What can we expect from COP27?

Now the Prime Minister has performed a predictable u-turn and announced his attendance at COP27 in Egypt, the crucial climate summit will get the attention it deserves, the Boris-Rishi psychodrama notwithstanding.

Sunak going to Egypt is not just important for the domestic audience. The hosts will be delighted because the very presence of global leaders on that opening weekend drives ambition for the rest of the meeting.

If COP26 in Glasgow last year was about pledges and targets, COP27 will be focused on turning those promises into reality.

And there were many of them made in Scotland, including:

  • Setting new national emissions targets
  • Halting deforestation
  • Reducing methane emissions
  • Phasing out the burning of coal
  • Ending international financing of fossil fuels
  • Doubling the finance to developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change

The list goes on, but the bottom line was the recognition that global warming needs to be limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

A year on, that slim hope seems to be all but extinguished. A UN report last week declared “there’s no credible pathway to 1.5C in place.”

A destructive combination of the global recovery from Covid and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a short-term focus on fossil fuels by many countries to ensure energy security.

But there is a silver lining – reduced gas supplies from Russia have turbo-charged the energy transition.

Investment in renewable energy is growing faster than ever. And as the world belatedly realises clean energy will not only provide energy security but will also bring down the cost of living, the virtuous circle will continue.

Analysis of International Energy Agency data this week by Carbon Brief shows that fossil fuel use could peak by 2027.

But that light at the end of the tunnel will not come fast enough for the countries at the front line of the climate crisis.

Pakistan suffering record floods, India enduring its hottest month since 1901 and a hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. The impacts of climate change are already critical and it’s the developing world bearing the brunt.

All of which makes Africa such a fitting location for the UN climate conference.

Wealthy nations will be expected to address the inherent inequity in climate change. There will be pressure to finally provide the US$100 billion annually to vulnerable countries, which should have happened by 2020.

There will also be an expectation to address “loss and damage” – those consequences which cannot be adapted to, for example the existential threat to island states and the long-term damage from more regular extreme weather events.

So, the context for Sharm El Sheikh is set. In a world riven by crises, climate change remains the biggest long-term challenge for global society.

Behind the big announcements and the headlines, there are millions of people working on solutions - from the climate scientists and activists, without whom progress would be even less impressive, to those working at all levels of government, NGOs, businesses, innovators and financial institutions who need to produce the results.

COP27 is the opportunity for all those people to step up and demonstrate the focus is now on turning the promises into action.

We’ll see in two weeks what progress has been made.