Actually, the world climate conference COP27 should continue what was started a year ago in Glasgow. Accompany, resharpen and tie up loose ends. But nothing will come of it: a global energy crisis is suddenly on the agenda in Sharm el-Sheikh for the next two weeks. It also shook up the plans made at COP26 – some of what was hopefully started at the last climate conference simply fell by the wayside under the impression of the new reality. Suddenly there is a lot to discuss about things that were actually considered established. And for the first time, what is probably the most controversial aspect of global climate policy has made it onto the agenda.

However, the central task is the same as last year: the commitments of the states to climate protection are to be improved in order to keep the 1.5 degree limit within reach, at least in theory. “The most important issue from my point of view are obligations to reduce emissions from fossil fuels,” agrees Christian Scharun, climate researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). “We are currently thinking far too superficially, not comprehensively enough and not enough detail.” If the states implement all previous commitments, the UN Environment Program expects a warming of around 2.5 degrees – only by the end of the century, mind you, because the trend will not stop by itself beyond 2100

From the point of view of Niklas Höhne, the world community was actually on the right track after the last climate meeting. The professor for climate protection at Wageningen University in the Netherlands had warned in the run-up to COP26 that the conference was “the last chance to keep the 1.5-degree target within reach” – and in Höhne’s eyes it worked to a limited extent. “The conference managed to keep the 1.5 degree target within reach. On the one hand through new climate targets, on the other hand through the initiatives agreed at the conference,” he explains. “In addition, the participating states have recognized that all this is far from enough and have agreed to follow up with further measures in 2022.”

However, he delivered the bad news straight away: In view of the changed world situation, many countries quickly lost sight of their good intentions. “Only 24 out of 196 countries have presented revised climate targets, and most mean no real improvement,” says Höhne. “Unfortunately, we’re not in a good position.” That’s one of the reasons why there will be a lot of discussion about the energy crisis at the climate conference. The war in Ukraine and the halt to gas supplies from Russia have not only shaken up climate policy, but also ensured that energy supply is being rearranged around the world.

Energy is currently the most important issue for states, but governments are willing to make compromises when it comes to the climate. One consequence of this: a »gold rush« in fossil energy sources, as Niklas Höhne calls it. New gas fields are being developed and infrastructure is being created that may increase greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Last but not least, various African countries are sitting on previously untapped gas reserves – the temptation to extract these resources is now great.

On the other hand, the high energy prices have also strengthened the trend towards renewable energies, explains Wolfgang Obergassel from the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. Germany has increased the expansion targets for renewable energies, as has the EU with its REPowerEU package, which is intended to reduce dependence on Russia. “If all this is implemented, the EU could even exceed its climate targets for 2030,” says Obergassel.

A new work program on climate protection, which was already launched in Glasgow, could accelerate the trend. “The conference in Sharm el Sheikh is intended to define the details of this work program.” However, the progress envisaged after Glasgow has not materialized here either. “Unfortunately, no formal progress was made at the climate negotiations in Bonn in June,” explains Obergassel.

Christian Scharun from KIT also sees the declared goal of the program to accelerate the implementation of the declarations of intent made in abundance at the climate conferences as central. »One point is the speed with which we implement our projects. It’s all just going too slowly,” he says. In Germany, bureaucracy is a big problem. “For example, it takes an average of 60 months for a single wind turbine to be approved.”

In addition to the laborious and well-known work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the states also want to advise on how best to adapt to climate change, which is already progressing with momentum. On the one hand, this applies to natural disasters such as the floods in Pakistan or more violent storms, against which better protective measures are needed – not only in the context of climate change. However, long-term effects such as changing amounts of precipitation, rising sea levels and high temperatures that are harmful to health, which are increasingly putting pressure on societies and states, make rapid action necessary.

The biggest bone of contention at COP27 is therefore money: the poorer countries, which are least able to absorb the changes, are most at risk. The countries of the Global South have too few resources to protect and adapt effectively. The industrialized countries, which have been emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases for a long time, should therefore pay for damage caused by climate change and the necessary adaptation measures in poorer countries. “It’s been very controversial for years,” says Höhne. The rich countries had promised 100 billion dollars at the climate summit in Paris – but so far they have hesitated to keep this promise. “To date, the promised $100 billion has not been raised, and besides, this sum will not be enough at all.”

It is also unclear how the sum can be used as effectively as possible. A new strategy is to be launched at the climate summit, in which several industrialized countries join forces with a poorer country in order to implement certain previously defined measures and goals. Experts hope that this approach will resolve a number of previous issues – including Höhne: »If such partnerships work, it could mean a big step forward for the whole question of financing.«

However, the issue of compensation for damages is likely to cause the greatest trouble this year. After all, one cannot completely protect oneself from many of the effects of climate change, and here, too, the poorer countries bear the most serious consequences. For more than ten years, the Global South has been demanding compensation from those countries that are largely responsible for climate change. Such a compensation fund will be discussed for the first time at COP27 as a separate item on the agenda – and the details are likely to cause a great deal of controversy.

The developing countries have good arguments on their side, both morally and legally – but so far almost all industrialized countries have refused to seriously discuss the issue. “On the one hand because of the magnitude that is involved, but on the other hand because they fear that they might slip into a liability discussion or even into the right legal liability,” explains Obergassel. The Egyptian conference management, which has a noticeable influence on the agenda as well as the overall decisions, has announced that it will give this »Loss and Damages« fund, as well as financing issues in general, a lot of space at the conference.

How successful the COP27 will ultimately be between the financing dispute and the energy crisis also depends on the benchmark that is applied. In any case, the climate problem does not have to be solved at the climate conference, but in the respective states that are sitting at the negotiating table there. And they currently have other priorities. “It would be quite an achievement for the topic to be central on the political agenda again,” says Wolfgang Obergassel. From his point of view, the negotiations are above all shifting the discussions in the countries themselves. “In my opinion, that is the essential function of these conferences, to serve as pacemakers, so to speak.”

After natural gas prices have fallen again since the summer, numerous natural gas tankers are parked off the European coast. Natural gas traders are waiting for higher gas prices in Europe.

The original of this article “Climate professor appalled by new development ahead of global conference” comes from