23 Nov 2022

The agony and the ecstasy: Pacific reflections on COP27

3:13 pm on 23 November 2022
Members of Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change stage a protest during the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Members of Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change stage a protest during the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt Photo: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

With the establishment of a Loss and Damage fund, the Pacific appears to have benefited from COP27 in Egypt. But can it be described as a successful summit? Rachael Nath finds some very worrying concerns.

It was a bittersweet moment for the Pacific when the COP27 president brought down the gavel to confirm an agreement on a hard-fought deal to create a loss and damage fund.

It may be a historic breakthrough as the richest and worst carbon-polluting countries have acknowledged the need to contribute to the cost of the climate loss and damage that developing nations have had to incur.

This has been hailed as a remarkable achievement for the Pacific, considering loss and damage was not even on the agenda at the start of the conference, but the developing nations' call for urgency to establish and operationalise this funding has yet to be acknowledged.

The fund is due to be launched by 2024.

Tuvalu's Finance Minister, Seve Paeniu, said a loss and damage fund "has been a long time coming, and we have finally delivered climate justice"; however, he highlighted that disappointment followed as another COP came to an end.

Was COP27 a true success for the Pacific?

While Pacific leaders of nations battered by climate disasters accept this funding decision as the first step in a process to rectify the systemic injustice to billions of people who are the least responsible but are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, they feel that the climate talks in Egypt have failed to deliver on its ambitions.

The urgency for a collective effort to make meaningful progress on emission reductions and overall ambition was not reached. World leaders failed to agree on language to phase down all fossil fuels instead of only coal.

Ilana Seid, permanent representative of Palau to the United Nations, said, "If we breach 1.5 [degrees], many small islands will no longer exist, and those that do will no longer be a place we want to call home.

"Egypt will not be a true victory if we roll back efforts to keep 1.5 degrees alive. For countries like Palau, it will mean that we've traded loss and damage - money we wish we didn't have to ask for - in exchange for the true ability to remain in our countries and homes. And we don't want that hollow victory."

An emotional Paeniu, who is also the Pacific climate champion on loss and damage, called COP27 a "missed opportunity".

"It is regrettable that we haven't achieved equal success in our attempt to achieve the 1.5 targets. It is regrettable that we haven't got strong language included in the cover decision before us on phasing out fossil fuels.

"It is regrettable that we haven't got a text on peaking of emissions before 2025, and it is regrettable that we haven't managed to get a stronger mention of methane reduction and emissions reductions target," said Paeniu.

Climate envoy for the Marshall Islands Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner labelled the two weeks of negotiations as a "failure".

"This is huge progress, but...I am deeply disappointed that we have failed to commit to reducing emissions; this (loss and damage) outcome was not enough. If we are to stay within that limit that matters so much to us, we must phase out fossil fuels, and we must do so now."

Jetnil-Kijiner told the COP27 closing plenary: "In my country, we face a level of threat that many in this room could only imagine. Act now, or like us, you won't have to imagine for long."

Tuvalu's Finance Minister Seve Paeniu shows a photo of his grandchildren as he speaks during an intervention at an informal plenary during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 13, 2021.

Tuvalu's Finance Minister, Seve Paeniu Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP

Calls for further action

At the beginning of negotiations, the COP27 president labelled this conference as an implementation COP, but a representative from Papua New Guinea said there was an immediate need for "strong political commitment now rather than mere rhetoric".

"All parties must recognise the latest scientific findings that current actions and commitments as reflected in the LDCs [least developed countries] are not aligned with achieving the Paris Agreement goals. This is indeed more concerning and must be addressed now."

New Zealand has thrown its support behind the Pacific.

"My experience this week has been that there are still parties who are stuck in a state of denial or delusion about the scientific reality of the climate crisis that is already gripping us, not just in the most vulnerable countries, but all around the world," said the country's Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

"This is disappointing; the language around 1.5 and mitigation is extremely weak. We fought very hard to get that set of decisions around Glasgow (COP26), and frankly, we haven't moved on a great deal."

Shaw added this is simply what science says needs to happen to be able to preserve a safe and stable climate for future generations.

"We must tell the truth to the populations that we are responsible for in our countries about what lies ahead. Science doesn't compromise. It is what it is. We just have to deal with it."

Marshall Islands Climate Ambassador Kristina Stege speaks to media during the UN climate summit COP27 held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Marshall Islands climate ambassador Kristina Stege addresses media at COP27. Photo: MOHAMED ABDEL HAMID/AFP