What you should know about what happened at the UN climate talks in Egypt

Jennifer Andreassen Burke

The big climate meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is over and the question is — as always — what happened, and will it help us deal with the climate crisis?

The short answer is: The negotiations struggled at points, but in overtime the delegates made important progress on an issue significant to Africa and other developing regions, and notched some lower-profile wins.

The biggest news to come out of the talks

Arguably the biggest news out of the U.N. climate meeting, known as COP27, was the decision to direct funding to countries most vulnerable to climate change for “loss and damage.” These are the nations that have produced the least climate pollution but are hit hardest by climate impacts.

The idea is that the developed countries (which contributed the most to carbon emissions) will provide money to support the less developing countries that have suffered serious damages they can’t recover from.

There’s an important caution: This won’t happen overnight. The new system has to be set up and resourced, meaning it may be years before the countries most in need see a dollar, euro or yen from the new fund.

Progress on reducing climate pollution was not as notable as on loss and damage. Countries deliberated at length on keeping the target to limit warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as one to work toward, but fell short of agreeing on strong language around phasing out fossil fuels and coal.

There’s a risk that without clear signals of the need for urgent and ambitious action to cut emissions, efforts to manage loss and damage will be futile as dangerous climate change becomes more of a reality.

3 other top areas of progress at the talks

There was also progress on some other wonky, but important, subjects:

1. Carbon markets

Carbon markets, which use financial incentives to cut emissions, are important because they help to incentivize countries and the private sector to increase their ambitions — and thereby result in reducing more emissions.

The agreement in Sharm el-Sheikh adds clarity on how countries can use cooperative approaches to meet their emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. But the details remain to be figured out.

2. Natural climate solutions

Nature is one of the most powerful forces we have to reduce climate impacts — from forests that absorb climate pollution to wetlands that protect us from hurricane impacts.

Countries agreed to encourage these nature-based solutions; urged action on deforestation; and initiated work on the climate, agriculture and food security. Again, the key will be what action countries take on these issues.

3. New programs and progress

Outside the negotiations, organizations and communities from around the world came together to share progress, lessons learned and possible solutions to accelerate climate action. Some examples include:

  • The United States’ announcement to kickstart a process to develop an initiative called Energy Transition Accelerator, which aims to use the power of carbon markets to help developing countries move away from fossil fuels in a way that supports workers and communities.
  • The newly launched Africa Carbon Market Initiative, which aims to significantly expand Africa’s engagement in the voluntary carbon markets.
  • The Global Methane Pledge, which grew to 150 countries committed to reducing methane emissions — the fastest way to slow warming this decade.

Putting this summit in perspective

After a year of notable progress on climate in key economies, we had a climate summit that made less flashy headlines than the year before but scored a historic step forward on loss and damage.

The world post-COP27 is still behind schedule on climate action, but the accomplishments in Egypt kept us moving in the right direction.

Now we need to keep up the pressure for greater ambition — in emissions reductions, financial incentives for adapting to the climate impacts and accountability — as we head toward the global assessment of progress and decisions on how to raise the bar on climate action.

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