COP27: Mixed results despite loss and damage breakthrough
06 Dec 2022

COP27: Mixed results despite loss and damage breakthrough

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The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was billed as the “implementation COP”, raising expectations for new partnerships and increased collaboration. Held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, it was also labelled the “African COP”, with loss and damage, adaptation, and finance at the top of the priority list for the most vulnerable countries.

The timing was challenging. COP27 took place during multiple geopolitical, economic, energy, and climatic crises, which diverted attention away from the negotiation process. But at the same time these crises also heightened the need for concrete solutions.

Looking back at the conference after a few weeks, did it deliver on these solutions, and what were the results for the Earth observation community?

Outcomes relevant for Earth observation

Overall, participants were left with mixed feelings. With the agreement on a Loss and Damage fund to support communities impacted by climate change, COP27 finally answered requests from vulnerable countries that date back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. But besides this, there were no historic decisions.

COP27 also cannot truly be considered an African COP as other matters regarding adaptation and the special circumstances of African countries were not comprehensively addressed. New pledges on finance adaptation made in the run up to, and at COP27 have yet to be translated into actual support. Despite enthusiasm for the launch of a new adaptation agenda rallying both state and non-state actors, slow progress was noted on national adaptation planning. So far only 40 developing countries have presented plans that identify priority measures to adapt to climate change impacts. Without these, governments cannot effectively increase resilience across key socio-economic sectors, and access to dedicated financial and technical assistance will remain patchy.

There were some steps forward on aligning climate and biodiversity issues. Text on nature-based solutions (NBS), which had polarized discussions at COP26, made it to the final COP27 decision. Parties are now encouraged to consider NBS or ecosystem-based approaches for their mitigation and adaptation action. The overarching COP decision also emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to keep the 1.5 °C target alive. Finally, COP27 saw the launch of a number of partnerships and initiatives on biodiversity. These outcomes were only partially positive however, as no mention was made of synergies with the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), where the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be negotiated.

Progress on Research and Systematic Observation (RSO) was also not fully satisfactory. The COP decision on RSO welcomes efforts to achieve a sustained and fit-for-purpose global climate observing system, as well as related essential climate variables requirements, and encourages Parties and relevant organizations to work on implementation. The decision also “recognizes the need to enhance the coordination of activities by the systematic observation community and improve its ability to provide useful and actionable climate information for mitigation, adaptation and early warning systems, as well as information to enable understanding of adaptation limits and of attribution of extreme events”.

This critical language was retained and elevated in the overarching COP decision, further stressing the importance of addressing gaps in early warning systems and climate information services in developing countries through Earth observations. The decision also invites Parties to support the implementation of the Early Warning for All initiative, endorsed by the UN Secretary General and spearheaded by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The initiative gained significant momentum at COP27 with a series of events and financial pledges from the United States, Canada, France and others.

However, despite support from developing countries and some developed countries, Parties were not ready to agree on a stronger language on a global goal or action-oriented framework for Earth observation – something that would assist the recognition, understanding and coordination of activities by international, regional and national stakeholders to deliver climate information on the impacts of climate change, and for mitigation and adaptation action and reporting.

GEO at COP27

This is not to say that Earth observations were wholly out of the conversation. The Earth Information Day is the key official event for the systematic observation community to provide updates to the negotiators and influence the discussions during COP. This year, GEO presented contributions on mitigation with Lucia Perugini, Senior Scientific Manager at the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) in Italy, and co-chair of the GEO Climate Change Working Group, and on adaptation and early warning with Lucy Mtilatila, Director of the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, Malawi. Especially relevant was a success story from Malawi: the experience of implementing modernized climate information and community-based early warning systems using augmented forecasting capabilities from the GEO Global Water Sustainability (GEOGloWS) initiative.

The Earth Information Day poster session showcased other examples of operational services from GEOGloWS, GEO Blue Planet, and the GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) initiative, which has just launched the first GEO supplement to the UNFCCC National Adaptation Plans technical guidelines.

GEO co-organized side events and held bilateral meetings around the themes of early warning, adaptation and nature-based solutions with members and partners, including Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, WMO, the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Global Risk Modelling Alliance (GRMA), the Space Climate Observatory (SCO), the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), Campaign for Nature, SLYCAN Trust, Consultants to Government and Industries (CGI), Planet, and the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC), among others.

Of note, a side event at the Science Pavilion focused on the WMO 2022 State Climate Services report, which includes two GEO case studies: the Solar Atlas in Egypt by GEO CRADLE, and GEO VENER work in France. Moreover, a side event at the Mediterranean pavilion included discussions on solutions to climate impacts for the coastal city of Alexandria. A side event at the Resilience Lab pavilion investigated the use of climate intelligence to efficiently manage natural resources and contribute to effective insurance mechanisms. Finally, a side event at the Food and Agriculture Pavilion highlighted the climate benefits of forests for adaptation, and the successful validation of Ghana’s forest monitoring report, which qualified for result-based payments thanks to a methodology developed by GEO’s Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI), hosted by FAO.

Way forward to COP28

It is clear that GEO’s interests and potential should not be restricted to RSO in future. Other existing workstreams such as those on matters related to Least Developed Countries, National Adaptation Plans, the Global Goal on Adaptation, Loss and Damage, the Global Stocktake, and the newly established four-year work on the implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security, provide fresh entry points for the GEO community to contribute to the process considering many valuable ongoing GEO initiatives.

Next year’s COP28 will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates from 30 November until 12 December 2023. COP28 has a full table of deferred items to deal with, and its focus will be the conclusion of the first Global Stocktake that got underway at COP26 in Glasgow, UK, and has already involved the contribution of the Earth observation community. The consultations on the Global Goal on Adaptation will also draw to a close at COP28, a process that is expected to help quantify progress countries make on fulfilling Paris Agreement obligations on adaptation under the Global Stocktake, including with science-based metrics and targets. It is also vital to facilitate and accelerate sound formulation and effective implementation of National Adaptation Plans.

Earth observations are instrumental to advance this agenda. A new approach and conversation with GEO members and partners are urgently needed to move towards the deployment of Earth observation-based products and services that support informed decisions and investments – which was initiated at COP27. By recognizing and promoting the role of GEO under the Convention and the Paris Agreement and committing to scale up relevant GEO activities, governments would enable and strengthen the provision of targeted assistance to countries that need it the most.