COP27: We need smarter climate action

Over the past two weeks, the world’s attention has been focused on COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, where international negotiations were taking place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A panel discussion at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, where negotiations ended with a new ‘loss and damage’ fund. Photo: UN Climate Change (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The negotiations ended with a historic victory. The creation of a loss and damage fund was made possible thanks to global south countries and persistent campaigning by a wide range of groups. The fund will address the impacts of climate change on the countries most vulnerable to its effects, a request dating back to before the creation of the UNFCCC itself. The move marks the beginning of justice for low-income countries. The commitment to meaningful reparations was essential to rebuild trust, but evidence of the loss and damage already caused provided a sobering reality check.

In other areas, however, COP27 fell very short. Negotiations on climate finance failed to deliver the commitments needed on investment in adaptation actions to address climate change. High-income countries should have delivered an annual US$100 billion of climate finance contributions to low-income countries every year from 2020-25. This did not happen last year and few reassurances on scaling-up climate finance were given at COP27. The target now seems merely symbolic rather than tangible.

In these victories and pitfalls, it is clear we have entered an era of irreversible climate impacts, and the role of peacebuilders is ever more crucial. Today, 70% of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries are at high risk of climate-related conflict. It would seem only logical for the impact of climate on conflict dynamics to be fully part of climate negotiations. But conflict dynamics remained absent from the agenda and the final conclusions.

A symptom of this failure to include conflict sensitivity is the financial investment gap growing between conflict-affected countries and other more stable countries. Stability and security are key to attracting sustained and successful investment. Conflict adds complexity and therefore requires more investment, not less. Countries suffering the double burden of climate change and conflict are subsequently being left behind. Climate finance is failing those that need it most.

The loss and damage caused by climate change is already causing and compounding tension in conflict contexts. The Horn of Africa, for example, is suffering from severe drought. Farming, fishing, and pastoralist communities have seen their traditional livelihoods collapse. Millions are facing food shortages and communities end up in competition for resources. Major displacement of people has caused instability, with confrontations leading to continued cycles of violence. These impacts make conflict resolution and climate cooperation harder to achieve.

There are some glimmers of hope, however, with momentum for the role of peacebuilding within climate action picking up. Far more peacebuilders were present at the negotiations, and many more events highlighted the importance and role of conflict sensitive climate action. Germany has launched the ‘Climate, Environment, Peace and Security Initiative’, which has a global scope, and Egypt has announced the Climate Responses for Sustaining Peace Initiative (CRSP), that plans to implement programs and activities with an African focus. Whether these programmes will be effective remains to be seen, and they must include strong participation of those most affected and civil society if they are to have the impact that is so desperately needed.

Focus is now turning towards COP28 in Dubai. If COP28 is to seriously tackle the climate crisis, then conflict must be on the agenda. We need smarter, transparent and inclusive climate finance. For this to happen, conflict sensitivity needs to be mainstreamed though climate action, and contribute towards building sustainable peace and a carbon neutral world.

The establishment of a loss and damage fund is an essential step towards climate justice, but it will be a long road before those most impacted can access real financial support. We need to guarantee the same mistakes are not repeated and that the financial mechanism underpinning the fund takes conflict sensitivity into account.

We must all come together to guarantee no one will be left behind.