Many delegates thought the establishment of the fund would remain an item on the agenda – an achievement in itself, since this was the first time. But thanks to the COP27 presidency team led by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, along with representatives of developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, a landmark agreement was reached, providing a big win for poorer nations that have been victims of climate-worsened floods, droughts, heat waves, famines and storms despite having contributed little to the pollution that heats up the globe.
For nearly three decades, rich developed nations responsible for over 90 per cent of carbon emissions that raise the world’s temperature, as science tells us, have vehemently rejected the demand to establish such a fund. What was achieved in Sharm El-Sheikh reflects what can be done when developing and poor nations remain unified.
Considering that this was the first time a COP summit was held in Africa, the voices of the world’s poor and those most harmed by the effects of climate change had to be heard.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Molwyn Joseph, who chairs the Organization of Small Island States that face an existential threat amid rising ocean and sea levels, described the agreement as a “win for our entire world.” He rightly stated, “we have shown those who have felt neglected that we hear you, we see you, and we are giving you the respect and care you deserve.”
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s environment minister who played a key role in the negotiations to establish the fund considering that her country became a case study on how climate change destroyed the lives of millions with nearly two-thirds of the country covered in flood waters, minced no words when she noted that the establishment of the fund “is not about dispensing charity”.
Speaking on behalf of a coalition of the Group of 77, including mostly developing and poor nations, she said, “it is clearly a down payment on the longer investment in our joint futures.”
But like all climate financials, it is one thing to create a fund, quite another to have money flowing in and out of it. The developed world still has not kept its 2009 pledge to spend $100 billion a year in other climate aid designed to help poor nations develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
Egypt, along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the upcoming host of COP28, and other nations are fully aware of this difficult challenge. A transitional committee with representatives from 24 countries has been tasked with working out the details, including who should pay into it, and the role of the fund in relation to the never fulfilled pledge to provide developing countries with USD 100 billion a year for climate mitigation.
According to the agreement, the fund would initially draw on contributions from developed countries and other private and public sources such as international financial institutions. While major emerging economies such as China wouldn’t automatically have to contribute, that option remains on the table. This is a key demand by the European Union and the United States, who argue that China and other large polluters currently classified as developing countries have the financial clout and responsibility to pay their way.
The fund would be largely aimed at the most vulnerable nations, though there would be room for middle-income countries severely battered by climate disasters to receive aid as well.
Meanwhile, and despite the significant economic and geopolitical challenges of the last three years, namely Covid-19 and the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine earlier this year, Sharm El-Sheikh’s Implementation Plan also saw COP27 participants recommit to keeping the 1.5°C target for global temperature rise intact and significant progress made across the board on climate issues.
Several European delegates were frustrated that the Implementation Plan didn’t ratchet up calls for reducing emissions, or state a clear follow-through on the phase-down of coal, or include a clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Yet, considering the current world challenges and the dire need for developed nations, particularly in Europe, to provide alternative sources of energy after the suspension of Russian exports following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, some delegates believed it was an achievement in itself to keep the same language agreed on at COP26 in Glasgow.
Shoukri described the agreement reached at Sharm-El Sheikh as “both a reflection of a delicate balance that responds to the interests of all of us, represented in this conference, and also a manifestation of the highest ambition that can be reached at this point in time.”
What made COP27 a clear success, Shoukri added, was that “we leave Sharm El-Sheikh with renewed hope in the future of our planet, with an even stronger collective will and more determination to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.” He added, “we’ve just adopted the landmark Sharm El-Sheikh Mitigation Ambition and Implementation Work Programme that will hugely contribute to keeping 1.5 within reach, and I trust that we all know what needs to be done to safeguard 1.5 and ensure that we never go beyond.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.