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PoliticsWorldCop27: Why fossil fuel curb is not working

Cop27: Why fossil fuel curb is not working

All countries are anxious for the world to urgently cut fossil fuel use while developing countries push back, their rich counterparts complain, but that is not even half the story

The world is seeing no reduction in the use of fossil fuels, one of the biggest pollutants on man-inhabited earth, even as a historic deal has been struck at the UN’s Cop27 that will make rich countries pay poorer countries — addressing their grievance they do not have the money to fight climate change — for the damage and economic losses caused by the ever-increasing temperature of the planet. The agreement ends about 30 years of waiting by countries facing huge climate impacts.

Expectedly, developed countries left the dissatisfied over progress on cutting fossil fuels. “A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels? Not in this text,” said the UK’s Alok Sharma, who was president of the previous Cop summit in Glasgow.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that we weren’t able to go further,” UK lead negotiator Alok Sharma told journalists after talks concluded. Countries that fought to weaken the ambition to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions — gases that warm the planet — need to look at-risk countries “in the eye,” he said.

Prime Minister of the UK Rishi Sunak, however, welcomed the progress made at Cop27 but said “more must be done” to tackle climate change.

This year’s talks in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, had nearly failed. Also, it overran by two days. The historic agreement was hardly cheered after the “loss and damage fund” was created in the early hours today, leaving a confusing and often messy 48 h left delegates exhausted.

Nevertheless, this is a big symbolic and political statement from developed countries that long resisted a fund that covers climate impacts like flooding and drought.

The began two weeks ago with powerful statements from vulnerable countries. “We will not give up… the alternative consigns us to a watery grave,” Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis said.

Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman, who negotiated for the bloc of developing countries plus China, told journalists today she was very happy with the agreement. “I am confident we have turned a corner in how we work together to achieve climate goals,” she said. The devastating floods in the at-risk country Pakistan this summer, which killed about 1,700 people with estimated damages of $40 billion, have been a powerful backdrop at this summit.

Today, Antigua and Barbuda Environment Minister Molwyn Joseph, who is also the chair of the of Small Island States, said the deal was a “win for the entire world” and “restored global faith in this critical process dedicated to ensuring no one is left behind”. However, countries and groups like the UK, EU, and New Zealand left Egypt dissatisfied with compromises on fossil fuels and curbing climate change.

The final overarching deal excluded commitments to “phase down” or reduce use of fossil fuels. It also included ambiguous new language about “low emissions energy”, which experts here say could open the door to some fossil fuels being considered part of a green future.

Climate Minister of New Zealand James Shaw said that there were “strong attempts by the petrol states to roll back” on agreements, but that developed countries “held the line”.

Why it is a struggle to curb use: Disinterest seen during Cop27

Countries, including the G20 group, are anxious for the world to urgently cut use. But developing countries — those reliant on oil and gas like India — push back because they want to exploit their reserves, as western countries did historically. With the passage of time, richer countries appeared to concede ground, despite a last-minute intervention by Switzerland.

Expectations were low at the beginning of Cop27, as it was meant to be an “action” that would implement agreements made in 2021 without doing anything new. However, the loss and damage deal could be the most significant development since the Paris Agreement.

Throughout the history of the UN deliberating upon the climate change issue, developed countries have worried about signing a blank cheque for climate impacts. Now they have grudgingly said they will pay up although the details remain to be worked out.

The conference witnessed deadlocks punctuated by dramatic moments like Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first appearance on the global stage since his recent election win. Speaking to a receptive audience, he said at Cop27 that Brazil was back on the climate stage, promising to end deforestation and restore the Amazon. This induced hope that many activists and observers of climate talks say is mostly absent at UN summits.

But delegates remained out in force, albeit up by 25% since the last year, while experts said women participants were nearly conspicuous by their absence.

In the spots where countries, experts and NGOs laid out their stands, the first Children and Youth Pavilion at a Cop exuded energy, hope and frustration.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of Cop27, a deal that promises to pay $20 billion to Indonesia to transition away from coal was celebrated as one of the concrete success of the summit.

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