There was plenty of excitement in the lead-up to, and a fair degree of expectation following, last year’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. But this year’s conference slipped by largely unnoticed. 

COMMENT by JOSH LEWIS

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP27, passed this month, but you would be forgiven if this is the first you have heard about it.

Last year, the world’s media were focused on the Scottish city of Glasgow as world leaders gathered for talks to keep a rise in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert a climate catastrophe.

Australia’s former prime minister Scott Morrison was feeling the heat in the lead up to Glasgow, with his attendance and Australia’s commitment to net zero emissions left until the eleventh hour, with both basically confirmed on the eve of the conference.

In the year since, Australia has seen a change of prime minister, with Anthony ‘Albo’ Albanese winning the 2022 election and making climate action a key focal point of his election platform.

Since taking power, the Labor Government has already committed Australia to reducing its carbon emissions to 43 per cent below 2005 levels, a sharp increase on the Morrison Government’s target of 26 per cent to 28 per cent.

Albo’s absence

With the criticism that Morrison faced for nearly copping out on COP26, it was perhaps a surprise that a climate conscious Albo elected to skip this year’s COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

He was instead more focused on mending bridges with China, becoming the first Australian PM to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in over six years, and overshadowing any news Australian Climate Minister Chris Bowen may have been drumming up at COP27.

Much of the focus of COP26 was focused on world leaders uniting to tackle the looming climate catastrophe, while this year’s focus was on delivering the promises made in Glasgow.

In case you missed it, Bowen announced Australia would be joining 18 other countries, including the USA and UK, to launch the world’s first Net Zero Government Initiative at COP27.

The initiative commits governments around the world to “lead by example” and achieve net zero emissions across their own operations, so essentially doing what should be expected of any government if they are truly serious about climate change.

Blowing in the wind

Bowen also announced during COP27 that Australia would commit to joining the global drive to boost offshore wind, although this is an area in which Australia has been dragging its heels for years.

In fact, it was only last year the Australian Government passed legislation to enable offshore electricity projects to be built and operated in federal waters, despite boasting world-class wind resources.

The Global Wind Energy Council estimates Australia has the potential to generate up to 5,000 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind, roughly 100 times the installed capacity of Australia’s two largest electricity networks.

Perhaps what garnered the most headlines over the two weeks of COP27 was an agreement not reached until the final day of the conference.

Following reportedly intense and drawn-out negotiations on the final night of COP27, an agreement was reached to create a fund for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters.

The deal created headlines as there had initially been strong resistance from the European Union and the USA amid fear such a fund could open them to legal liability for historic emissions.

Talk but no action

While agreement to create the fund has been touted as a coup for small island nations and other vulnerable countries, it will likely be several years before the fund is brought into existence.

Recommendations on how to operationalise both the new funding arrangements and the fund itself will not be tabled until COP28 next year in Dubai.

In the interim, a “transitional committee” will be established to make those recommendations, with the first meeting scheduled to take place by the end of the first quarter of 2023.

Fear of fossil fuels fizzing out?

While COP27 will be remembered for the establishment of a global fund to address loss and damage for climate vulnerable countries, overall, the conference was a bit of a fizzer.

It failed to build on the ambition promised at COP26, where only a fraction of countries even signed up to the pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Language was again focused on phasing down unabated coal power and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, but any calls to put a complete end to fossil fuels were largely thwarted.

While most attending countries have agreed to continue striving to limit a rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the path to achieving that goal still remains unclear.