Cop27: 'We need to get real' about delivery, says summit ambassador

Wael Aboulmagd says Egypt has high climate reform expectations at the Sharm El Sheikh conference

Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the Cop27 president. Reuters
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With days to go until the UN climate summit Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, expectations are building for Egypt to fulfil its promise that the conference will be a “Cop for implementation”.

Ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, special representative of Cop27 president Sameh Shoukry, is one of the Egyptian officials in the spotlight, facing questions about what implementation actually means and whether it is truly possible.

Despite geopolitical challenges and a global economic crisis, the Cop27 presidency is confident that there is still a “firm commitment to climate action as a global priority” and a recognition that “justice is central to achieving that”, Mr Aboulmagd told The National.

Implementation means taking concrete action to fulfil the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate change that was adopted by 196 parties at Cop21 in 2015. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels and preferably to 1.5°C.

But implementation also means finding solutions to key issues, such as climate finance and loss and damage compensation, particularly for vulnerable developing countries who have contributed the least to climate change and yet are suffering the most.

What is 'the implementation Cop'?

“Cop27 is the implementation Cop – and that means taking practical decisions not only about greater pledges, but how to turn those pledges into deliverables and action, and how to pay for that,” Mr Aboulmagd said.

“We need to get real about what this means in practice. Well-meaning words are not enough; we need concrete steps towards cutting emissions, adapting to climate impacts already locked in and responding to loss and damage.”

One of the pledges made in Glasgow at Cop26 was a commitment to double adaptation finance by 2025. Most finance goes towards mitigation actions to avoid and reduce emissions, rather than adaptation actions to anticipate and respond to the impacts of climate change.

“Providing more assistance to countries and communities to protect themselves from the severe climate impacts that are already taking place at 1.1°C to 1.2°C degrees warming, and the greater impacts that are already locked into the future, is a significant priority for our presidency,” Mr Aboulmagd said. “Funding for adaptation has historically been very low and furthest from sufficient.”

The pledge needs to be “systematically and transparently tracked to avert the fate of the symbolic $100 billion commitment, which is yet to materialise”, he said.

At Cop15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to a collective goal of mobilising $100bn per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries. At Cop21, the goal was extended to 2025.

In 2020, $83.3bn in climate finance was mobilised, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Earlier this month, the V20 Group of Finance Ministers from climate-vulnerable economies and the G7 Presidency announced they would jointly launch the Global Shield against Climate Risks at Cop27 “in a wider effort to accelerate pre-arranged financing at speed and scale”.

Mr Aboulmagd said the Cop27 presidency welcomes the G7’s efforts as a “positive development”, but again emphasised the need to “make sure that these efforts are responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable”.

What makes Cop27 different to previous summits?

Compensation for loss and damage has been a contentious issue for decades. When the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was being drafted in 1991, the Alliance of Small Island States proposed the creation of an international insurance pool to compensate islands and low-lying coastal developing countries for loss and damage resulting from sea level rise. However, the proposal was rejected.

The 2013 Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage focuses on enhancing research, dialogue and action, but does not provide a basis for liability or compensation.

Most recently, the Santiago Network created at Cop25 in 2019 is meant to connect vulnerable developing countries with those who can provide technical assistance.

“There has been progress at Cop26 on the functions of the Santiago Network to provide technical assistance on loss and damage, but we are not there yet,” Mr Aboulmagd said. “The challenge now is to operationalise it, including agreeing on its structure, modalities and selection of its host.”

What makes Cop27 different, Mr Aboulmagd said, is that there is a growing recognition that more and more countries are experiencing the catastrophic impacts of climate change, such as droughts, floods, storms and wildfires.

“This is a real moment: even former sceptics recognise that climate change is here, that the poor and the vulnerable are feeling its worst effects and that there is a fundamental unfairness to what is happening," he said.

"That is a big realisation, and if this Cop can reflect this sentiment, it will be a major step forward."

At the UN general assembly in New York in September, Denmark became the first country to offer loss and damage compensation. The government promised 100 million Danish crowns ($13.3m) to developing nations in the world’s most climate vulnerable regions.

“This sets the ball rolling, and we sincerely hope others will follow Denmark’s example that comes after positive steps taken previously by Scotland and Wallonia in Belgium,” Mr Aboulmagd said.

At Cop26, Scotland pledged £2m ($2.2m) and Wallonia committed €1m ($982,070) in loss and damage compensation.

Mr Aboulmagd commended UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent pledge to launch an action plan at Cop27 that will provide early warning systems for all countries within five years as a way to avert and minimise loss and damage.

The Cop27 presidency has also appointed Germany’s State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action Jennifer Morgan and Chile’s environment minister Maisa Rojas to help “move forward” on the loss and damage issue.

What is the ambition of Cop27?

Each party to the Paris Agreement is required to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), climate action plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. These are required every five years, with the next due date being 2025 — but Egypt has encouraged countries to update their NDCs to enhance the level of ambition.

About 24 countries have updated their NDCs so far, Mr Aboulmagd said, and “we continue to encourage all countries to meet their commitments to raise their ambition and, crucially, to start putting their plans into practice”.

In addition to being a Cop for action, Egypt has emphasised that it will be a Cop for all stakeholders.

However, some African climate activists and Egyptian civil society organisations have complained on social media that they have not been able to secure badges.

Mr Aboulmagd said Cop27 organisers have made every effort to “support and empower the equitable representation of African climate activists, including 20 African NGOs that will participate at Cop for the first time”, such as offering affordable accommodation to ensure cost is not an issue.

As for Egyptian civil society organisations, he said, “given the limitation on the numbers, our criteria was focused on relevance of the civil society work to environmental and climate action, scale of activity and outreach, and their record of supporting local solutions and grass root implementation”.

The Green Zone dedicated to civil society organisations has been touted as one of the largest in the history of the Cop.

“We are fully committed to ensuring the broadest participation of civil society as possible at this year’s Cop27, alongside governments, international organisations and the private sector,” Mr Aboulmagd said.

“Diversity of action and engagement from societies around the world, including Africa, is essential to our collective success.”

Updated: June 12, 2023, 9:55 AM