COP27 outcome disappoints local youth activists

Michael Seton

The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) climate change global summit stumbled to a close on Saturday, Nov. 19, offering less progress than many expected in addressing its core goals of mitigating, adapting to and financing the global warming problem. The most notable outcome was a spartan agreement to address poor nations’ demands for reimbursement of climate change related losses and damages. 

This compensation arrangement, in which the European Union and the U.S. conceptually agreed to pay for such damages, was finalized in the hours after the official end of the conference. However, the agreement left many questions unanswered — most notably the dollar amounts involved, its enforceability and China’s role in this situation.

The loss and damages agreement does address a long outstanding issue for some COP27 participants. Youth activists from Asia, Africa and South America had expressed frustration early in the conference that compensation for poor countries had not been addressed sooner.

Holding up signs, youth activists demonstrate at COP27 in support of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo courtesy of Sustainability)

“This is an issue that has been put aside in COP [meeting] after COP [meeting],” said Bruno Rodriguez, an Argentine youth activist, to the UN News. “It is a scientific fact that countries with the least economic resources and with barely any responsibility for emissions are the ones that end up suffering the most. … It is about reparation and social justice.”

According to a December Bark survey, 63 percent of students agree that wealthy countries should compensate poorer countries for the ill effects of climate change. But the conference produced no significant progress on its central objective of mitigation, specifically on further phasing out all fossil fuels. Although summit delegates confirmed the 2015 Paris Accord goal of limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius, Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Joe Stewart indicates this target is unlikely to be met. 

“We need to take [greenhouse gas emissions] down more,” Stewart said. “In 2015, we said we would try to keep the change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and it’s clear that’s not going to happen.”

Most scientists agree that the use of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, must be reduced significantly below today’s levels to reach the 2015 Paris Accord goal. CNN reported that at COP27, a number of large carbon-emitting countries and oil-producing nations, such as China and Saudi Arabia, blocked proposals to reduce emissions. 

Junior Marco Lombardo, president of Redwood’s ClimateNow Club, noted these countries’ presence at the conference as well.

“Oil-producing states had a lot of influence in preventing discussion about oil,” Lombardo said. “People are getting influenced by economics.”

Lombardo sees the loss and damages concern as a distraction from the core issue of preventing climate change. He also does not believe it is a viable solution in the long term.

Infographic by Sarah Goody

“As climate change gets worse, more money is going to have to be spent,” Lombardo said. “There needs to be more done to prevent global warming instead of adapting to it.”

Several student activists fear conferences like COP27 may no longer be effective forums in which to prevent climate change. Famous youth climate activist and Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg declined to attend COP27 for this reason. Thunberg explained that by not addressing all the problems simultaneously, world leaders are not taking climate change issues seriously. 

“These conferences are now designed in a way which allows and even encourages countries and world leaders to cheat and use other loopholes to benefit themselves by excluding large parts of emissions, by using baseline manipulation, by excluding historical emissions, etc., and not focusing on the global aspect of justice,” Thunberg said to Radio 5 Live’s Nihal Arthanayake.

Thunberg went further, calling COP27 a forum for “greenwashing” by country leaders and diplomats, suggesting they are continuing to operate as usual while using an environmentally correct narrative to justify their activities. Lombardo echoed Thunberg’s disillusionment with the lack of progress on meaningful issues.

“The main takeaway from [COP27] was the loss and damage fund,” Lombardo said. “But they ignored fossil fuels and didn’t make any big promises with that, which was a missed opportunity.”