Home / Opinion / Views /  Geopolitics renders COP27 a framework for futile debates

As the world turns its focus to another COP – Conference of Parties, the 27th so far – to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, between November 6 and 18, two trends are rearing their heads, both in contestation with each other. In short, the desire to make COP27 an implementation session (to follow up on Glasgow’s COP26 commitments) is likely to see geopolitics throttle the world’s climate ambitions once more.

The website of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) states: “At COP27, countries come together to take action towards achieving the world’s collective climate goals as agreed under the Paris Agreement and the Convention. Building on the outcome and momentum of COP26 in Glasgow last year, nations are expected to demonstrate at COP 27 that they are in a new era of implementation by turning their commitments under the Paris Agreement into action."

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The first, and most pernicious, impact is likely to be felt by the growing power struggle between the US and China. On one hand, China has been increasingly flexing its economic and strategic muscles, ratcheting up its bellicosity towards Taiwan recently. President Xi Jinping’s re-election as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party for an unprecedented third term and a further consolidation of his hold over the party accentuate the fault lines. In the US, on the other hand, former president Donald Trump had stoked the fires with his export bans and strictures against Chinese companies, notably Huawei. President Joe Biden’s recent export ban on chips and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, aimed primarily at sandbagging China’s technological and defence capabilities, deepens the red lines splitting the two super-powers.

China’s tacit support for Russian aggression in Ukraine and Crimea has intensified the power struggle and now threatens to divide the world into two blocs. This geopolitical development, still trying to find a cogent shape and working its way through allies and multilateral institutions, is likely to cast its foreboding shadow over COP27. Both the US and China are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and the likelihood of continued shadow-boxing between these two at COP27 bodes ill for the world’s desperate attempts to limit global warming and climate change.

There is another actor at play here: Europe, which is likely to dial down its rhetoric at COP27 this time. The Russia-Ukraine skirmish has affected energy supplies to Europe, with its attendant impact on prices, and this has forced the European Union and its member states to increase their investments in various fossil fuel platforms. The need to make affordable winter heating available to almost all households has also forced the European Union’s hands in resurrecting some energy subsidies. This turn of events is likely to deprive the European nations of their customary high moral ground and their usual political bombast against developing nations, in which they routinely demanded greater sacrifices from poor economies while denying reparations for their overwhelming past contributions to global warming.

As a matter of fact, the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) – a grouping of 24 nations representing 50% of the world’s population, of which India and COP27 host country Egypt are also members – recently released a ministerial statement, which provides the second dimension to the upcoming COP27.

The statement starts off with the ground conditions necessary for investing COP27 with an implementation/achievement cache: “Consistent with the theme of 'Implementation', for developing countries, the provision of the means of implementation, including finance, technology transfer and capacity building from developed to developing countries, are fundamental for our climate actions, as we also strive to eradicate poverty and enable sustainable development in our countries. This is the basis for enhanced equity-based international cooperation on climate change envisioned under the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement."

The statement then goes on to remind the rich nations of their commitment in 2009, in Copenhagen, to provide $100 billion of funding to developing nations every year till 2020, following which many other nations joined the Paris Agreement; but, unfortunately, the funding commitment of $100 billion has remained on paper.

The LMDC statement then goes in for the kill: “In discussions on the new collective quantified goal on finance (NCQG), where a new climate finance goal is to be agreed upon by 2025, developed countries are delaying talking about the quantum of the finance to be provided… despite the existence of reports about the needs of developing countries for their climate actions. Instead, what we are witnessing are efforts by developed countries to dilute their responsibilities under the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, as they seek to shift their existing obligations to the private sector and developing countries."

The battle-lines – between super-powers on the one hand, and, between the rich and the poor nations on the other – have been drawn and the framework for futile debates seems tragically reminiscent of the past COPs. In the meanwhile, as state representatives indulge in oblique, endless conversations at official climate action conferences, unseasonal floods in Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Nigeria or Chad have already displaced millions from their homes, with disease and hunger preying on these defenceless lives.

Elsewhere in Mint

In Opinion, Rahul Jacob writes on the greatest threats for China and the US. Can a weaker rupee boost exports? Vidya Mahambare & C. Veeramani answer. Narayan Ramachandran has great and some not-so-good news on India's poverty. Long Story profiles a 'Dronacharya' and his buzzing incubator of start-up dreams. 


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