Sunil Dowarkasingh: “Everything went in the wrong direction at COP27”

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Sunil Dowarkasingh, ex-global strategist at Greenpeace.

Sunil Dowarkasingh, ex-global strategist at Greenpeace.

With COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh just concluded, l’express speaks with former free peace strategist Sunil Dowarkasingh to see what happened at the summit. And the stakes for Mauritius.

Are you disappointed with what came out of COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh? 
Yes, because one of the objectives of this meeting was for countries to come up with increased targets to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. At the last COP26 (in Glasgow -ed.) all countries were supposed to come up with enhanced targets to reduce emissions, which is why Mauritius also changed its target from cutting 30 per cent to 40 per cent by 2030. Even with those pledges at Glasgow, the UNFCCC stated that global temperatures would rise by at least 1.8 degrees. So even those were enough for the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. COP27 was supposed to build on those pledges as well as others such as achieving net-zero emissions, phasing out coal and protecting forests. Ahead of COP27, only 24 out of 200 countries updated their targets and even if those updated targets were achieved, we are heading to a global rise of temperatures of 2.7 degrees rather than 2.8, so not much difference. Since Glasgow, global emissions have risen by 6 per cent rather than go down by 7 per cent which was necessary to reach the 1.5 degree target. The other big disappointment is the way that this COP was organized. At COP26 there were 503 lobbyists of fossil fuel companies attending as delegates, at this one there were 636 such lobbyists. How could the UNFCCC (the UN agency that organizes the COP meetings -ed.) allow this? How could we talk about cutting out fossil fuels while having them as part of the discussion and leading delegations larger than that of many countries?

One criticism is that COPs are voluntary and even the types of pledges are enough. The UNFCCC itself argued that the types of pledges it had got by September 2022 would result in a 10 per cent emission rise rather than the 45 per cent cut necessary to reach the 1.5 degree target. Even this COP27 did not come up with a strong stance on this target. So between these two things, does the 1.5 degree target make sense anymore? 
I am not being a fatalist here but the way things are going, we are not going to achieve that 1.5 degree target. Even before COP27, some of the countries were planning on moving out of the Paris Agreement with G20 nations meeting separately in Bali. This is bad news for countries like Mauritius which is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Since 2009, developed states promised to set up a fund to give $100 billion annually to developing states for adaptation and mitigation of the effects of climate change. At the last COP26, Mauritius pushed for that too. How much of that has been realized at COP27? 
Those funds were supposed to come by 2020 and last until 2025, which means that developed states would put in a total of $500 billion at the UNFCCC to help developing states adapt. At COP26, the target was missed and only $83.3 billion was raised. At Cop27, $85.5 billion so that target was not reached. So they have pushed that timeline to 2023 to raise $100 billion and decisions still have to be taken on how that will be distributed amongst small island and developing states.

Isn’t that a drop in the bucket though? The IMF recently estimated that the developing world would need $2.5 trillion a year to meet climate targets and sustainable development goals. But rich countries are having trouble coughing up $100 billion? 
The figures from the IMF are perfectly correct. The difference is that the IMF proposes that such funds come from multiple sources; governments, funding agencies and private sectors. So they had multiple funding sources in mind whereas this $100 billion is supposed to come from governments. Given that the severity of the effects of climate change are still uncertain, the figure from the IMF can turn out be an underestimate.

What about the concept of ‘loss and damage’ that came on the agenda of COP27. Explain its significance? 
At COP21 states vulnerable to climate change, mostly small island states, pushed for the creation of a fund for developing states that do not emit much greenhouse gases but are suffering from the effects of climate change right now. This vulnerable group also includes Mauritius. Many of these states, mostly small island states in the Pacific, said that they would not attend the COP27 unless this was brought on the agenda. So it been a struggle by these countries, and 150 NGOs worldwide, to push for this to become part of the agenda.

There were various versions of this proposal: the G77 group of developing states and China wanted the fund set up now and funded by rich, developed states. Others such as Mexico and South Korea wanted it paid by both rich and developing countries such as India and China. While the EU initially proposed an insurance policy run by the World Bank, but then backed the idea of creating the fund. So did the developing states win on that one? 
The EU has said that they would accept creating such a fund but it has to include China and developing states. It also makes it conditional on phasing down fossil fuels and increasing targets to reduce emissions. This could be because of pressure from within the EU since countries such as Germany, Austria and Belgium had already promised funds for such an initiative ahead of COP27. But the US has kept quiet so we don’t know where it stands. The details still have to be worked out on who will pay, who would be eligible, etc. This process is still in baby steps. We won’t see this fund doling out money any time soon.

Would Mauritius eventually benefit from that? 
Again it all depends on the criteria that they choose. For example they might say that these funds would only be available for lower-income countries and not upper-middle-income ones like Mauritius. Or that the funds would be used to build certain types of infrastructure. All those details still have to be worked out. But given how long it has taken for developed nations to come up with the $100 billion target for mitigation and adaptation measures that has been on the table since 2009, I don’t have much hope for this to come about anytime soon. At least the discussion is there.

COP27 also took place in an interesting time: the US wants to displace Russia as the main LNG supplier to Europe. European states are investing in LNG infrastructure to diversify their sources of energy away from Moscow. Even the host of COP27, Egypt, is promoting LNG as a “cleaner fossil fuel”. Many African states are also investing in LNG production and even some sections of the Mauritian government are enthusiastic about LNG as a cheaper alternative to existing imports of coal and fuel. How did that affect what happened at COP27? 
This is the real problem behind-the-scenes at this COP. Publicly all these states talk about bringing down emissions, but behind-the-scenes they are pushing for LNG, a fossil fuel, to be recognized as a transitional fuel to renewables. In the past, COPs spoke about transitioning directly from fossil fuels to renewables. The war in Ukraine has opened up all these sorts of possibilities. The US wants to sell its excess LNG, Egypt has large gas deposits in the Red Sea and European companies are investing heavily in such projects elsewhere. Unless the developed states help Africa leapfrog into renewables, or if African states start digging up their unexploited reserves of fossil fuels then we can forget about achieving these climate targets. Right now the mindset is that LNG is cleaner than coal and is an incomeearner so they are not thinking about global warming. Mauritius also wants to do it, didn’t it just pass the Offshore Petroleum bill? COPs are now just a talking shop and COP27 was just a greenwashing exercise. Everything went the wrong way.

But isn’t it understandable? One narrative that has emerged out of the Ukraine war is that this had such an effect on global energy and fuel prices is because for years there has an underinvestment in fossil fuels by states chasing emission reduction targets while renewables have just not been able to plug that gap. How would you respond to that argument? 
These investments never slowed down. According to the IMF, in 2020 the production and burning of coal, oil and gas were getting government subsidies totalling $5.9 trillion globally. In just the past five years, banks have poured in more than $3.63 trillion into fossil fuel projects. That’s three times more than they lent to green projects. Right now, there are 1,600 new coal power units being set up around the world. So none of this slowed down or stopped.

We have spoken about the US and the EU. What about India and China? At COP26 they were criticised for watering down the language from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’ energy from coal. What about COP27? 
Frankly, China has kept a very low profile at COP27 because they knew that as one of the biggest polluters they would have been targeted by many countries. Its President did not attend COP27 and went to the G20 meeting in Bali instead. India came out with its position very early insisting they would not move out of coal and instead of asking it to reduce emissions, developed countries should work towards net-zero emissions by 2030. 

This position is a huge paradox; at COP21 they launched the ‘solar alliance’. Since then, investing in renewables has mostly been to plug up gaps in its energy market rather than displacing coal, whichl is still king in India. In China too, the use of coal has increased. What I fear is the increased use of both coal and LNG worldwide.

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