Briefing

The successes and failures of the COP27 climate summit

Help for poor countries, but no progress on carbon emissions

The COP27 climate summit is over — with mixed results for the planet.

On one hand, the conference produced an agreement under which rich carbon-emitting countries will pay poorer nations for the damages they suffer under climate change. But international leaders didn't make much progress on actually reducing the oil, gas, and coal emissions that are causing the problem. That was "a double-edged outcome" after weeks-long talks that involved nearly 200 countries, The Washington Post reports. What benefits came out of the climate summit? What challenges remain? Here's everything you need to know:

Success: Poorer countries will get climate aid

This is probably the biggest news to come out of the conference. For the first time, the world's richest countries — that is, the ones that have created most of the carbon emissions that threaten humanity's future — have agreed to provide financial assistance to poor nations that are disproportionately living with the effects of climate change. The U.S. and other big emitters resisted the idea for decades, The New York Times reports, "for fear that they could be held legally liable for the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change." 

But those poorer nations — mostly from "Global South" regions of Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and South Pacific —  argued "they did little to contribute to a crisis that threatens their existence." (One example: Pakistan has suffered from terrible flooding that researchers say was fueled by warming. It is not a major carbon emitter.) There are still details to be worked out, and the U.S. is pushing to ensure that China contributes to the fund, but the pledge is seen as a step forward.

Challenge: The 1.5-degree goal is in danger

The 2015 Paris Agreement aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The consensus after COP27 is that the world won't meet that goal even though it officially remains the target, Inside Climate News reports. Hitting 1.5 degrees would require the world to cut carbon emissions to nearly zero by 2050, "but nothing that happened at this year's two-week conference has increased the likelihood that will happen."

Why is the 1.5-degree goal so important? Climate experts hoped that the limit would  "stave off severe climate disruptions that could exacerbate hunger, conflict, and drought worldwide," NPR reports. If the world warms beyond that, coral reefs will die off, large storms and extreme heat waves will become more frequent and intense, and coastal cities will flood as the oceans rise. "At the current rate people are burning fossil fuels," Reuters reports, "only seven to eight years remain before the 1.5C limit is passed."

Success: More money is coming for clean energy

One way to limit warming is to expand the world's use of clean energy sources like wind and solar. While those efforts are already underway, Reuters reports that COP27 offered signs that more money is coming to support the cause. "Among the steps likely to free up more cash is a plan to reform leading public lenders such as the World Bank so that they can take more risk and lend more money." The U.S and Japan also announced a $20 billion deal to help Indonesia shift away from coal-fired plants to clean energy. 

Challenge: Fossil fuels aren't going away quite yet

The more important way to limit warming, though, is to end the use of fossil fuels like oil and gas. But there's still resistance to that idea. CNN reports that oil-producing nations — along with China — "stonewalled" a proposal to phase out fossil fuels, leaving climate activists angered and disappointed. "Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary? Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase-down of coal? Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels? Not in this text," British politician Alok Sharma said in describing the final COP27 agreements.

Success: Democracy is good for the climate

The BBC's Matt McGrath reports that climate efforts get more support from countries that have resisted the pull of authoritarian populism. Brazil's President-elect Luiz Ignacio Lula Da Silva — who just defeated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro at the polls — promised to stop Amazonian deforestation by 2030. (The rainforest sucks up a big chunk of the world's carbon emissions.) And the U.S., which withdrew from the Paris Agreement under President Donald Trump, is closer to meeting its climate goals thanks to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and its clean energy investments.

Challenge: Emissions are still rising

Progress was made at COP27, but was it enough? Probably not. The challenges outweigh the successes if the world is to avoid the worst effects of warming, The Guardian reports. "The world remains on the brink of climate catastrophe," said Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland. "We are on the cusp of a clean energy world, but only if G20 leaders live up to their responsibilities, keep their word, and strengthen their will. The onus is on them." The world is still warming, and the damage that warming does will continue to harm both the planet and the humans living on it. More must be done, said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres: "Our planet is still in the emergency room."

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