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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

COP27: Backsliding on fossil fuels undermines progress on loss and damage

In the months preceding COP27, unprecedented climate disasters around the globe were coupled with near-universal recognition that climate action must urgently accelerate to avoid even more catastrophic temperature increases. At the same time, the international community has increasingly recognised that the continued use of fossil fuels is incompatible with achieving these goals.


Against this backdrop, global leaders had an urgent duty both to address the rising impacts of climate change, particularly for the Global South, and to confront the fossil fuels that drive those impacts.

“The outcome of this year’s climate talks turned on two central issues: phasing out fossil fuels and funding loss and damage. The colossal failure on the former undercuts progress on the latter,” says Nikki Reisch, Director of Climate & Energy at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

“The science couldn’t be clearer: we cannot fight climate change or limit warming to 1.5 degrees without getting off of all fossil fuels — oil, gas, and coal. Until there is concrete action to phase out fossil fuels, limiting the scale of loss and damage will be impossible. Such doublespeak effectively undercuts hard-fought policy wins for the Global South, civil society, and the most climate vulnerable,” adds Reisch.

In the closing days of the COP, the Presidency staged a fight over fossil fuel language, rejecting multiple Parties’ calls to include all fossil fuels, and offering a copy-paste of commitments made in Glasgow as if they were a win.

“In simply restating the inadequate and loophole-ridden language of Glasgow, Parties didn’t just stand still; they took a giant step backward,” Reisch observed. “In a world of rising temperatures and shrinking windows of opportunity, inertia is just another word for failure. Climate change will not wait politely for leaders to finally recognize that human lives matter more than fossil industry profits.”

The IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C recognised that civil society is the only reliable engine that can drive change at the pace demanded by the climate emergency. The establishment at the COP of a fund for loss and damage, after years of opposition by developed countries, demonstrates that civil society can force policy change in favor of greater climate justice.

Yet COP27 raised stark and pervasive barriers to effective and safe public participation, as evidenced by the urgent joint statement from UN human rights mandate holders in the final days of the conference. Meanwhile, the presence of lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry driving the climate crisis reached a new peak both in numbers and in the opportunities provided to them to shape some of the conference’s outcomes.

“The COP has been affected by the striking imbalance in power and voices in this process. Civil society and Indigenous Peoples representatives have consistently stressed the importance of addressing climate change as a human rights crisis. But COP27 has been marred by the stripping away of human rights language and the incorporation of pledges that will undermine the enjoyment of all human rights,” said Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at CIEL.

“Civil society and Indigenous Peoples should be leading the response to the climate crisis in these spaces, driving the fundamental transformation that will be required of us. Instead, many are fighting tooth and nail to secure wins that only stem the bleeding and protect communities from the very decisions being made through the UN process.

“For civil society to reliably drive climate action, then we must fundamentally question an atmosphere that marginalises and suppresses the voices of those most impacted and those who stand up for the rights of their communities. States participating in the UN process have a collective responsibility to protect the freedom of all participants from fear of intimidation or retaliation – both during and in the aftermath of the conference,” added Duyck. 

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