4 Nov 2022

Climate experts fear rich countries missing in action at COP27

7:15 am on 4 November 2022
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN - AUGUST 27: Displaced people wade through a flooded area in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan on August 27, 2022. Since June, nearly 900 people have died by severe monsoon rains and floods in Pakistan, while thousands have been displaced and millions more affected. Thousands of people who live in areas under threat of flooding have been told to evacuate. Hussain Ali / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Hussain Ali / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

Displaced people wade through a flooded area in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan on August 27, 2022. Photo: AFP

Climate experts are not holding their breath for major breakthroughs in this year's annual UN climate conference.

More than 45,000 people, including world leaders and our own climate change minister, were to descend on Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt for COP27.

The meeting starts Sunday evening New Zealand time, and significant global issues would complicate already difficult negotiations.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the European energy crisis, China/US tensions, the ongoing pandemic and widespread inflation are just some of headwinds.

IPCC climate report author and University of Canterbury professor Bronwyn Hayward said at least last year there was strong leadership from host the UK.

She worried the rich countries were missing in action this time, and feared it could be a wasted year.

"I'm very hopeful that my concern is proved wrong, but this is a very dangerous and difficult time for the world and this looks like a very difficult COP."

Hayward said the leadership vacuum put significant pressure on the Pacific, poorer countries, and civic society to keep the momentum on richer countries for urgency and funding.

Bronwyn Hayward

IPCC climate report author and University of Canterbury professor Bronwyn Hayward. File photo. Photo: Supplied

New Zealand's Climate Change Ambassador Kay Harrison said last COP there were landmark agreements like the phasing down of coal, but she did not expect that this year.

"There won't be a big bang, a new treaty, a lot of the things the negotiators are discussing are not concluded until next year.

"But hopefully you will see a renewed commitment to this global joint effort."

Hosts Egypt want this COP to be about implementation, and about the challenges facing Africa and developing countries.

Harrison backed the approach, with Aotearoa looking to make an impact in the Pacific.

"We've got to stop these negotiators talking about the future and targets and plans and talk fests and start talking about what implementation looks like," she said.

Harrison said New Zealand's top priority was to keep alive the goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees - any hotter and the consequences for humanity become increasingly dire.

However, countries' current pledges would see the globe warm significantly more than that.

Globally emissions need to be basically halved by 2030 to get on track.

International Institute for Sustainable Development policy officer Natalie Jones said disasters like the severe flooding in Pakistan and Australia this year gave additional motivation to act.

"There has never been a stronger call to action, and there's never been a stronger movement, especially from the Global South and the countries that are the most vulnerable to climate damages."

'Loss and damage'

A major topic for discussion will be what's called "loss and damage".

Developing countries argue they did not cause climate change and should get money over and above other financing to compensate for the damage it has wrought.

Harrison said New Zealand would work to help parties find some common ground.

She supported more funding, but would not pre-judge whether that meant setting up a new separate financing mechanism.

There were already mechanisms for Pacific countries to get funding for projects, and some the process for actually getting their hands on money "obnoxious", she said.

An aerial view of homes next to the Pacific Ocean on 28 November, 2019 in Funafuti, Tuvalu.

Pacific nations are bearing the brunt of climate change with rising sea levels already affecting many islands. File photo. Photo:

Indigenous Peoples' Caucus representative Kaeden Watts (Ngāti Tūwharetoa / Ngāti Maniapoto / Ngāi Tūhoe ) said there needed to global agreement on how to get the perspective of, and financing for, indigenous communities.

"Because at the moment the strength that indigenous peoples have, marginalized local communities, First Nations - first affected by climate change peoples have - is extremely limited.

"Sometimes ... a few paragraphs, a few lines."

Climate ambassador on agriculture

Harrison said it would be encouraging other countries not to subsidise their agricultural emissions and to move towards pricing them.

New Zealand has released it's draft plan to gather a levy on ruminant burps and farts - the first country to do so.

On international carbon markets

The rulebook for how potential international carbon markets could work was finally agreed at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

This year the discussion would be on the technical detail about about how they system will work.

It would allow countries to pay others to make cuts on their behalf, something New Zealand must do in earnest as a full two thirds of it's pledge to cut emissions by 2030 will come from buying credits offshore.

It would likely begin by doing direct trades with countries, for example tree planting in the Pacific.

Who is in the NZ delegation

Thirteen New Zealand officials will attend COP27 - from Foreign Affairs and Trade, Environment, and Primary Industries ministries.

There were also two representatives from the government of Tokelau.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw arrives in the second week.

There were also representatives from iwi Māori, business leaders, green investment finance, the opposite climate spokesperson Scott Simpson, and representatives of the Climate Change Commission.

New Zealand has been asked to facilitate in three negotiations rooms.

The climate conference was set to last a fortnight.

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