The Egyptian hosts promised an “implementation COP” following the pledges of the past, and the sense that the annual summits were becoming inconsequential talking shops. There were real achievements, mainly on dealing with the impacts of climate change; but, on stopping the root cause - burning things - there was little sign of progress.

Logistics and presentation were a big problem. The lack of the basics, for example food and drink for the thousands of delegates and media attending COP, drew unflattering comparisons to the ill-fated Fyre Festival. And the shadow of Egypt’s terrible record on human rights hung over the conference, with widespread accusations of unnecessary and intimidating surveillance.

But the summit concluded, eventually, with agreement. Here are some takeaways:

“Loss and Damage”

A new fund was secured, to pay for the “Loss and Damage” inflicted on climate-vulnerable countries by climate change. This was a big breakthrough.

Long campaigned-for by small island nations and other vulnerable countries, it’s a recognition that the effects of global warming are with us now and are becoming ever more dramatic. You only need to look at this year’s floods in Pakistan, which are estimated to have cost tens of billions of dollars on top of the appalling human suffering.

As ever, the devil is in the detail. How this fund will be set up and who will provide the money is, as yet, unclear and has been kicked down the road to COP28. A separate 2009 promise by wealthy countries to provide US$100 bn a year by 2020 for climate mitigation and adaptation in the developing world remains unfulfilled.

Still – an historic moment and a notable achievement.

More on the money

The Loss and Damage fund wasn’t the only breakthrough. The final text to come out of Sharm El Sheikh also backed reform of international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. This is important recognition of the ever-growing gap between the haves and have nots, and that there’s a need for cheaper finance to be made available to the developing world.

Another financial deal that caught the eye happened during COP, but far away at the G20 summit in Bali. Indonesia announced a $20 billion Just Energy Transition Plan to pay for a phase out of coal and reach Net Zero by 2050. This follows a similar deal for South Africa, and there’s another one in the pipeline for Vietnam. All heavily coal-dependent nations, these individual agreements have the potential to be game-changers.

Food Systems

Last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact made no mention of agriculture, food, or water. In contrast and perhaps in recognition from the hosts of the ongoing global food crisis, the deal from Sharm called “safeguarding food security and ending hunger” a priority. One of the conference days was dedicated to the role of agriculture, and several pavilions at the event were dedicated to discussing food and agriculture.

The IPCC calculates that food systems are responsible for around a third of global emissions, so there was disappointment that this wasn’t reflected in the final text. However, numerous initiatives around deforestation, agriculture, and food made progress this year, and the sector’s higher profile is a sign of progress.

Energy

The summit went some 40 hours beyond the scheduled finish, and it turns out a lot of the final wrangling was over the language on energy. While a transition to renewables rightly got top billing as crucial to reducing emissions, the phrase “low-emission” also made it into the final text. This is a clear reference to natural gas which, despite being less damaging than coal, is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas pollution.

Ultimately, solving climate change means stopping the burning of fossil fuels, and COP27 did not commit to their phasing out, or even phasing down.

While the Loss and Damage fund made the headlines, the price was compromise with the petrostates and emerging economies who effectively blocked the conference from doing anything to mitigate further global warming. Perhaps the presence of more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists had something to do with it.

COP26 president Alok Sharma, in his final remarks in Egypt, described the 1.5C warming target as “on life support.”

It’s hard to avoid the feeling that this year’s COP was another opportunity missed.