developing world to fight for what they deserve.
Down to Earth spoke to Mohamed Nasr, ambassador of Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the 56th UNFCCC conference of the subsidiary bodies (SB56) held in Bonn, Germany last month. Nasr serves as Egypt’s director of the department of climate, environment and sustainable development, and is also its CoP27 lead negotiator.
As the incoming CoP Presidency, the Egyptian delegation spent their time in Bonn assessing the state of negotiations and the possible challenges and successes in store for them, said Nasr.
“It is obvious where the issues of concern would be, and we’re following it, and trying to assess where the ‘landing zones’ could be,” he added.
One of the outcomes of CoP26 was the finalisation of the “Paris Rulebook”. As a result, the main theme of CoP27 is the implementation of the Paris Agreement. And there are a lot of expectations from Egypt in November.
As the first developing world CoP since Marrakech in 2016, there are hopes that the priorities of developing countries will be placed front and centre. These include climate adaptation, climate finance, and loss and damage (L&D), among others.
The narrative so far in the build up to CoP27, however, has been skewed towards climate mitigation — an issue championed by the developed world which is keen that all countries, and not just historical emitters, should make drastic efforts to cut emissions.
But developing countries like India argue that this goes against the UNFCCC’s principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR–RC).
Wealthy industrialised countries who have emitted most of the current stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the early 1900s, must take the lead and invest deeply in mitigation today, according to CBDR. This will allow the developing world to emit and grow its economies and achieve prosperity.
Mitigation requires money and institutional capacity, which the developed world has in abundance. An oft-neglected fact is that it can also be monetised by the private sector.
Adaptation and L&D have little scope for profit-seekers but are critical for poor countries hit hard by climate-induced extreme weather events. Thus, the latter issues are a priority for the developing world.
At Bonn, developing country blocs like the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) repeatedly lamented the lack of “balance” between issues like mitigation on one hand and adaptation as well as L&D on the other. They pointed to the struggle they faced to get the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage on the formal agenda of the Bonn conference.
When asked how the Egyptian Presidency will prepare to avoid this issue in November, the ambassador, a seasoned diplomat, emphasised that as the hosts they must be “impartial and neutral”. He added:
The agenda is based on submissions and requests by the Parties or the groups. This is a Party-driven process so any Party can propose an agenda item. Being the Presidency does not automatically mean that we will be bringing some agenda items and inserting them. It has to happen through the agreed process and (according to) the rules. Countries who believe that certain elements should be included, like loss and damage, must come forward and say so.
GGA and the Glasgow Dialogue were not in the initial agenda for SB56, Nasr said. The GGA was eventually inserted by consensus, while the Glasgow Dialogue was not, owing to ongoing discussions, the ambassador shared.
The latter saw fractures both between developed and developing countries, as well as within developing country blocs themselves, with varying ideas of how to move forward.
“The most important thing is that they [the Parties] have to speak out and identify what they are asking for clearly. You need to go beyond general principles – such as asking for a ‘balance’, or that ‘adaptation is important’ – to what exactly you want to see," he said.
They must have clear asks, as they do in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, Nasr said. “Without those clear asks, what you end up with are generic principles and processes, instead of clear outcomes.”
While adaptation, L&D, finance, mitigation and implementation will be the headings, there is also a need to differentiate between the intergovernmental process (decisions based on agreed agenda items among Parties, also known as the Blue Zone), and additional processes like initiatives and other thematic days (the Green Zone). “We are trying to balance between the two, and ensure complementarity between the two tracks,” said Nasr.
At CoP 27, the Green Zone will focus on “implementation” through 17 thematic areas, he added. These range from renewable energy, sustainable cities and sustainable transport to water, nutrition and food systems. They will be organised in 10 thematic days such as Finance Day, Decarbonisation Day and, for the first time, a Solutions Day.
A widely held view is that the slew of pledges and announcements made by countries, private companies and other stakeholders at CoP26 were mostly ‘noise’ and diverted attention from the substance of the negotiations. These included Net Zero targets announced by various countries as well as abstract and voluntary initiatives outside of the intergovernmental process like the Global Methane Pledge.
“We have been working not only with the President’s team (the intergovernmental process), but also with the Climate Champions. Any pledges outside the intergovernmental process are under the Champions’ mandate,” said Nasr.
The Climate Champions were appointed at CoP21 in Paris to oversee voluntary pledges and actions taken by non-Party actors to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement. This covers a wide range of entities including ‘cities, regions, businesses and investors’.
“The Champions are working with the UN system to try to bring some sort of accountability mechanism for the private sector's pledges and plans. All non-Party stakeholders would fit under this process within the UN system,” added Nasr. “The goal of this will be to both track and encourage them to enhance their pledges.”
The Egypt presidency is also trying to map the existing pledges and initiatives to make sure they are not duplicating them but building on what is existing, he said. “It’s not easy — there are many initiatives covering everything that came from Paris all the way to CoP27, or, six CoPs. And there are a lot of pledges by private sector companies and other stakeholders — everybody is pledging!"
“We know the challenge. As we said, it is an ‘Implementation CoP’ so our focus is to make sure that whatever is being said is being implemented,” the ambassador said.
In addition to ensuring that the interests of the developing world are prioritised, the Egyptian Presidency will have to address the growing issue of affordability. Hotel prices in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh are already prohibitively high.
Such price hikes will exacerbate “an already creeping trend for logistical issues to block the participation of many voices (like those from civil society) who attend COPs to fight for the rights of people who have diminished voices, to fight to save our planet, and make the voices of the vulnerable heard”, civil society observers pointed out in Eco Newsletter by Climate Action Network.
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