COP27 Reflections - Together for implementation?
COP27 wrapped up after negotiations which continued far into the night in the last days of the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. Despite some positive outcomes, such as the Loss & Damage fund, there is still a lack of recognition of the need to phase out fossil fuels and a general lack of ambition. The motto for this COP was “Together for Implementation” – but have we been able to pass it to action? And are the parties truly “together” in the face of the climate crisis?
Critiques have been heavy so far: Frans Timmermans, EU Climate Policy Chief, addressed the COP: “I urge you to acknowledge when you walk out of this room, that we have all fallen short in actions to avoid and minimise loss and damage. We should have done much more, our citizens expect us to lead.” His conclusions are humbling: “This is the make or break decade, but what we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward for people and planet.”
A year on from COP26, we are faced with the same issues and discussions. COP26 president, Alok Sharma, recalled: “I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support. And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider we have fully risen to that challenge of the past two weeks.” 1.5 is still the rallying cry from civil society, but it seems an air of resignation could be felt: we aren’t set to keep to this target.
As young people, acutely aware that this is our future being decided, it is frustrating to feel that ambitions are being lowered – but the silver lining: at least there was no backsliding on resolutions made in Glasgow. The reality is that climate diplomacy, based on consensus, will be slower and more conservative than the action and words we see on the ground.
This was YEE’s second COP and this year, YEE was able to send two delegations, allowing for a rotation each week. With 11 young people from Europe over the course of a fortnight, we had a diversity of roles and perspectives. As our delegate Adéla said: “Although I participated in multiple calls and trainings about negotiations, COPs and UNFCCC, I believe there is no better way to prepare yourself for it than just experiencing it right on the spot.” No matter our feelings on the outcomes and the events at COP, it is undeniable that as young people it is incredibly empowering to be able to attend such high-level events.
A space for young people?
It could look like that young people were finally given a proper space at COPs when the Youth & Children Pavilion was announced earlier this year.
However, as the head of week 2 delegation, Agnes, reflects, it was not exactly what we were hoping for:
Nonetheless, there were many young people at COP that we were able to connect and coordinate with – a partnership building which resulted in a collective push for the phasing out of fossil fuels at the EU level. As our delegate Timea said: “I think young people did their best at this COP to make a powerful impact on progressing climate action. The Children and Youth Pavilion was always filled with an audience, having interesting events and influential speakers.” The value of young people’s contributions did not go unnoticed.
A step forward on Loss & Damage
The most positive outcome of COP was undoubtedly the announcement of a Loss and Damage fund, after years of advocacy from the Global South. Especially Small Island States and other countries particularly hit by climate change have been using COPs to highlight the need for measures to support efforts to adapt to this new reality and finance the costs caused by the climate crisis. This is sometimes understood as ‘climate reparation’. While the details of this fund, who will pay and what amount, are yet to be decided, it is a historic move which will reopen the conversation of responsibility surrounding climate change. Will it be based on historic emissions and responsibilities? A question of a country’s development status? The EU’s Frans Timmermans argues: “I think everybody should be brought into the system on the basis of where they are today… China is one of the biggest economies on the planet with a lot of financial strength. Why should they not be made co-responsible for funding loss and damage?” The current list of developing vs developed countries used in negotiations is based on a UN determination from the 1990s. We will have to watch and see how the Loss & Damage fund puts in question responsibility and who will end up contributing to the fund.
Given the focus of this COP on implementation, and therefore adaptation, this result can definitely be seen as a step forward. Yet there is more adaptation needed if we don’t keep acting on mitigation. This implementation plan did not include the phasing out of fossil fuels – an essential step for climate change mitigation. Keeping 1.5 °C alive has never felt more precarious.
As civil society, one of our best opportunities was to organise and host side-events. In week 1, in partnership with the European Environmental Bureau and the International Foundation for African Children, we organised an Intergenerational Dialogue on Climate-Induced Migration in the framework of adaptation. We were able to bring together a diverse range of figures from H.E. Nduwa Mkaka, the Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change of the Republic of Malawi, to Koko Warner the, Manager of the Impacts, Vulnerability, & Risks Sub Programme at UNFCCC, and Sinziana Puscas, a Climate Change and Migration Specialist from the International Organisation on Migration (IOM).
Overall, we were able to have a moment of exchange on what we believe to be an essential topic when considering implementation and adaptation. We were also able to host a UNFCCC-approved protest in the Blue Zone at the end of Week 1 – calling for the protection of environmental defenders and denouncing the fact that multiple countries view environmental defenders as criminals. Studies have found that between 2012 and 2022, more than 1700 environmental activists have been murdered or gone missing. This felt particularly pertinent in the political context of Egypt.
In the second week, we organised a networking session on intergenerational equity in the Youth & Children Pavilion where we shared our frustrations about youth involvement, or rather the lack of it, in the decision-making processes with Dr. Christina Voigt, the Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL), who was part of the negotiations as an academic. Dr. Voigt stated: “If you ask, what is intergenerational equity, my answer is, that is what is missing at COP.” Overall, these side-events were very meaningful to our experience at COP – a definite challenge but fruitful.
A challenging experience overall
There was no shortage of challenges at COP – from the pure stressful environment of thousands of people milling around hundreds of pavilions to the pressure felt at being a young person in such a professional and intimidating space.. A key hardship our delegates felt was the frustrations and disappointment at what was being said in negotiation spaces.
As Sophia recounted:
And this is when we were able to access these spaces: our observer badges did not guarantee full access. This resulted in a “lack of transparency of negotiations (which) further deepened our anxiety. Not only did we have no access to negotiations as Observers, but also there were no newsletters or other reliable sources to follow how the negotiations were going” said our delegate Timea.
The political context was also particular. Our head of delegation for week 1, Pegah, described how “everyday, our team was concerned about what to say and what not to say, so they do not put themselves or their team in danger”. Our Strategic Communications Officer, Chloé, agreed: “Mincing your words, when you are meant to be part of civil society, is counterintuitive.” We will be publishing more thoughts on this particular aspect of COP27 soon.
Finally, the very setting of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh caused “cognitive dissonance” as Chloé affirmed. Adéla described how
Two weeks for learning and inspiration
It’s easy to fall into feelings of stress and frustration at COP, all well-founded. It is a challenging environment for anyone – from a young climate activist to a seasoned diplomat. But it is clear that there are some positive aspects to these huge events that gather climate professionals and civil society from all four corners of the globe. Firstly, it’s a steep learning curve. Timea articulated this: “I learnt a lot, exchanging with youth coming from different regions and realities, as well as with experienced policy-makers and experts… It gave me a lot of motivation and hope to see young people working together, fully committed for a better future”.
“It is so uplifting to find yourself surrounded by people talking as passionately (or more passionately) about your interests day in and day out: a continuous reminder that I have so much to learn” agreed our Strategic Communications Officer, Chloé. Overall, it is about seizing the opportunity as Anna affirmed “COP can be a great source of inspiration for those who seek it.”
Hope was not eclipsed by despair – “Even in this desert of frustration, there are still islands of hope. I joined a loss and damage climate strike and had an opportunity to speak or even yell from the heart and I met many young climate activists who are so passionate and wholehearted, so I dare to hope that our future is in safe hands” stated our delegate Aleksandra.
Some of the outcomes inspired optimism, our head of delegation for Week2, Agnes, described how “after reading the final decision of COP27, I felt the spark of a small victory by the explicit mention of the role of youth in addressing climate change and the encouragement towards including youth representatives in the climate negotiations.”
Eva, our Communications Manager, attested that “after spending the week at the conference, hearing some great speeches, seeing some great work from experts, and observing many protests, I might hesitantly agree that it is actually our best shot at doing anything about the climate crisis on the global scale. By saying this, I am however not trying to excuse the greenwashing, the inaction, the obvious business interests, the propaganda of the organisers.”
Overall, there’s no easy way to summarise being a young person at such a high level event, as our delegate Marian said:
As you read the full reflections written by our delegates, please keep in mind that when some of us who attended just week 1 started to reflect on our experiences, the negotiators are meant to be wrapping up negotiations and preparing for the publication of final statements. Therefore tone or references made may not be up to date.