By Professor Derek Walker
In less than a week, high-level government representatives of – and civil society stakeholders from – virtually every country in the world will descend on Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was thirty years ago that 154 countries gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the “Earth Summit” that gave rise to the UNFCCC, the first-ever global agreement to tackle climate change.
The intervening years have brought a dramatic escalation in the urgency of the climate issue, and with each year’s COP meeting the stakes are higher for people and the planet. Climate change is exacting enormous social, economic, and humanitarian costs. In this year alone, the world has faced at least 29 billion-dollar weather disasters, including flooding in Pakistan and Australia, drought in China and East Africa, and a blistering heat wave in Europe.
Immediate and accelerated action is vital, in the form of stronger commitments from parties and equally robust implementation. As the host of COP27, the Government of Egypt is helping set the tone for and will drive forward the outcomes from the conference. Egypt’s vision for the COP includes “full implementation of commitments and pledges . . . [that] requires inputs and contributions from all stakeholders.”
The fact that COP27 takes place in Africa is deeply significant, and an important opportunity to center—and hopefully being to address—the staggering inequities that underlie climate change negotiations. The continent of Africa is critically vulnerable to climate impacts yet produces a microscopic share of the pollution driving climate change and faces extreme poverty and lack of access to basic resources, including electricity and clean water.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has pledged to use COP27 to advocate for African and other developing countries. Egypt is also part of a negotiating bloc known as the Like-Minded Developing Countries, whose ministers gathered in Bolivia in late October and issued a call to action to rich developed countries, rebuking them for “backtracking” on commitments and “attempting systematically to shift the burden to address climate change on to the developing countries.”
This strong language reflects, in part, the catastrophic risks climate change poses and the competing agendas and power imbalances that are unmistakable parts of each year’s meeting. This year’s COP will put a bright spotlight on climate action commitments and tangible progress on the heels of the latest UNFCCC report that deemed country commitments under the Paris Agreement to be highly insufficient to meet the Agreement’s 1.5 degree or less temperature goal.
The COP is also increasingly a critical advocacy forum for “non-state actors” such as environmental organizations, youth groups, businesses, and academic institutions. I am honored to lead Vermont Law and Graduate School’s official “observer delegation” to the COP—this year’s delegates include my fellow Professor Yanmei Lin, Associate Director of U.S.-Asia Partnership for Environmental Law, along with a diverse cohort of law and master’s students in the International Climate Change Law course, a unique offering of the Tuholske Institute for Environmental Field Studies.
Please watch this page in the coming days and weeks as the students share their perspective on key issues and as we post updates from Sharm el-Sheikh.