COP27: Tiptoeing Towards Climate Justice

Caroline Griffith, NEC Executive Director

The Green Zone was a space at COP27 in Egypt that “promotes dialogue, awareness, education, and commitments via events, exhibitions, workshops, cultural performances, and talks.” Source: Romangeh-Adel-Fawzy UNclimatechange Flikr.

“The world’s elite have arrived at #COP27 on hundreds of private jets to lecture you about climate change. Sponsored by Coca-Cola.” Twitter post from the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 

On November 6 to 18, global leaders, dignitaries and climate activists met in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh for COP27. COP, which stands for “Conference of Parties,” is a yearly conference which brings together signatories to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss actions to lower emissions and lessen climate-change impacts. According to a statement put out by the UNFCCC, attendees came up with a package of agreements that reaffirmed their commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (C) above pre-industrial levels, strengthened action by countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, and establish a Loss and Damage Fund to compensate poor countries who are hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. Skeptics, however, point out that COP27 also resulted in a massive expansion of carbon markets which many see as a license for rich countries to keep polluting while giving the appearance of taking action on climate change.

The agreement from the last climate conference (COP 26 in Glasgow) pledged that signatories would come back this year to develop concrete ways to strengthen emissions reductions plans by 2030. According to an October 2022 report from UN Climate Change, the combined climate pledges of 193 parties under the Paris Agreement could put the world on track for around 2.5 degrees C of warming by the end of the century, 1 degree higher than what experts say is acceptable to avert catastrophe. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, global emissions must decline by at least 45 percent by 2030. The emission-reduction goals of the Paris Agreement are non-binding, so countries have to return to the table periodically and assess these goals to make sure they actually meet the needs of the planet. Theoretically, that’s why they gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Like the COP26 conference, this year there was much talk of net-zero and green technologies, but no discussion or agreement on phasing out fossil fuels, the primary driver of climate change. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, “Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now. And this is an issue this COP did not address. A fund for loss and damage is essential, but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map or turns an entire African country to desert.” In a report released over a year ago, the International Energy Agency called for an end to new fossil fuel development. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine and shut-off of the Russian-controlled gas pipeline has led some European countries to return to burning coal for energy and many countries, including the US, continue to invest in and approve new fossil fuels extraction projects, despite pledges to reduce emissions. 

One topic that was a focus of the conference was “Loss and Damage”. This idea has been brought up for decades by developing nations who contribute significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions to the climate crisis than wealthy nations, but are harder hit by the impacts of climate change and lack the resources to adapt to or retreat from harm. According to research by Oxfam, the richest 10 percent of the globe is responsible for 50 percent of emissions. However, those countries at the lower end of the economic spectrum are experiencing flooding, drought, and fires driven by emissions from wealthy nations and are demanding compensation. This demand for payment seems to have finally been heard; this was the first time the topic appeared on the agenda of a climate conference. One of the concrete outcomes of the conference is the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund, which will be paid into by wealthy nations. According to a statement by the UNFCCC, a “transitional committee” was formed to make recommendations on “how to operationalize both the new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 next year.” So although they agreed to establish the fund, the specifics won’t be decided until next year. The statement goes on to say, “COP27 saw significant progress on adaptation, with governments agreeing on the way to move forward on the Global Goal on Adaptation…New pledges, totaling more than USD 230 million, were made to the Adaptation Fund at COP27.” To put that into perspective, according to the War Resisters League, the 2023 US military budget for active military is $978 billion.

Many see these conferences as a way for wealthy countries to greenwash their actions and promote false climate-change solutions that allow companies to keep polluting and wealthy nations to keep consuming, rather than as opportunities to come together and work on real global solutions to the climate crisis and the inequalities that are exacerbated by it. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, during remarks on a presentation on Net-Zero Commitments, said, “A growing number of governments and non-state actors are pledging to be carbon-free – and obviously that’s good news. The problem is that the criteria and benchmarks for these net-zero commitments have varying levels of rigor and loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through.  We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing.” 

Speaking on a panel of Indigenous people from across the globe entitled “Colonialism, Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change”, Julia Bernal of Pueblo Action Alliance said, “Pueblo people have gone through many waves of colonialism. The Southwest region, historically and present-day, has been deemed a national energy sacrifice zone, meaning that our natural resources – oil, gas, uranium, hard rock mining, logging – anything you can really think of as a natural resource, is cultivated in our region. Part of this ongoing colonialism is now embedded in what the dominant paradigm is deeming as a “just transition.” But what we’re seeing now is a continuation of fossil fuels guised as ‘green climate solutions’ when ultimately they’re not.”

COP27 was held against the backdrop of human rights abuses by the Egyptian government best exemplified by the case of democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah who has been held in an Egyptian prison since 2011. It is estimated that as many as 65,000 political prisoners are currently held in Egypt.