International climate talks wrapped up today in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Leaders of dozens of countries took the stage to explain how climate change is killing and hurting their citizens and harming their economies. Scientists consider how humans might adapt to a hotter planet. And the UN is trying to crack down on companies that lie about how much they’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan sounded the alarm
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan took to the floor to deliver an opening statement on behalf of his country. He opened with grim details of the catastrophic floods that hit Pakistan earlier this summer.
Thirty-three million people were affected, he said, more than half of whom were women and children. In the southern part of the country, it rains seven times more than the average.
“This is all happening despite our very low carbon footprint,” Sharif told the assembled world leader. “But we fell victim to something that had nothing to do with it.
“This is simply unfair and unjust, to say the least,” he said. Sharif called on world leaders to come up with a fairer way for the wealthy countries responsible for global warming today to help cover the cost of the climate disaster.
The UN takes aim at greenwashing
The United Nations is seeking to prevent “dishonest climate accounting” by companies and local governments that have pledged to eliminate or offset their carbon emissions.
Non-state actors such as financial institutions and city governments will play an important role in making the world net zero emissions by mid-century, a group of experts working on behalf of the United Nations said in a report. To ensure that they deliver what they promised, groups that have made net-zero pledges should report publicly on their progress with verified information, the report said.
The report also states that groups that have pledged net-zero should stop building or investing in new fossil fuel supplies, avoid buying “cheap” carbon offset credits instead of reducing their own emissions, and ensure their lobbying activities are consistent with their climate commitments.
“A growing number of governments and non-state actors are pledging to be carbon free. And, obviously, that’s good news,” said António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations. “The problem is that the benchmarks for these net-zero commitments have varying degrees of rigidity and a gap wide enough to drive a diesel truck.”
America’s election overshadows global talks
Voters are heading to the polls to decide which party will control Congress, and the results could damage the Biden Administration’s negotiating clout at climate talks over the next two weeks.
The US has committed to cut its emissions by 50-52% by 2030. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which spurs the adoption of electric cars and more efficient buildings, is the main part of reaching that target and has been underway.
“If there is a change in leadership in Congress, Congress will not be able to undo the repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute. “That’s the basic foundation of federal policy and importantly, most of it is self-enforcement.”
According to the new “America Is All In” report, the US is on track to reduce emissions 39% by 2030, but will need to phaseout coal entirely by then to achieve its goal. But one main negotiating item in COP27 is about how to increase funding for developing countries help them adapt to climate change and pay for damage from climate impacts. If Democrats lose Congress, Republicans will likely reject climate aid for poor countries.
Scientists say more research is needed on the places most at risk from warming
People living in low-income and developing countries are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They include rising sea levels, heavy rains and more extreme storms, droughts and heat waves.
“The impacts are here, they are now and they affect the most vulnerable,” said Debra Roberts, co-chair of the adaptation section of the international climate report issued last year, in a presentation today at COP27.
Roberts and other top climate scientists working at the United Nations warn that research on adapting to climate change is focusing on wealthier countries. That disparity leaves millions of people without useful guidance, scientists say.
Where is the protest?
Last year’s conference in Glasgow saw tens of thousands of people gather outside the conference center to push for climate action. Their voices can sometimes be heard inside the building. This year couldn’t be more different.
The Egyptian government said it would allow some protests. But the protestors have reached the ring-fence area a few minutes drive from the conference center. And human rights groups say the government has vetted those who have been granted permits to protest.
When NPR visited the protest site, there were only a few dozen protesters, and the event felt carefully controlled. When a foreign TV crew approached, one of the organizers quietly warned the demonstrators, who had been asked to stand in line, to be careful what they said, even to each other, because the correspondent “understood Arabic”.
Rather than trying to hold the politicians at the conference accountable, people there seemed to want to voice their support for world leaders – especially Egyptian president Abdul Fattah El Sisi.
Taher Salem, an employee at the Ministry of Education, said he was coming to the protest site to join President Sisi in “welcoming people here from all over the world”. “We are here to support the conference; welcome to Sharm el Sheikh; welcome to Egypt,” he said.
This scene is in line with Egypt’s record of freedom of expression. The country has a record for widespread repression, with an estimated 60,000 political prisoners. Human Rights Watch says dozens of environmental activists have been arrested on their way to the summit.
Despite these efforts, human rights became the focus of the conference. Sanaa Seif, the sister of one of Egypt’s most notorious political prisoners, Alaa Abd El Fattah, was present to highlight the case of her brother, who has been imprisoned for almost ten years.
At the same time, Abd El Fattah has been on hunger strike which is now also refusing water. Several world leaders, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz all said they had raised the case in discussions with Egyptian officials.