COP27: An explainer for peacebuilders

Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, gives an impassioned call for strong climate action at the opening ceremony of COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, gives an impassioned call for strong climate action at the opening ceremony of COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. Photo: Karwai Tang/UK government (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

COP27 is taking place in Egypt from 6–18 November 2022. It is the biggest climate summit of the year.

But with so much jargon to contend with, it can be hard to keep on top of what’s going on and understand how we can engage as peacebuilders.

So, we’ve pulled together this short overview to ease you into the COP world and help you find your way around and get straight to what matters.

For the latest updates and reactions from International Alert during COP27, follow us on Twitter.

COP27 and climate negotiations

What is COP?

COP is short for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and there are all kinds of COPs for various international agreements. But the term COP has come to be associated with the meetings of one particular committee: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). On climate change, the COP is the supreme decision-making forum of the UNFCCC, bringing together 197 signatory countries and nations once a year to discuss and agree how to jointly address climate change and its impacts, and the signatories’ respective progress to address it. This year is COP27, as it is the 27th meeting.

Who goes to COP?

Politicians, diplomats and representatives of national governments are perhaps the most important people invited to COP, but they are far from the only ones. Although COP is not open to the general public, many organisations like NGOs send representatives to try and influence the outcomes of the meetings and discussions. These representatives will be granted ‘observer status’ by the UN.

What are the main topics for COP27?

There are four broad themes of COP27: mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration. There will certainly be a call for increased climate finance, in order for historic promises to be met – such as the US$100 billion per year in climate finance, that developed countries were meant to deliver from 2020 to 2025, which has yet to be met. This is likely to be a contentious debate. There will also be discussions on just transition, food security, water security, energy investment and vulnerable communities, among other topics.

Climate, conflict and peacebuilding

Why is climate action especially important for fragile and conflict-affected countries?

Although there is no direct link between climate and conflict, the environmental pressures it causes are clearly a threat multiplier, which can exacerbate existing tensions – whether over land, water, food or livelihoods. Yet conflict is not part of the current agenda of international climate negotiations. Those responsible for climate adaptation initiatives need to be aware of the risks, take proactive steps to monitor for and mitigate against harm they might inadvertently cause, and ensure that their climate programming is conflict sensitive and contributing to sustainable peace.

There are some positive signs in this direction. Germany intends to establish a Climate, Environment, Peace and Security initiative with like-minded allies, with action-oriented projects and a global scope. And Egypt intends to launch a Climate Responses for Sustaining Peace initiative at COP27, with programmes and activities with an African focus. This includes adaptation to climate change alongside strengthening peacebuilding efforts and finding sustainable solutions that address the relationship between climate change and displacement.

What is International Alert calling for on climate action?

It is beyond time for a conflict-sensitive approach to be included in climate mitigation and climate adaptation finance.

Mitigation measures include investments in renewable energy. The only way to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 or before is to move away from fossil fuel dependency. However, this needs to be carried out in a conflict-sensitive way, as there is a risk that the massive investments into renewable energy can play into conflict dynamics (e.g. cobalt sourcing problems, land grabbing for wind fields, solar farms being built in occupied territories, etc.).

Similarly on the adaptation side, interventions that are rushed and that do not build on an understanding of the context, including conflict issues, can lead to maladaptation and further fuel conflict dynamics. They will therefore fail to reap their full benefits.

In addition, the existing climate finance does not reach the most vulnerable countries that are afflicted with the double burden of conflict and climate crisis. This needs to change.

Therefore, International Alert is calling for conflict risks to be fully part of the international climate negotiations, to allow for climate finance that is conflict sensitive, smart and inclusive. This entails ambitious and meaningful cooperation between the climate and peacebuilding sectors, but also governments, investors and donors. This is crucial to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and for climate action that delivers sustainable peace.

Climate terminology

What is the Paris Agreement and what is its link to COP?

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties at COP21 in Paris, with the goal of limiting global warming increase to “well below” 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels.

What are NDCs?

Nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, are targets, policies and measures that governments aim to implement as their contribution to tackling climate change. For example, the date by which they pledge to become climate neutral, such as Germany by 2045, China by 2060 or India by 2070. These targets are submitted to the UNFCCC and need to be revised every five years. This system is set out in the Paris Agreement. COP26 in Glasgow was the first test of this mechanism and the commitments were found to be insufficient to limit global warming to the agreed levels. Countries have therefore been asked to come to COP27 with new and more ambitious commitments.

What is net zero?

Net zero is when the volume of emissions released into the atmosphere by a country, company or specific activity is equivalent to the volume of emissions removed from the atmosphere by that country, company or activity. In other words, cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance. It is an incredibly complicated and contentious issue, with lots of pledges towards ‘achieving net zero’ rightly scrutinised and often accused of ‘greenwashing’.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a person, company, institution or even country makes questionable claims about becoming more ‘green’ and adopting more sustainable practices. Such claims are often criticised as disingenuous and even just a marketing ploy, or more seriously, to detract attention away from alleged human rights infringements or other practices that do not conform to internationally acceptable standards. This accusation is especially levelled at fossil fuel companies, but also corporations in general.

What is the difference between climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience?

These terms all refer to different adjustments we can make in ecological, social or economic systems in response to climate change. Climate mitigation means avoiding and reducing emissions released into the atmosphere to prevent the planet from warming to more extreme temperatures. Climate change adaptation means altering our behaviour, systems and, in some cases, ways of life to protect the environment from the impacts of climate change. The more we reduce emissions right now, the easier it will be to adapt to the changes we can no longer avoid. Climate resilience is the capacity to anticipate, prepare for and respond to the effects of climate change.

What is climate finance?

To support the above actions of mitigation and adaptation, financial means need to be raised. These are drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing. The Paris Agreement calls for financial assistance from those with more financial resources to those that have fewer financial resources and are more immediately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, to assist them in implementing the objectives of the UNFCCC. Indeed, following the principle of historical responsibility, or what is called in the UNFCCC the “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities”, because those that have contributed the least to emissions are the most affected, the most responsible for emissions should pay more. The goal was for the Paris signatories to jointly provide US$100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation. This was not reached during COP26.

What is meant by loss and damage in climate negotiations?

‘Loss and damage’ is a general term used in UN climate negotiations to refer to the consequences of climate change that go beyond what people can adapt to, or when options exist but a community doesn’t have the resources to access or utilise them. Loss and damage is and will continue to harm vulnerable communities the most, making addressing the issue a matter of climate justice (see below). Since the formation of the UNFCCC in the early 1990s, vulnerable nations have been calling on developed countries to provide financial assistance that can help them address such loss and damage. But their proposals have been rebuffed. Momentum for providing funding to address loss and damage finally gained some steam during COP26 in 2021.

What is climate justice?

Climate justice links climate action with human rights and development. It is about achieving a human-centered approach to addressing climate change, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people, and sharing the burdens of climate change and the benefits of climate action equitably and fairly. It implicitly acknowledges the need for equitable stewardship of the world’s resources. This is a critical issue in considering the fairness of global emissions reduction targets and the respective roles (and costs) for different nations to reduce their emissions, set through international climate change negotiations.