COP 27: A Mixed Bag
On the occasion of World Climate Day, physicist Davide Faranda, at the Environmental Transition Institute at Sorbonne University, looks back at the mixed results of COP 27 held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
What is your research focus at the Environmental Transition Institute?
Davide Faranda: I'm looking at whether climate change is increasing the occurrence and intensity of extreme events (such as cold waves, heat waves, thunderstorms or cyclones) and to what extent these phenomena impact energy networks. If we are moving towards an energy transition that gives a greater share to wind and photovoltaics, it is essential to have a better understanding of the extreme events that can endanger the energy network and cut off production on a national or even European scale. For example, thunderstorms can cause power outages, hailstones can damage solar panels, and winds of more than 200 km can block wind power production.
Can you briefly explain what the COP is, its objectives and challenges?
D. F.: Provided for in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Conference of the Parties has brought together scientists, governments, NGOs and industrial groups every year since 1995. Together, they set global climate targets to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Note that the projections made 30 years ago by scientists, at the time of the creation of the COP, correspond well to what we observe today: a global warming of 1.2-1.3°C due to greenhouse gases and already 1.6°C in France.
Can you come back to the question of loss and damage, which was at the heart of this COP 27?
D. F.: This year, the main issue at the COP was the imbalance between the countries in the North and those in the South. This imbalance was highlighted in particular by the latest IPCC report, which emphasizes the vulnerabilities to climate change for the countries in the South . One of the objectives of this COP 27 was therefore to find a North-South agreement to try to help the poorest countries make their ecological transition.
Located in tropical and subtropical areas, the countries in the South (Africa, Central America, South America, Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands) are the first victims of climate change. In these places, which are the hottest in the world, extreme phenomena of desertification or rainfall are already present. With climate change, they are likely to increase and make these places completely hostile to human life.
But billions of people live in these fragile ecosystems, especially around the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in India, and the rios in Brazil. It is therefore difficult to adapt these enormous ecosystems to climate change. It will require colossal investments to preserve them and to modify certain infrastructures by building, for example, artificial basins, which can channel water if it rains, by moving certain roads or cities, and by making dams against rising water.
Do you feel that the measures taken during this COP in relation to this issue are sufficient?
D. F.: To try to solve this problem, the members of COP 27 succeeded in extremis in finding an agreement to compensate the poorest countries for the irreversible damage caused by climate disasters. In reality, it is a rather vague text, a simple agreement in principle whose modalities, contributors and financing mechanisms remain to be specified. The amounts mentioned during this COP are far from sufficient, since, according to the estimate of several NGOs, 600 billion euros are needed. However, only a few hundred million euros were put on the table, which is less than the cost of an aircraft carrier.
President Emmanuel Macron has decided to hold a meeting in Paris before the next COP to make these funds operational. We hope that we will then have more details on how these investments will be financed.
The Global Carbon Project has published a report which has estimated that limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 is now an unreachable goal. Tell us more about this point that calls into question one of the primary objectives of the COP.
D. F.: For the scientific community, the 1.5°C target is essentially a wake-up call, but it is no longer an achievable goal. Reactions to the report are divided. For developed countries, the impact of the failure to contain global warming to + 1.5°C is relative and limited. On the other hand, for island countries such as the Maldives, Fiji, French Polynesia and many others, the continued increase in sea level rise and ice melt in the coming decades is dramatic.
Overall, what is your assessment of this COP 27?
D. F.: As scientists, we are not very enthusiastic about the outcome of this COP. Of course, it is a good thing that an agreement was reached on the issue of loss and damage by the countries in the North vis-à-vis those in the South. But, despite some pledges, no global financing mechanism has been voted for the moment and it is only an agreement in principle. We know full well that when an agreement is not binding or quantified, it is generally not respected.
Moreover, even if there is a section on new renewable energy sources, during this COP, there was no progress on the reduction of CO2 emissions from the international community. And several countries, such as Saudi Arabia and China, even tried to remove the mention of the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C target, which was considered too binding.
The other failure of COP 27 concerns the phase-out of fossil fuels. No mention is made of reducing the use of oil or gas, which are responsible for increases in CO2. The text only mentions that countries commit to accelerate the reduction of coal use and the exit of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
Finally, the next COP will take place in the United Arab Emirates and will focus on CO2 capture. Geoengineering technologies to capture carbon dioxide are still in the experimental stage. Using them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be like applying treatment for a serious disease that has never been clinically validated and may have significant side effects. So we have little hope for the measures that will be taken during COP 28.
Davide Faranda is a specialist in atmospheric physics and meteorology with a particular interest in extreme weather events and their relationship to climate change and greenhouse gases. After a PhD in Earth Sciences awarded in Hamburg in 2013, he joined the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences before obtaining a position at the CNRS in 2015. He is now attached to the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (LMD-IPSL) and the Environmental Transition Institute (ITE) where he uses the tools of atmospheric physics and mathematics to model complex systems, such as climate or energy transition.