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Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

COP27: What You Need to Know About the UN Climate Conference This Year

This year's UN Climate Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, comes against a backdrop of extreme weather events around the world, an energy crisis over the war in Ukraine, and scientific evidence that countries are not doing enough to address carbon emissions and protect our planet's future environment. This is a summary of basic facts and big topics.

What are COPs? 

The Conferences of the Parties (COPs) are the largest and most important annual climate summits on the planet. In 1992, the UN hosted the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.

In this treaty, the 197 signatory nations agreed to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to avoid dangerous interference by human activity in the climate system."

Since 1994, every year, the UN has brought together almost all countries at COPs to negotiate extensions of the original treaty and set legally binding limits on emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all nations agreed to redouble efforts to try to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. as well as boosting climate action financing. This year marks the 27th annual summit or COP27.

Why is COP27 different from past ones? 

COP26 2021 culminated with the Glasgow Climate Pact, which kept alive the goal of curbing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius but "with a weak pulse", as the then UK Presidency declared.

Progress was made to make the Paris Agreement fully operational, with details for its implementation in the so-called Paris Rulebook. At COP26, stronger commitments were made, including updated national plans with more ambitious targets. However, only 23 out of 193 countries have submitted such plans to the UN so far.

According to the Egyptian presidency of COP27, this will consist of moving from negotiations to "planning for implementation" of all these promises and commitments.

What are the goals this time?

1. Mitigation: How are countries reducing their emissions? This refers to efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of gases. It can mean using new technologies and renewable energy sources, changing production patterns or consumer behavior. Countries are expected to show how they plan to implement the Glasgow pact call, review their climate plans and create a mitigation-related work program.

This means presenting more ambitious emissions targets for 2030, as the UN insists that current plans are still not enough to avoid catastrophic warming.

2. Adaptation: How will countries adapt and help others do the same? Apart from doing everything possible to reduce emissions, countries must also adapt to climate consequences to protect their citizens from, for example, the risk of more fires or floods, droughts, warmer or colder days or a rise in sea level.

The COP27 Presidency expects nations to capture and assess their progress in improving resilience and helping the most vulnerable communities. This means that countries make more detailed commitments in the adaptation components of their national climate plans. But to meet present and future challenges, it is necessary to significantly increase the scale of financing.

3. Climate finance: The white elephant that never circles the negotiating room. Climate finance will once again be a major topic with many discussions, already on the agenda. Developing countries strongly call on developed countries to ensure sufficient and adequate financial support for mitigation and adaptation, particularly for the most vulnerable.

You're probably hearing a lot about the $100 billion annual pledge from developed nations that isn't being fulfilled. In 2009, in Copenhagen, rich countries committed to this financing, but official reports still show the opposite. Experts expect COP27 to finally make this commitment a reality in 2023.

4. Loss and damage: Climate change, through extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, desertification and sea level rise, causes costly damage. Given the intensification of these "natural disasters" due to rising emissions, mainly from rich industrialized countries, developing nations argue that they should receive compensation, as they tend to be the most affected.

The issue of these payments, called "losses and damages," is likely to be a big topic of discussion at COP27, even if it has not yet been officially specifically included. The Group of 77 and China (which essentially includes all developing nations) asked to add it, which will require consensus from all countries on the first day of talks.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership; a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in Spanish by La Nación on 5 November 2022 and has translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image:  Satellite view of the fire of two oil tanks in Matanzas (Cuba) on August 6. A key theme at this year's COP27 will be how to evolve from the use of oil to clean sources in terms of energy consumption / Credit: Planet Labs PBC.