Reflection on COP27


As COP27 drew to a close, the Science Media Centre asked Kevin, amongst others, for a quick comment on the success or otherwise of this latest climate jamboree.

Below is a slightly updated version of Kevin’s statement.

A year on from the Glasgow COP26, a further 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide has been spewed into the atmosphere, the post-Covid skies are again streaked with aircraft vapour trails and the oil and gas majors are enthusiastically drilling to hell and back, thanks to new licenses issued by so-called climate-progressive governments. Set against this, another miserable façade of climate concern grinds to its ‘Groundhog Day’ end in the holiday resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ministers, diplomats and academics preferring PR [public relations] over analysis will feed jaded journalists the ever-present tale of challenges to overcome, but how steady progress is being made – particularly on future technologies. Yet all this will pass by the Keeling Curve – where atmospheric concentrations of CO2 continue their inexorable rise unperturbed by the lies, offsets, pledges and financial scams of those high-emitters attending COP27. A third of a century from the first IPCC report, flying pigs, pink elephants and other speculative future tech barely raise an eyebrow, but daring to suggest fossil fuels may perhaps have something to do with the climate crisis remains contentious, if not blasphemous. This tells us so much about the COP process!

All this perhaps sounds too flippant, but I really don’t think it is. Offering superficially measured accounts of ‘this minor success’, ‘that improvement in wording’ or of a ‘few financial crumbs begrudgingly thrown at poorer nations’ only feeds into the business-as-usual circus that annual COP cycles have become. Reasoned careful analysis and honest brokering are prerequisites of successful outcomes, but they are far from sufficient. As it is, they risk legitimising what is an increasingly corrupt and immoral process. As we burn through the carbon budget for a 50% chance of not exceeding 1.5°C, at 1% every month, perhaps those genuinely concerned about climate change need to shout loud and long for an alternative structure for COP28. The venue (Dubai) does not bode well for any such change, and no doubt many academic colleagues, along with Global North NGOs, already have their flights and hotels booked! But for those less enamoured by fleeting glances of the great and good and the allure of paid jollies with mates – the time to organise for a Paris-compliant outcome from November 2023 is now.

Rightly there has been a lot of positive reporting on the acceptance at COP27 of a facility for “Loss and Damage”. Certainly, this is to be welcomed, and indeed those who have fought hard for its inclusion over many years should be congratulated. However, from a big picture perspective, I still judge COP27 as deeply regressive. The clear action that world leaders did agree on (at least those of the high emitting nations), was a guarantee to rapidly increase the levels of loss and damage imposed on poorer, more climate vulnerable, nations. They explicitly chose to leave unchecked the key cause of climate change – ongoing and high levels of fossil fuel use. So, on the one hand, protracted discussions can now begin about who should stump up a few pennies to satisfy ill-defined “Loss and Damage” criteria. On the other hand, leaders of high-emitting nations could fly home safe in the knowledge that they’re markedly increasing the levels of loss and damage imposed on those communities on the frontline of climate impacts. Dangerous failure cemented into yet another COP.