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COP27: The most important meeting in the history of humanity?

Is the COP27 summit which begins in Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend the most important COP meeting to date, and therefore one of the most critical gatherings in all of human history?

In some ways this is an absurd claim. The Paris Summit in 2015 was a real turning point in the global response to the climate crisis that will one way or another define the century, and as such it must be remembered by historians as an event of global importance. You can make a compelling case that last year’s Glasgow COP26 summit was equally critical, given that it finalized the rules of the Paris Agreement and established a new pact requiring countries to assess and ideally to update their national climate action plans every year. It was the meeting that, in the words of COP26 President Alok Sharma, kept the 1.5°C target alive, even if its pulse was weak. But next week’s Sharm El Sheikh summit lacks the grand diplomatic focus that governments have faced in Glasgow and Paris, or Copenhagen and Kyoto before it. This is, according to the Egyptian hosts, an “implementation COP”.

However, there is a very real risk that the critical importance of COP27 will be overlooked, even by some of the participants.

First, every COP is by definition the largest COP ever, up to the point where global emissions are steadily declining at a rapid rate and the world is mobilizing trillions of dollars to fully decarbonize the global economy and improve climate resilience of our societies.

There is a school of thought, attributed to some environmental activists and climate skeptics, that COPs are a distraction, an exercise in environmental charade. But while the process is certainly flawed and frustrating, it’s hard to imagine how nearly 200 countries can quickly move to net zero emissions without some sort of forum to discuss the challenges and obstacles to progress, negotiate the various trade-offs and costs, and help ensure shared benefits. If the COPs did not exist, they would have to be invented.

And since they exist, they matter. It is extremely important that governments and businesses meet once a year to publicly discuss this still largely underestimated crisis. As global emissions continue to rise and national climate strategies are still far too weak to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, every opportunity to engage honestly in the face of the scale of the threat, to catalyze Bolder actions and mobilizing more investment must be seized. Since the crisis is more severe this year than it was last year, this Summit is even more important than last year’s. It will be the same next year, and the year after, and so on. Until net zero emissions are finally within reach.

Secondly, the real but underestimated breakthrough achieved in Glasgow last year means that this year’s Summit has a special responsibility to shoulder. If so, it could spark an exciting new era of unprecedented climate action. If it fails, it could jeopardize the future of the Paris Agreement and the entire COP process. This is what is at stake.

The details may be so labyrinthine that they defy simple explanation, but the finalization of the Paris Agreement rules at COP26 broke many deadlocks, leading to one and six years of intense negotiations and enable the full implementation of the Treaty which provides the framework that should help drive global decarbonization over the coming decades. The Glasgow Climate Pact side deal further strengthened the Paris Agreement, calling on countries to further strengthen their national climate action plans, explicitly requiring a phase-out of coal power and throwing the basics of the next phase of climate finance negotiations and how to help countries vulnerable to climate change to cope with climate-related loss and damage.

As such, the UN climate negotiations will enter a whole new phase next week, and what that phase entails is up for grabs.

There is a very real risk that without the clear diplomatic direction of a new treaty to work towards – something the talks have had pretty much uninterrupted since they began – the COP process could lose much of its political power and its media appeal. There is a danger that the somewhat vague objective of “implementation” will result in a lack of clarity on what precisely the negotiators are trying to achieve. Add to that the current geopolitical tensions and the understandable frustration of developing countries over the inability of rich countries to deliver on their climate finance promises and the risks of a diplomatic deadlock of bad temper and creeping sentiment. irrelevance cannot be excluded.

Likewise, the opportunity is there for countries to come together and redo the process in a way that injects much-needed momentum into the implementation and delivery of the Paris Agreement, providing a blueprint for all future COPs. Finalizing the settlement could and should enable governments and negotiators to use the framework it now provides to explore how to rapidly accelerate the deployment of clean technologies and climate-resilient infrastructure.

This means negotiating quickly and in good faith to put in place both a new climate finance deal beyond 2025, a huge increase in climate adaptation finance, and a formal mechanism for loss and damage financing. But it also means building partnerships for a just transition that can mobilize investments in the decarbonization of emerging economies, remove barriers to the deployment of proven low-carbon infrastructure, deliver on promises to protect forests and fight against methane emissions, creating the right conditions for business investment in emerging economies. clean technologies, and overhauling the global financial regulatory system and the role of multilateral development banks in shifting investment flows from high-carbon to low-carbon infrastructure. It is perhaps above all an opportunity for governments to use the global platform that the COPs provide to underline to investors, companies and the public that the era of fossil fuels is coming to an end and that the transition towards net zero is inevitable, accelerating and for everyone. benefit to.

In his fascinating thought experiment of a novel, The ministry of the future, Kim Stanley Robinson places the Paris Agreement and the COP process at the heart of humanity’s ultimately successful response to the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. It ushers in an era of financial and regulatory innovation, rapid decarbonization and negative emissions innovations that, after years of violent unrest and multiple visceral tragedies, allow nations to come together to stabilize temperatures and restore the biosphere.

As the first meeting of what should be a new era for the COP process, COP27 is the first summit to attempt to answer the question of how to transform such a future from science fiction vision to reality. geopolitics. At a time of acute global crisis and heightened tensions, COP27 is about implementation, but it is about so much more. It has the potential to set the shape and direction of the only global negotiations to avert climate catastrophe within a decade that will ultimately determine whether the world warms by less than 2°C this century or triggers warming instead. uncontrolled and all that goes with it. .

It is, by any measure, one of the most important meetings in the history of human civilization.

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