The annual U.N. Climate Change Conference ended in Egypt with a groundbreaking but highly contentious decision: A fund would be created to help poor nations hit hard by climate disasters.
The meeting was supposed to end Friday night but missed the deadline and went into intense overtime until early Sunday, when delegates finally agreed on a package of decisions.
Meanwhile, delegates from the more than 190 attending sidestepped two other contentious issues by not moving forward with language on the need to phase out all fossil fuels and to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
What was decided at COP27 this year, what wasn’t and what mattered? Here’s what to know.
What is COP27?
COP27 is the annual United Nations meeting of the 197 countries that have agreed to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, originally adopted in 1992. The meeting is the decision-making body of the countries that signed onto the framework. It is held to assess how well nations are dealing with climate change.
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What is the ‘Loss and Damage’ fund?
In 1991, the tiny island nation of Vanuatu suggested countries that had done the most to cause climate change over the past 250 years should pay to help countries most affected by it.
Finally, this year the member nations of COP agreed to create a “Loss and Damage” fund to compensate vulnerable nations as they deal with rising sea levels, massive storms and droughts. The details are still being worked out.
Two sticking points came from the United States and China:
►Some wealthy nations, including the U.S., had long fought such a fund, worried they could face unlimited liability as the biggest historical emitters of greenhouse gases. In the end, the agreement says nations cannot be held legally liable for previous emissions, assuaging some of those fears.
►China, Brazil, India and South Africa argued developed nations were subjecting them to a double standard – they got rich burning unlimited fossil fuel but now want developing nations to hold back. Others said that as the world’s biggest current emitter of greenhouse gases, China shouldn’t be eligible for compensation from the fund even though the United Nations still considers it a developing country.
What didn’t happen at COP27?
Last year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland, agreed to the “phasedown of unabated coal.” There had been hope that would be expanded at this year’s conference to include oil and gas.
Countries that produce oil and gas, including Canada and Saudi Arabia, instead emphasized technologies to clean up rather than phase down such fuels, according to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.
This “low emissions” language was considered a significant loophole because it could justify new fossil fuel development.
Can we keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius?
Many countries were frustrated that nations at this year’s summit didn’t include stronger language to get countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This, they said, puts the world on track to blow past the Paris Agreement goal from 2015 to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit — above pre-industrial levels.
That 1.5 degree target is expected to be overshot, though not by as much as in the past. The International Energy Agency says that if the commitments made in Egypt are fully implemented, warming can be limited to 1.7 degrees.
That’s down from previous forecasts of “well over 2 degrees” and is “something we can be proud of, even if we recognize we are just getting started,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in his closing statement.
Staying at these levels requires countries to actually do what they have pledged to do. Allowing temperatures to go higher would create “an unlivable world,” says U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres
Why Biden’s meeting with China may be the biggest news
It could be argued that one of the most influential climate actions of this year happened 6,000 miles away – in Bali, Indonesia. That’s where President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, four days after Biden spoke at COP27.
In a three-hour private talk, Biden and Xi agreed to restart mutual talks about international climate negotiations, which have been stalled since August when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.
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China and the United States are the world’s two largest emitters of carbon dioxide and play a crucial role in lowering global levels. At the meeting, Biden said: “The world expects, I believe, China and the United States to play key roles in addressing global challenges, from climate changes, to food insecurity, and to – for us to be able to work together.
What’s up for next year’s COP in Dubai?
Next year’s COP conference in Dubai is scheduled to be a “stock-taking.” This is something that takes place every five years and assesses how far the world has come in meeting the climate-saving goals set in 2015 in Paris. It requires countries to report on their efforts so the world as a whole can identify what still needs to be done.
Next year’s COP will take place Nov. 30 through Dec. 12, 2023, in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Elizabeth Weise covers climate and environmental issues for USA TODAY. She can be reached at [email protected]
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