COP27 failed to ‘rise to the challenge’ on phasing out fossil fuels

The 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit “remains on life support”, the UK’s COP26 president has warned, after the latest UN climate summit failed to see a clear commitment on phasing out fossil fuels.

The COP27 summit, which was held in Egypt this month, has been heralded a “breakthrough” after countries agreed on a specific fund for assisting developing countries with loss and damage due to climate change.

However, in his closing remarks, the UK’s COP26 president, Alok Sharma, warned that in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees celsius, as per the Paris Agreement and reinforced by the Glasgow pact last year, more action is needed on phasing out fossil fuels such as coal.

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He pointed out that the language around energy in the COP27 text was weakened in the final minutes of the deliberations, and now includes a reference to "low emission and renewable energy" rather than fossil fuels.

In terms of the Glasgow motto of keeping 1.5 alive, he added: “And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror, and consider if we have fully risen to that challenge over the past two weeks”.

In the latest draft of the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, fossil fuels are mentioned once.

The draft calls on parties “to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition”.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said in a brief statement on the decisions made: “I welcome the progress made at COP27, but there can be no time for complacency.

“Keeping the 1.5 degrees commitment alive is vital to the future of our planet. More must be done.”

At COP27, a network of over 1,750 civil society organisations called again for an ​​international fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, a movement that has been picking up momentum since being launched in 2015 by pacific island leaders. However, little progress was made.

Alex Rafalowicz, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty, said: “This COP has been stuck in slow motion on addressing fossil fuels when in the real world the climate crisis has shifted to hyperspeed. There were more lobbyists from coal, oil, and gas companies than there were delegates from Pacific Islands, which explains why the urgent call from Tuvalu and Vanuatu for a phase out of all fossil fuels was ignored and loopholes in the favour of industry were adopted.”

WWF executive director of advocacy & campaigns Katie White said:  “While a deal on loss and damage finance is a positive step, it risks becoming a down payment on disaster unless emissions are urgently cut in line with the 1.5°C goal. By refusing to phase out fossil fuels, governments have failed to reach a more ambitious agreement than in Glasgow last year and put our health and security at risk.

“Time is running out and we need to see a much stronger shift from promises to action. We cannot fight the climate crisis without protecting and restoring nature and tackling unsustainable food systems.”