Updated Nov 7, 2022 - World

COP27 kicks off in Egypt: Everything you need to know

Illustration of a podium against the landscape of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

This year's COP27 climate summit in Egypt will bring together tens of thousands of participants and more than 100 heads of state to discuss efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and ways to cope with a changing climate.

The latest: UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a "climate solidarity pact" between rich and poor nations to limit the severity of global warming during a speech at the summit on Monday.

  • "It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact — or a Collective Suicide Pact," he warned.

The big picture: Running from Nov. 6-18 in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, COP27 aims to build on the Glasgow climate deal created at last year's summit, as well as 2015's Paris Agreement, but attendees face a sobering reality.

What is COP27?

COP stands for the "Conference of the Parties." meaning those countries that signed onto previous UN climate agreements.

  • Discussions at this year's COP will revolve around four main topics: mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration, according to the summit's website.
  • Officials have urged countries to commit to plans to further reduce emissions and meet the Paris targets of limiting warming levels to "well below" the 2°C mark, with an aspirational target of 1.5°C. Studies show that warming beyond 1.5°C would have calamitous consequences, such as the potential disappearance of warm water coral reefs worldwide.
  • Reports published in the run-up to COP27 show the world is currently on course to warm between 2.6 and 2.8°C (5.04°F) by the end of the century, absent further emissions cuts.
  • Many developing countries are calling for more attention and financing to be channeled to measures that can help countries cope with the effects of climate change that are already present, such as creating warning systems for worsening extreme weather events.

"Loss and damage" to dominate

The summit will likely feature intense clashes over funding to cover the costs of climate change damages occurring in developing nations, such as the Pakistan floods.

  • The meeting may fail if countries can't agree on how to move forward on a financing mechanism for what the UN calls "loss and damage" compensation for vulnerable nations that are being hit hardest by climate change, but contributed the least to causing the problem.
  • A relatively small group of countries — roughly the G20 nations — are responsible for most of the warming-related impacts we're experiencing today.
  • Developing countries have signaled that they will push hard for a financing "mechanism" for loss and damage, which is sometimes referred to as "climate reparations," and has been under debate in the UN climate talks since their start in the early 1990s.
  • "Getting concrete results on loss and damage is the litmus test of the commitment of governments to help close all these gaps," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ahead of the summit.

Many industrialized nations plan to support the discussion of loss and damage. However, they are skittish about committing to a specific mechanism to pay for it.

  • Plus, western nations have fallen short on previous funding commitments.
  • A 2009 promise of $100 billion per year for developing country climate aid has not fully materialized.
  • The U.S. and other industrialized countries have committed to doubling climate adaptation funding, but have yet to follow through.

Where does the U.S. stand on loss and damage?

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has been careful not to commit to a specific funding mechanism at COP27, but rather to a continuing dialogue through 2023 and possibly 2024.

  • "We're very concerned about the impacts of climate on all of these countries," Kerry said last month of the developing nations seeking financial support in response to major climate disasters. "We're all determined to come up with progress, but something real that we can begin to define for everybody."
  • Between the lines: The U.S. midterm elections will take place during the first week of COP27, likely dampening any hopes of major financial commitments from the U.S. Even if President Biden wanted to prioritize climate compensation, a Republican-controlled House would not likely fund it.

The reality COP27 participants face

Two major UN reports out last month set a sobering scene for the summit.

  • The first warned the world is hurtling toward up to 2.8°C (5.04°F) of warming above preindustrial levels by 2100 barring major new steps.

A new report released Sunday found that the past eight years have been the world's warmest on record and the pace of sea level rise is increasing.

Yes, but: There is also some good news. Last year's review of voluntary emissions pledges showed that CO2 emissions would continue increasing after 2030, but that is no longer the case in this year's edition.

Who's attending COP27?

President Biden, as well as dozens of other world leaders, will make an appearance at the summit.

  • Most high-level speeches are set for Nov. 7-8, though Biden will speak on Nov. 11.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are not expected to attend. China is currently the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Worth noting: Prominent climate activist Greta Thunberg announced last month that she would be skipping Cop27, saying that these conferences are vehicles for "greenwashing" and “are not really meant to change the whole system," but rather encourage gradual change.

Protest at COP27

While protests are common at COP summits, the Egyptian government's restrictions on protest and freedom of assembly have prompted concerns.

  • Egypt’s Foreign Minister and COP president Sameh Shoukry promised in an interview with AP in May that protests would be allowed at COP27, saying there would be a "facility adjacent to the conference center" for such purposes.
  • The protest area is situated "near a highway and away from the conference center or any other signs of life," the Guardian reported, noting that experts have warned of extensive surveillance during the summit.
  • Activists have already faced hurdles in the run-up to COP27. Many activists from the continent have struggled to secure accreditation and funding to attend what's been the "African COP," Vanessa Nakate, a leading youth climate activist, told Bloomberg Law last month.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information after COP27 started.

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