Cop27 will have the world asking what it means to tackle climate change fairly

The UN climate summit is coming back to the developing world

Cop27 will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Reuters
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For only the second time since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the UN Climate Change Conference, popularly known as “Cop”, will return to the Global South. The start of Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, next month will also mark the return of the conference to the Mena region, one of the areas of the planet most vulnerable to an unrelenting rise in global temperatures. The momentum built there will be capitalised on when Cop28 is held in the UAE the following year.

It is often the vulnerable, poorer countries that have done the least to damage the world’s climate but will nonetheless suffer the greatest consequences. The Egyptian government has promised to prioritise discussions about fairness and equitability in the world’s response to climate change during Cop27.

Whereas previous climate summits have focused most intensely on mitigation (i.e. reducing emissions) and adaptation (making the world more resilient to future impacts), Egypt is including “loss and damage” on this year’s conference agenda. For many countries in the developing world, this is a euphemism for some form of compensation for the costs they have borne from decades of heavily polluting industrialisation among their richer counterparts. Catastrophic floods in Pakistan this year present just one example of what “loss and damage” looks like. But for developed nations, many of whom are squeezed by a web of economic strains spun out of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, such a discussion cannot be had easily.

The Egyptian government has promised to prioritise discussions about fairness and equitability at Cop27

“We need to find a practical solution that accommodates the various concerns and it’s up to us as the incoming Cop presidency to sort of navigate and finesse this process,” Wael Aboulmagd, Egypt’s Cop27 special representative, said last month.

There are more creative ways of burden-sharing that could help propel the conversation forward. Debt swaps, a mechanism whereby financial creditor nations could forgive loans to indebted countries in exchange for commitments from the latter to invest in climate projects, are one. When it comes to reducing emissions, these financially indebted countries can often be said to be "in credit". The "swap" method has already been tested in nearly 40 countries in recent decades, though the sums of debt forgiven or swapped have been small – rarely amounting to more than $30 million. Cop27, however, could provide new impetus for such agreements, if negotiations over other forms of compensation become fraught.

Another path is boosting foreign direct investment into renewable energy and other climate-related projects. Countries with advanced economies already have a wealth of experience investing in such projects – with safe, stable societies and a highly educated workforce, they have become the market leaders in developing wind, solar and nuclear projects. Some have entered the fray through their capital-rich sovereign wealth funds. Five years ago, Masdar, the clean energy subsidiary of Mubadala, one of the UAE’s sovereign wealth funds, backed the world’s first commercial floating windfarm, in Scotland. On Thursday, the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Funds Network – a group of 45 of the world’s largest institutional investors, controlling more than $37 trillion in assets – convened in Abu Dhabi to discuss ways to marshal its hefty resources towards a more sustainable future. One of the main topics up for discussion was renewable investment in emerging and developing markets.

The developing world, and the Middle East in particular, needs the world to find a greater balance in its climate response. But the region is not destined to be a passive beneficiary – it has the potential to lead the conversation, as Cop27 is sure to show. At “Countdown to Cop27”, another event held in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates addressed the audience, highlighting the chronic underinvestment that plagues research and development on climate issues. “The Middle East,” he said, “can be part of the solution.”

Published: October 07, 2022, 3:00 AM