How are the scales tipping in the UN climate cooperation when the responsibility for COP is handed over from Great Britain to Egypt?

After the tough closing discussions at COP26 (Conference of the Parties) there are no longer any doubts that the climate conference is far from a cosy tea party. Beyond the blame game that immediately followed the conference, we see a changed game plan. It is important to keep track of the changes and interrelations between the participating countries with regards to the ongoing work for the climate. These are the biggest changes. How will they impact you and your business?

Out of the shadows: Adaptation
The Paris Agreement states that reduced emissions and adaptation are equally important and should be treated as such, but this has never been the case. Shortly before COP26,  large parts of the world were affected by severe floods, fires and storms. This raised the public’s awareness that we have wasted too much time and have to adapt our way of living in order to slow down the devastating effects of climate change. In the final document the phrase “adaptation” is mentioned 30 times, “mitigation” only 10. The Adaptation Fund is highlighted, The Green Climate Fund is not. Means for funding the adaptation will be at least twice as much as today, before 2025. Setting a global adaptation goal is one of the main tasks when COP27 takes place in Sharm el-Sheik. On top of that, all countries are to integrate climate adaptation continuously. This is something Sweden has to keep in mind since climate adaptation has been somewhat neglected and looked down upon in the past.

The dealbreaker: India
India took a leading role this time, from day one and through the whole conference. Their threat, not to speed up their own climate actions until the industrialized countries have increased their funding, in line with what was agreed upon already at COP16 in 2010, made a clear impact. When their updated NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) finally was released, it contained, for the first time, a deadline for climate neutrality, and a promise to use 50 percent renewable energy already in 2030. This increased pressure on other developing countries to set similar climate goals. In the end it was India, supported by many others, who asked for a change from “phase out” to “phase down” of carbon power in the final document. In the past all focus has been on the world’s two largest economies, as well as countries with the highest emissions, i.e. the United States and China. Now we have experienced that the world’s third largest economy can be the centre of everyone’s attention.  

Disappearing: Coal
Even if the choice of words in the agreement was somewhat weakened in the end, COP26 made history by pointing  out one source of energy to be the one threatening the climate. The treaty itself is not a legally binding document, but it will be a source of reference for which kind of investments are acceptable and what we can expect from each country with regards to their national climate actions.

Down for the count: Oil and gas
In the short term oil and gas were spared at the expense of coal power, but in the long run they can expect the same treatment. The final document stated that inefficient subsidies should be phased out, making it harder for the oil and gas sector. The recurrent harsh criticism against Norway, who wants to both fight for the climate and expand their oil production, shows that even an increased focus on consumption based emissions, will not let the producer get away. 

Increasingly central: The finance sector
If there is no money to borrow for investing in fossil and unsustainable fuels, the transition can really take off. Keeping this in mind, it was a large step that COP is no longer only about green bonds – big news a couple of years ago, now part of business as usual – but rather about banks and financial institutions transforming their portfolios to being sustainable. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) promises that all investments are to be climate neutral by 2050, and they gather other initiatives like Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, United Nations’ Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance and Net-Zero Banking Alliance. Big businesses are on the move.

Re-discovered: Emissions trading
IPCCs (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) AR6 (Assessment Report) was released at a convenient time, with its clear message that our way of living is causing the climate changes, and that the extreme weather we have seen recently is caused by our actions. The worst case scenario is still possible to avoid though. The sense of urgency is much stronger than at COP25, and that was made even more clear in the final declaration where demands for strengthened national efforts (NDCs) already next year, were raised.

Resurrected: The scientists
At COP26 the rulebook for the Paris Agreement was finally finished, including article 6 about how countries and businesses can implement parts of their emission reductions in developing countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol’s CDMs (Clean Development Mechanism) can finally be replaced with a protocol that is up to date.  Both companies and countries can reach their emission targets in developing countries, and if executed correctly, this can also contribute to fighting poverty and help reaching other development goals that are set for 2030. This is relevant, not least for Sweden, where the climate goal for 2045 is set to a reduction of 85%, compared to 1990, and the last 15% reduction can be reached in a developing country. For the climate it is vital when the emission reductions take place – why wait until 2045?

Weakened: The placard protest movement
While Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future previously have said “listen to science” and scientists like Johan Rockström have said “Listen to Greta”, this is now history. Greta Thunberg condemned COP26 already after a few days with the statement “blah blah blah”. While most climate scientists believe that there have been a few important breakthroughs. When we agree that there is a need for fast and ambitious emission reductions, the interest in parties that are only critical seems to decrease. This is in favour of global players like WWF or CAN and Swedish equivalents like Naturskyddsföreningen. They manage to balance criticism with constructive actions.

Uncertain: The role of Egypt
The British presidency was of great importance to what COP26 prioritised and how the negotiations went. Egypt will host COP27, with an unclear agenda. They produce both oil and gas, but not enough to avoid importing. They are not members of OPECOrganization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and their renewable energy sources are increasing rapidly, and should make about 20% by the time COP27 is taking place. Warmer and drier climate is already hitting agriculture and threatening the tourism industry. The coming year, when the climate related questions will be transferred from the British to the Egyptians, we will get the opportunity to better understand and make use of Egypts’ position in the global climate work.

Mattias Goldmann