Aiming for Implementation

What was agreed at COP27, what wasn’t, and what it all means
Fletcher's delegation to COP27 poses in front of the conference sign.

“Depending on where you stand, what you think a COP is for and where we are in the climate crisis, you can come away with a very different story,” Dean Kyte said during last Wednesday’s debrief of the Fletcher School’s delegation to COP27.

Last month, a delegation of Tufts students and faculty traveled to the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. As observers, the delegation got a special look inside the negotiations and hosted its own official-side event on renewable energy in Africa. In a discussion last week moderated by Mieke van der Wansem, Dean Kyte, Academic Dean Kelly Sims Gallagher, Eda Kosma F23, and Abay Yimere, a postdoctoral fellow at Fletcher, gathered on campus to report out their observations and assessment of COP, and the progress on climate finance and adaptation.

Abay Yimere, who studies renewable energy and climate policy in Africa, noted the significance of agriculture being included in the conversation, but lamented the focus on supply and not demand, emphasizing that the orientation is not towards policy that will support developing nations.

“COP was insufficient in terms of progress for Africa,” Yimere said. “Africa was hoping to see more ambition in terms of mitigation.”

Dean Kelly Sims Gallagher noted similar gaps between intent and impact.  

“While it was supposed to be the Africa COP and the implementation COP, to me it felt like the climate finance COP,” she said.

The headline that emerged at the end of week two was the decision to establish a fund for loss and damage, which will support countries hit hardest by climate disasters. However, the details about how this fund will work and who will be contributing to it are, as of yet, undetermined.

Gallagher detailed several areas in which the specifics remain blurry, thus opening gaps between commitment and implementation. Discussions provided no concrete answers for developing countries on how they can pursue a low carbon development model and receive the financing they need to support economic growth in a climate constrained world.

Industrialized countries haven't done nearly enough to support developing countries to get policy infrastructure in place so that they're in turn on track to achieve their own NDCs [nationally determined contributions]," she said. Fletcher's Climate Policy Lab is engaged in this work, though she notes that the issue requires a more systematic approach.

She expressed a deeper concern that countries are not updating their NDCs. To mitigate the most disastrous effects of climate change, reports have indicated we need to slow the planet’s increase in temperature to 1.5-degrees centigrade.

“There’s a lot of handwringing now over whether we’re keeping 1.5 alive, and I think the answer is no, we’re not even close to being on track,” said Gallagher. Currently, the planet is on track for a 2.8-degree increase by the end of the century.

Nations around the world have not been moving quickly enough on domestic policy, with some exceptions in the EU as well as the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the CHIPS and Sciences Act, which she says will give the US the potential to hit some of its targets.

One tool that is undergoing refinement, though, is the voluntary carbon market. Through her work with the Voluntary Carbon Markets Initiative, Dean Kyte has seen new guardrails built to increase security and trust in these markets, which will strengthen this tool for carbon neutrality. She noted an extraordinary amount of private activity in the voluntary space; London, Singapore, and Switzerland have come up with exchanges, which will build high integrity, and Egypt has offered to host an African carbon exchange.

Eda Kosma, a MALD student studying climate policy, also enjoyed a firsthand look at some of the tools established to stimulate movement on the Paris Agreement’s goals: she served as a notetaker for the technical dialogue of the Global Stocktake, an accountability mechanism established to increase ambition.

With a front seat to the subject of her own capstone research project, Kosma observed that substate actors, such as cities and indigenous groups, made active use of the Stocktake as it presents a rare opportunity for them to be involved. The NGOs present were vocal in pushing for the findings, to be published at next year’s COP in the United Arab Emirates, to be action-oriented, pointing towards best practices that are working, or pitfalls that have led to maladaptation.

“What happened at COP27 was really focused technical dialogue on these big overarching questions,” said Kosma. “How do we assess progress towards our decarbonization goals? How do we even assess adaptation progress in a world that has a changing climate, so the bar is constantly moving?”

The sentiment that the mechanisms themselves require transformation resonated across the panel. In fact, in Gallagher’s estimation, two of the most important movements on climate policy recently happened outside of COP. At the G20, President Biden and President Xi Jinping opened the door to dialogue on climate policy; if the world’s two biggest emitters can work together, she’s hopeful that there could be mobilization. And the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) for Indonesia is a major deal for decarbonization, though she remains worried that such deals will saddle developing countries with more debt.

“COP is a crescendo: there’s a build-up and build-down,” said Kyte. “What’s interesting is that there’s never a build-down anymore because we’re out of time.”

“This week, it’s important to note that the EU has announced its registry of carbon credits. The Vanuatu has published its resolution to the general assembly members for its claim to the International Court of Justice and they’re in Paris as we speak,” said Kyte. “The work goes on: a lot to be disappointed about but a lot of movement.”

Read more about Fletcher’s delegation to COP27.