COP 27: A Preview

  • 24 October 2022
  • Environment
  • Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy & Translation, Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth assessment report summarising the full range of scientific evidence about climate change. This report does not make light, nor happy reading. However, the IPCC’s authoritative reports are vital, providing a firm base of scientific evidence for climate action.

Egypt is hosting this year’s annual international climate change negotiations in November, where the evidence in these reports should be central to conversations and international commitments on climate change action.  These annual meetings have increasingly become a magnet for everyone working on climate change – which is a growing bunch. Although officially the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a high-level international negotiation process, unofficially it is rapidly becoming the essential trade fair for all things climate.

So what can we expect – both at the heart of the negotiations, and at its margins?

The COP Presidency follows a rotation to ensure that the country who holds the diplomatic lead for negotiations moves between richer and poorer nations and also across continents and geographies. Egypt have been emphasising the importance of their position as an African country, an established part of the Arab community, and a country that has an emerging economy and is very vulnerable to climate change impacts.

I have been involved in building some collaborations between the research community in the UK and in Egypt as the COP Presidency is handed from one country to the other and I have really enjoyed the getting a deeper glimpse into the action already being taken in Egypt on climate change. In this region, climate change is rightly seen as deeply embedded into the broader sustainability goals. This perspective helps Egyptian actors prepare adaptation and mitigation activities that also deliver on wider social, economic and environmental priorities.  Egyptian scientists and engineers are working with a range of practitioners to tackle water shortages, help farmers reduce emissions and become more resilient, and manage health in the face of climate change.

Egypt’s outlook, and the country’s ability to highlight and represent the issues most important to their region of the world, will have a significant influence on the issues discussed at COP, as well as the outcomes. The stated priorities of this COP follow those outlined in Glasgow: mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change, climate finance, and cooperation. However, we can expect a significant focus this COP on climate finance, adaptation and loss & damage.

On climate finance, there will be pressure to ensure the speedy delivery of the previously promised and still not delivered $100bn in climate finance aid, now several years late and equally important discussions on securing commitments to future funds. These additional commitments are needed to shore up the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction commitments made by poorer countries, often contingent on receiving financial support, as well as to fill up the coffers of a dedicated climate change adaptation fund for vulnerable countries.

This COP should also build on the Glasgow dialogue on loss & damage which kicked off in June and could provide a platform for more significant conversations about this potential third pillar of climate finance, complementing adaptation and mitigation needs. Loss & damage continues to be a controversial issue at the international negotiations, with wealthier countries concerned about the implications about the scale of compensation required for climate change impacts that cause irretrievable losses.

The Glasgow COP in 2026 was intended to be a key moment for countries to ratchet up their greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledges following their initial commitments in Paris. The response in Glasgow was more muted than hoped, and it is important that COP27 in Egypt also continues to emphasise the importance of greenhouse gas emissions reductions – known as mitigation. Mitigation is the most important and urgent action required to prevent climate change from getting worse in the medium- and long-term. Whilst the Egyptian COP is likely to encourage an adaptation and climate finance focus, mitigation cannot be ignored. The challenge will be how to give mitigation appropriate importance whilst pushing forward the agendas most important to the African countries that Egypt wants to represent.

I will be there myself, representing the Grantham Institute at Imperial and in my capacity as co-chair of the UK Universities Climate Network (UUCN). I am quite curious to see how it will feel to be in Sharm El Sheikh –a holiday resort town turned international conference venue - but I am confident that both the formal venue and the more open public activities and wider trade fair element will give me and others the opportunity to make connections and find inspiration to spur us all on to interesting and impactful climate activities. It is still not clear how wider civil society, youth and other constituencies will be able to access the events as fully as possible – but issues of access are not unique to this COP. However, I was reassured to see that blue badge holders get virtual access to the events, as accommodation has proven quite pricey.

In my opinion, COP and the other related high-level global discussions on climate change are necessary, but not sufficient, for us to tackle climate change with the urgency and scale required. My hope is that in Sharm El Sheikh we will hear the right mood music from world leaders: continued consensus on the science and urgency of need to act, a chance to hear perspectives from different countries, a moment to reflect on the pressing contextual issues and how these challenges affect progress, whilst emphasising the need to keep going on climate action in the face of those challenges.

I am not holding my breath for ground-breaking announcements. However, I am confident that the Egyptian leaders are focussing carefully on delivering on a renewed sense of urgency on climate action in the global community and strengthened leadership of the region on this topic. My work on climate change has already been enriched by engagement with the Egyptian COP community and I look forward to building on these relationships as well as the outcomes from November’s meeting, in the years to come.

Image Credit: Raphael Pouget / Climate Visuals Countdown