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Looking ahead to COP27: views from PLOS Climate editors

In this post, we hear from members of the editorial board of PLOS Climate about their perspectives on the upcoming round of international climate negotiations.

From 6th November, representatives of the world’s nations will be gathering in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC: COP27. Delegates at this, the first African COP since 2016, will face the challenge of delivering progress towards climate goals against a backdrop of increasingly bleak projections from climate scientists and a global economic landscape marked by inflation, conflict, energy shortages, and the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. A year on from the Glasgow summit and its mixed results, controversies continue to abound over Global North commitments to financing adaptation to climate change in the Global South, payments for loss and damage, and fears around corporate and governmental greenwashing. Big question marks also hang over political commitment to existing net zero goals and COP26 resolutions on reducing use of fossil fuels, particularly coal.

A central theme at COP27 will be discussion of countries’ commitments to emissions reductions; so-called nationally-determined contributions (NDCs). The current picture is not encouraging. “The latest assessment of NDCs from 193 countries under the Paris Agreement shows that, while countries are making progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these efforts will lead to warming of 2.5 °C by the end of the century,” says PLOS Climate Academic Editor Ken Byrne of the University of Limerick. “Clearly, more and deeper cuts are necessary if we are to achieve the target of limiting warming to 1.5 °C by the end of the century. I hope that countries make the necessary commitments at COP27 to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. These are very difficult choices and will require input from all levels of society. We owe it to future generations to make this happen.”

Whilst progress on mitigation hangs in the balance, PLOS Climate Section Editor Anjal Prakash of the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business highlights how the impacts of climate change are happening now, and are being disproportionately felt in the Global South. “South Asia, a region that I represent, saw extreme weather events which were unprecedented in its history– in fact, the word ‘unprecedented’ is no longer useful. Be it floods in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, we have seen devastating images of how people, especially the poor and marginalised, are suffering from the dramatic impacts of climate change. A large part of the poor in South Asia live below the poverty line, and their lifestyles are carbon negative. They are the first ones to be affected by the rapidly changing climatic conditions and do not have capacities to cope. I expect that the countries of the world take note of these events and discuss the issue of climate finance and loss and damage so that these people are compensated.”

The theme of loss and damage is taken up by Academic Editor Anamika Barua of IIT Guwahati: “The question of loss and damage funding is extremely important for countries that are severely affected by climate extremes where adaptation is not possible due to both hard and soft limits, and should receive high priority at COP27.” Barua also points to the need to review and increase flows for adaptation in the Global South: “COP27 needs to take stock of how much finance has been made available for adaptation and what remains to be done; there has to be a concrete discussion on that”. This point is echoed by Academic Editor Laurence Delina of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology: “The Majority World possesses the largest opportunity for mitigation, but they need funding to accelerate their energy transitions. Developed states must make good on their 2009 commitment to provide $100 billion of climate action funds per year.”

Negotiators will be heading to COP27 with the benefit of an ever-growing scientific evidence base to inform the international policy agenda. PLOS Climate Academic Editor Fred Tangang of the National University of Malaysia gives an example of how science can support the development of regional climate action plans: “Southeast Asia is considered as one of the most exposed and vulnerable regions in the world to the impacts of climate change, with flood events in particular increasing steadily since the 1970s. Due to the uncertain prospect of global warming being capped at 1.5 °C, countries in the region, mostly least developed and developing countries, will need to focus more on adaptation measures to increase climate resilience. Information from sources such as CORDEX Southeast Asia’s regional downscaling exercises will hopefully provide policy-makers and practitioners within countries in this region with evidence they can use to devise science-based adaptation measures alongside sustainable development. I hope to see more recognition of such opportunities at COP27.”

On the theme of knowledge and technology transfer, Academic Editor Yangyang Xu of Texas A&M University expresses his hope that COP27 will provide a space for deliberation and action in support of accelerated energy transitions in the Global South: “I am very interested to see more discussion at COP27 about how technology transfer to developing nations can materialize in the coming years so that energy needs in those countries can be fulfilled with cleaner and more sustainable means.” The COP could also be used as a venue for sharing new tools for policy development, as highlighted in an example shared by Section Editor Ana Maria Loboguerrero of CGIAR: “Ahead of COP27, we at AICCRA developed a diagnostic framework and checklist that enables African policymakers to set policy priorities for transformation of national and regional food systems under climate change. This will help African climate negotiators to find common ground on the role that food and agriculture can play in climate action, at COP27 and beyond.”

One notable aspect of COP26 in Glasgow was the increased prominence of nature and biodiversity in discussions and commitments compared with previous COPs. PLOS Climate Section Editor Pam McElwee of Rutgers University hopes to see progress towards these commitments reviewed at Sharm El-Sheikh, as well as consideration of non-economic forms of loss and damage. “I’ll be looking for a couple of things out of COP27. First, an assessment of how well all the pledges for forest and biodiversity/nature integration that came out of COP26 have fared. What has gotten off the ground and what hasn’t? Secondly, I’ll be looking for the discussions of loss and damage to come to terms with noneconomic damage – such as that to ecosystems, cultural practices, and the like, for which we have no clear agreed-upon ways to measure or compensate. Will these be on the agenda, and if so, how?”

Academic Editor Nathalie Hilmi of the Centre Scientifique de Monaco also anticipates a continued recognition of the value of nature in combatting climate change. “Hopefully, at COP27 governments will finally understand the importance of conserving biodiversity to protect our climate. If we give value to nature and have a market for it, we will have: natural capital. According to IPCC reports, nature can be part of the solution to fight climate change and its contribution to climate mitigation will be at least one third of the solution. Most developing countries are rich in nature that can capture and sequester carbon (forest or blue carbon). If we incorporate this wealth in their balance sheet, they will be able to use it to pay back debts (nature-debt swaps).”

Perhaps the bigger picture is of a need for more transformative change in global economic systems, as suggested by Academic Editor Alessandra Giannini of Columbia University: “I hope to see debate emerge about the deep connection between global inequality and climate change. By that, I mean the realization that the exploitation of fossil fuels that has led us to the edge of the precipice climate-wise has its roots in a global economic system where winners exploit losers in a never-ending quest for growth. Climate change cannot be halted unless we redress this inequality, and truly embrace a common future.”

This suggestion of the need for a collective reset chimes with the sentiment of comments from Academic Editor Juan Añel of the University of Vigo. “My real hope is that in a time with increasing geopolitical tensions, war, and an energy crisis, the COP comes back as a point of understanding for every government around the world, where it is clear that everybody is on the same page about the need to protect our shared environment.”

As an editorial community, we will be watching events at COP27 closely, and sharing reflections on outcomes here on the Latitude blog and other channels. Follow PLOS Climate on Twitter for updates!

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