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Another Informed View of the Outcome of COP-27 in Sharm El Sheikh

Robert Stavins's picture
Professor & Director, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Robert N. Stavins is the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development, Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Programs in Public Policy and in Political Economy and...

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According to my most recent podcast guest, Billy Pizer, the Vice President for Research and Policy Engagement at Resources for the Future, agreement by negotiators at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, earlier this month on a mechanism to provide funding for particularly vulnerable nations suffering from climate change was a significant outcome, while the negotiators’ inability to achieve substantive commitments by nations to increase their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) was a disappointment.  Dr. Pizer offers those views and much more in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  I hope you will listen to the interview and our conversation here.

[As you know if you follow this blog, I have my own views of the outcome of COP27, about which I wrote just a couple of days ago, but in these podcasts I strive to feature the work and views of my guests, so in the podcast you won’t hear much from me on the various issues that arose at COP27.  If you want to get my own take on that, you can find it here and here.]  Now back to Billy Pizer …

The eyes of the world were focused on Sharm El Sheikh as negotiators representing nearly 200 countries discussed myriad issues with the goal of advancing international efforts to limit global warming to well below 2° C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5° C this century, as specified in the Paris Agreement.  COP27 did not have a particularly ambitious agenda, Pizer observes in our conversation, but it did move the ball forward.

“We’re now at a place after Paris where everything is a little bit lower stakes, in a sense, because we have the framework in place. And everything now is simply moving that framework along to the next step,” he says. “I think it’s inevitable that there’s a little bit less high-level drama and stakes going on at the COPs. That doesn’t mean they’re not unimportant, it just means that the nature of the COPs is different.”

Pizer says that one of the most significant outcomes during the two weeks of the COP took place 6,000 miles away, at the G20 summit in Bali, where President Biden and China President Xi agreed to resume bilateral cooperation on climate change as well as other issues. 

“Now the negotiations have stepped back up,” Pizer remarks. “And I think that is certainly a significant development because I think it’s just very hard to make progress [on international climate policy] without the US and China talking.”

Another major outcome from this year’s COP was the agreement to establish a “Loss and Damage” fund to help poor nations suffering from the impacts of climate change. Pizer admits that he was somewhat surprised that the U.S. supported that proposal. 

“The United States has been very concerned about whether or not there would be a notion of liability that went with such compensation. But remarkably, it was on the agenda, it got negotiated. And in the end, there was an agreement to a new fund,” he states. “The United States typically does not like to create new funds. But in the end, they were isolated, and I don’t think they wanted to be responsible for a bad outcome. And I think they also recognized the writing on the wall, that this was what the majority of countries wanted, and so they agreed to it.”

As an aside, I will note that as a result of work by the United States – and other delegations – at COP27, the Loss & Damage Fund is explicitly not about compensation or legal liability.

On another topic, Dr. Pizer observes that the negotiators made little progress on the issue of increased ambition among the parties to increase their commitments through their NDCs, an outcome which Pizer found disappointing.

“There is a broad recognition that we’re not on track to meet the targets, the goals of the convention or the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to two degrees or 1.5 Degrees. And despite that, there weren’t dramatic increases in ambition announced. So that’s almost like the lack of an outcome that was notable,” he says.

The author along with Billy Pizer and others at RFF’s recent Net-Zero Economy Summit in Washington, D.C.

On a very positive note, Billy Pizer cites the power of recent youth movements of climate activism to help advance international climate efforts.

“I think the youth movement and the popular movement to address climate change has that sort of catalyzing role to help move things along,” he notes. “And I think it also creates a dynamic where, with the younger generation … even more committed to taking action, it helps decision makers, businesses, people that are betting literally their money on different events taking place, that this sort of action in the future is going to even accelerate more because the younger generation is even more concerned about it.”

Again, I encourage you to listen to this 42nd episode of the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.  You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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Thank Robert for the Post!
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