Reflecting on the 27th UN Climate Change Conference

Save the Sound Policy Intern Kaleigh Pitcher is pursuing her Master’s of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut and hopes to continue working towards the intersections of climate justice and health equity in public policy. She recently aided our climate and environmental justice teams in monitoring developments at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference. 

The 27th United Nations Conference of the Parties (“COP 27”) commenced on November 6 and concluded on the 18th. It held formal discussions on food security, clean water, innovative finance for climate technologies, and for the first time, climate reparations.

The conference emphasized that the difference in greenhouse gas emissions emitted by different countries poses disproportionate climate finance needs, as wealthier nations tend to create more emissions. According to a 2009 pledge by wealthy nations to assist lower wealth nations with their mitigation and adaptation plans, developing countries require $100 billion per year to adequately cut emissions, build resilience, enact mitigation plans, and restore ecosystems. The funds are expected to come through external financing, including investors, development banks, and wealthier countries. The European Union and the United States disapprove of a compensation framework, opting instead for one of cooperation. Lower wealth nations, who face disproportionate climate catastrophes, are dissatisfied with this promise, as the 2009 pledge remains unfulfilled. A decision deadline on climate reparations has been set for 2024. 

The reparations discussion, known as “loss and damage,” comes after the United Nations released report in October concluding that while nations are bending the curve of greenhouse gas emissions downward, there is “no credible pathway to 1.5℃ in place.” The report refers to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping average global temperature increases below 1.5℃ compared to pre-industrial levels.  

Island nations have been especially vocal about the need for loss and damage funds given their vulnerability to climate disasters. Conrod Hunte, the deputy chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, a 39-country bloc, expressed the need for new methods of financing climate reparations: “Simply tinkering with the existing financial mechanisms will not cut it.”  

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell expressed disappointment at the lack of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted following last year’s COP 26. “Only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted… Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change.”  

Still, there is some cause for excitement, as most of the new NDCs that were submitted reflect stronger reductions in GHGs in the coming years, signaling an increased commitment to climate action. 

In the second week of COP 27, conference participants engaged in conversations on gender equity and clean water. Part of the gender equity portion is ensuring women have feasible adaptation and mitigation plans to decrease the impact of climate change, as they often lack the resources to develop or participate in these plans. Delegates encouraged the inclusion of more women in climate action and federal politics, attesting that broader gender representation in national parliaments can lead countries to adopt stronger policies against climate change. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed explained, “[women and girls] remain largely undervalued and underestimated with limited access to training extension services and the technology necessary for effective adaptation to the impacts of climate change…There’s a very simple and effective solution; put women and girls in the lead.”  
Carbon Brief, an organization dedicated to climate policy, created an interactive map revealing the health disparities of climate change by gender. Women are more likely to be affected by climate disasters and are also more likely to face sexual or domestic violence, which are worsened by conflict, economic uncertainty, and resource scarcity. In particular, the delegates identified access to clean water as a significant factor to gender equity. Currently, 3.6 billion people—nearly half the global population—have inadequate access to clean water. Droughts and faster evaporation are leading many populations to have to travel farther to obtain clean water, and glaciers, which serve as a primary source of freshwater for over a billion people, are rapidly melting, particularly in Tibet and the Himalayas. To combat water inaccessibility, COP 27 launched the Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience (AWARe) to promote water investments, adaptation initiatives, and multinational cooperation for the most vulnerable populations in Africa.

COP 27 occasioned some controversy for its steep increase in fossil fuel lobbyists since last year’s climate summit. COP 27 has 636 delegates connected to the fossil fuel industry, a 25% increase from last year’s summit in Glasgow. This figure is larger than the total number of delegates from the ten most climate-impacted countries, which caused some to question the efficacy of the talks. 

Their presence led to some discussion over whether oil and gas resources should be used to assist resource-rich nations in their economic development. Senegal, for example, recently discovered reserves of gas while Europe faces an increasing demand for the product. Meanwhile, several nations, including Estonia, Kenya, and Tanzania, proclaimed their intention to transition wholly to clean energy. 
At the end of the conference, a breakthrough agreement was reached regarding loss and damage. A fund was created through declaration, although it is still unclear where the funding would come from and which countries would benefit. Unfortunately, the resolution also uplifted gas as a “low-emission energy” necessary to helping countries transition away from carbon. 

To read more about the outcomes of COP 27, click here.

In the photos above is Kaleigh Pitcher, policy intern at Save the Sound.

Policy intern Kaleigh Pitcher said this after the end of COP 27: “When I consider COP 27, I think about where I’m from: the Hudson Valley in New York. It’s an area that has seen almost a four-degree increase in annual temperatures in the last century—nearly four times higher than the global rate. Climate change is a global threat, and we need multinational cooperation to enact mitigation and adaptation plans with tangible results.” 

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