By Professor Derek Walker
The Curtain came down on COP27’s first week after a whirlwind visit from President Biden and growing signs that many major issues will be punted to the COP28 meeting next year in Dubai. The President seized the mantle of climate leadership for the U.S., in part on the strength of this summer’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, a $370 billion climate investment that Biden Administration officials and Capitol Hill allies have been eager to tout in Sharm el-Sheikh.
(U.S. President Joe Biden’s COP27 Special Address)
Biden’s message was also laced with demands that other countries do their part, a longstanding point of contention with developing countries that point, correctly, to their much smaller role in catalyzing the climate crisis of today. The U.S. has produced 20% of emissions during the industrial era, twice as much as China, and rich developed countries are responsible for half of global emissions in the past 170 years while constituting only 12% of the world’s population. The battle lines are clear.
“The United States is acting. Everyone has to act,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s a duty and responsibility of global leadership. Countries that are in a position to help should be supporting developing countries so they can make decisive climate decisions.”
(VLGS student delegate Katie Bernhardt and Palau delegate Marli Klass)
VLGS student delegate Katie Bernhardt came out of closed-door negotiating sessions with a clear understanding of how tensions can play out. She described a standoff between the U.S. and a host of countries, from India to Indonesia to China, that are resisting American efforts to reach a deal that assigns responsibilities to “high emitters,” which would imply new obligations on them.
Biden apologized to fellow leaders for his predecessor’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, but parties are looking to the U.S. to offer considerably more than words. Ghanian Minister Henry Kokofu, who leads the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an alliance of countries facing the most extreme impacts from climate change, said, “we expect the US President to show more leadership in committing dedicated new funds for loss and damage and putting in place mechanisms to deliver it. Another empty bank account will not do as a COP outcome.”
(VLGS student delegate Logan Keen and Dr. Beverly Wright, founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice)
Elsewhere during week one, countries vied for attention to new green initiatives designed to transform the power and agriculture sectors, industry, and transport. VLGS student delegate Logan Keen heard from the Swedish company H2 Green Steel which is looking to dramatically slash pollution from steel production by using “green” hydrogen. As with virtually all prospective climate solutions, green hydrogen is not a panacea, as my colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have powerfully illustrated through groundbreaking scientific research into the risks posed by leakage, which could have catastrophic climate impacts.
(COP27 Week One Delegates)
The first five VLGS delegates departed Sharm el-Sheikh Saturday, and five students arrived Sunday for the second week of COP27, providing critical negotiating support to the Republic of Palau. The negotiations this week may help reveal whether the existential threats faced by Palauan and billions of other climate vulnerable people are translating into concrete financial support rather than merely empathic proclamations of concern.