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 November  10, 2022. GrowthPolicy is proud to present "Dispatches from COP27".  This is the second in several posts from our affiliates who are on the ground at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

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Dispatch from COP 27, by Wake Smith, Research Fellow, M-RCBG 
November 10, 2022  Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt 

It is Day 4 at COP 27, and I am reminded why bratwurst lovers should avoid visiting the sausage factory.  Up close, it’s messier than one might hope. 

For starters, there is the sterilized setting.  Sharm is a charmless budget tourist beach resort with reliably magnificent weather and notable diving.  But it is situated in a country which after a brief spasm of democracy during the Arab Spring, returned to its customary status as an autocracy with no sense of humor.  During the last COP, the streets of Glasgow thrummed with raucous protesters of every stripe, injecting an urgency and authenticity into the proceedings.  By contrast, Sharm is remote (not coincidentally) from population centers, and street demonstrations of all kinds are prohibited.  To head off western objections about free speech, an official protest zone was cynically established in the desert several miles from the convention site on a concrete slab inside a fence.  There have been no takers. 

Egyptian president el-Sisi preened during the opening ceremony, positioning himself as a champion of prospective environmental victims and a global statesman in the vanguard of the climate fight.  After all, this is an African COP that is sensibly prioritizing the interests of a continent that has contributed little to climate change but will likely suffer its impacts disproportionately.  The “man of the people” image was unfortunately undercut by the rapidly declining health of a prominent political prisoner on a hunger strike and near death.  If he perishes during the COP, it is unclear whether Egypt will permit the news to escape.  Western leaders appealed (gently) for his release, thus far to no avail. 

I have also realized that I am not at one COP but at two.  The one I expected to witness was a sort of undisciplined alcoholics anonymous meeting where unreformed heavy drinkers cluster to urge each other (and themselves) to sober up.  The spirit is affirmative and uplifting, but they all retire to the bar afterwards.  I have indeed seen that COP here, where both John Kerry and the Chinese delegate, as the representatives of the two most unrestrained emitters, urged the assembled nations to choose the path of righteousness over the one they themselves were travelling (Yes, it is a little awkward). 

But as it turns out, most nations assemble for a different COP, wherein the primary focus is not emissions reduction but foreign aid.  Two thirds of the attending states belong to the “Group of 77”, a nearly 60-year-old coalition of non-aligned developing nations that now counts 134 members plus China.  For the G77, climate change is not a belatedly recognized result of industrialization, but yet another socioeconomic plague thrust upon them by the global north.  They are of course eager that the north eliminate its emissions so as to stop further victimizing them, but they are most keenly interested in foreign aid.  The original logic of climate aid was that if the north wanted southern cooperation in a climate crusade, it should pay for that, both to finance the transition to cleaner fuels and to pay for adaptation to a warmer world.  The further rationale for yet more aid that has newly appeared on the formal agenda at this COP is “loss and damage”, which posits that the north should make the south whole for such climate impacts as it experiences in the future.   

The sums required for loss and damage would likely be vastly larger than the $100 billion per year that has been promised (and not yet fulfilled) for mitigation and adaptation, particularly if global temperatures zip past the 1.5˚  Celsius cap that remains the vain hope here at Sharm.  Unlike the $100B, this could be real money! 

On the one hand, some quantum of the sugar plums dancing in the heads of the southern delegates seems unlikely to materialize, particularly since they are hoping for trillions of dollars of annual grants, not loans.  I was scolded today by one zealot for referring to such transfers as “donations” rather than “reparations”.   In fairness, however, the overhang of past emissions that has vaulted global temperatures is mostly a phenomenon that the north imposed upon the south.  The ethical picture gets muddied by the fact that China is now far and away the largest emitter and India is number three.  Nonetheless, the south is amply justified in claiming that the bulk of the bill for climate solutions should be sent northward.   

In all events, the negotiations on loss and damage opened today, with a goal of reaching consensus in two years at COP 29.  The south will not get all it wants, but the north was not slamming the door.  Some deal will likely be made – the parties need each other too much to do otherwise.  After all, as UN Secretary-General said at the opening ceremony, “we are sailing into the same storm, in the same boat”.  Amen, brother.

Previous Dispatch - Dispatch from COP27 - 11/7/22 - Wake Smith

Wake Smith is a Lecturer in Yale College, where he teaches what is understood to be the world’s first undergraduate survey course onWake Smith headshot climate engineering. The core of that course was published in book form in March 2022 by the Cambridge University Press under the title Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention. As a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, he has published papers on the aeronautics, costs, and deployment logistics of stratospheric aerosol injection as well as on the proper governance of research into these technologies. 

Links: Fellows Page | Recent Publications on Growthpolicy | M-RCBG Associate Working Papers

Pandora's Toolbox - The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention by Wake Smith