In the weeks and months leading up to COP27, the signs for a successful conference were not particularly encouraging.
There was the ongoing failure to meet energy cuts and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters had previously committed to.
Environmental activist Greta Thunberg announced she would not attend, portraying it as a platform that was less about getting results and more about ‘greenwashing.’
And the war in Ukraine was negatively impacting our collective commitment to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. As Yunus Arikan, Director of Global Advocacy at ICLEI World Secretariat shared last week, “before COP27 there was a lot of backtracking in the actions of countries. We had been asking countries to remove fossil fuel subsidies, but when energy prices skyrocketed around the world (as a result of the war), governments continued to use these subsidies so that consumers wouldn’t be impacted (by the cost of energy) as much.”
Arikan’s comments came during an ICLEI webinar that offered an LGMA (Local Governments and Municipal Authorities) perspective on the highs and lows of COP27. The greatest low, as widely reported by media outlets from around the world, was the lack of meaningful commitment to decarbonize our economies and reduce GHG emissions by 2030.
Despite that shortfall, Arikan chose to focus on the growing consensus that the greatest accomplishment of this year’s COP27, was the creation of a Loss and Damage Fund for Vulnerable Countries, including cities hit hardest by climate disasters. This after years of negotiations at prior COPs… some of which Arikan was directly involved in on behalf of ICLEI.
Putting the accomplishment into perspective, Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary observed during the conference that “we have (finally) determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change.”
Adding to this, Arikan says he was surprised after years of inaction, how quickly the decision on the initiative came together. “It was probably one of the most rapidly evolving decisions (made at the event),” and in terms of just how significant this initiative could prove to be “it could affect the very survival of many countries in the Global South.”
Developed countries have already committed to mobilize a total of $100 billion of international climate finance per year until 2025 to help the most vulnerable countries and small island states in their mitigation and adaptation efforts. And building on that commitment, the post-COP27 advisory shares that the Loss and Damage Fund will be tied to climate-related emergencies caused by such foreseen developments as sea level rise, displacement, relocation, migration and the need for climate-related construction and recovery.
Negotiations surrounding the establishment of the Loss and Damage fund began in earnest at the last COP-26 in Glasgow, spearheaded by the Scottish government.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon observed during the opening panel discussion of the LGMA Multilevel Action Pavilion (at COP27) that “the importance of loss and damage has been known about for 30 years – small island states raised the issue more than 30 years ago, before the Rio Earth Summit took place.” And yet with no small irony, “the nations that are experiencing loss and damage… continue to be overwhelmingly those that have done least (and) in some cases virtually nothing to cause the problem of climate change.”
During the event Sturgeon also announced that her country was pledging an additional £5 million of funding earmarked specifically for this new fund which she said “is in addition to the finance we are providing for mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation and adaptation haven’t become any less important – it’s just that loss and damage has to become equally important.”
In the interest of freeing up much-need capital sooner for this initiative, Sturgeon spoke also of the need to “reform financial structures” and to create “mission-oriented institutions… (facilitating) finance for a purpose.” And as part of this transformation, “the obligation of private companies who will benefit hugely from the solutions,” to financially contribute to those solutions.”
Moving Arikan opines that the fund has the potential to become a critical piece of the “Climate Justice” puzzle. However moving forward “there needs to be an enabling environment, especially with regard to finance, governance, capacity building and (the use of) technologies needed to implement this fund.” He further predicts that multi-level action in which the LGMA play a pivotal role “will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.”
According to Arikan the implementation of the Loss and Damage Fund “is expected to be concluded (in time for COP-28) which will be one of the fastest” of any COP-related initiative. It also has the potential “to support a new wave of multilateralism” between north and south.
Apart from the Loss and Damage Fund, Arikan says he was also encouraged by “the strong manner (in which) food, renewable energy and nature based solutions were discussed during COP27… “topics which have not been on the table in prior COPs.”
Arikan’s observation particularly with respect to NBS was an appropriate segue for Kobie Brand, to join in on the same webinar presentation. Donning her two hats of Regional Director for ICLEI Africa as well as the organization’s Global Coordinator for Biodiversity, Brand conveyed that during COP27 “from an African point of view, we felt our presence (among) local and subnational governments was very high (and) the number of engagements and voices of Africa came through strongly. We also felt that Egypt made a lot of room for (both) the African and Global South agenda.”
Based on her own experience, Brand says discussions pertaining to water, food and nature “got their time” at COP27. “Of course we need this message to be carried through to (the UN Biodiversity Conference) COP15 in Montreal, because we can’t solve climate change if we don’t find a solution for the current biodiversity crisis.”
Non profit organization Earthjustice helps put this crisis into perspective with the warning that “scientists predict that on our current trajectory of habitat loss and global warming nearly 40% of all species will face extinction by the end of this century (and) their disappearance will upend ecosystems and destabilize human civilization.”
As part of addressing this monumental challenge, Brand said yet other message that needs to be carried forward at COP15 (which takes place from December 7-9) is that cities and regions can and should lead the way with biodiversity actions. Examples of on the ground actions already underway that she shared include “the restoration of ecosystems (in various cities)… which have multiple benefits for food security, quality of life, for health and well-being and also for climate.”
Looking back on COP27, LGMA representation was more prominent than ever, consisting of over 500 representatives, including approximately 150 mayors, governors, councillors and other local and subnational leaders. And throughout the 70+ sessions, the LGMA Multilevel Action Pavilion served as the home for cities, towns and regions at COP27 Blue Zone. As well, the first-ever COP27 Urbanization and Climate Ministerial united the climate and urban communities in a way never seen at the UNFCCC before.
However despite that scale of representation and the extent to which the LGMA tackled some of the most pressing questions related to climate change, their status remained that of observer/advisor, rather than active participants in the negotiating process. A status that the Mayor of Utrecht Sharon Dijksma says needs to change moving forward. Dijksma, who also served as ICLEI’s LGMA Special Envoy for Ministerials during COP27 stressed in a closing statement that
“COP27 should be the last climate conference where cities and regions are only on the informal agenda of the UNFCCC. From next year onwards, multilevel action must be an integral part of the official COP process.” If that happens she predicted that “together we can accelerate climate finance to cities and regions across the world,” including support for the Loss and Damage Fund, which has the potential to dramatically improve the resiliency of the world’s most vulnerable cities.