‘Another Terrible Failure’: COP27 Ends With No Action to Cut Off Climate-Wrecking Fossil Fuels

“If all fossil fuels are not rapidly phased out, no amount of money will be able to cover the cost of the resulting loss and damage,” said one climate justice advocate.

By Kenny Stancil

Despite mountains of iron-clad evidence that extracting and burning more coal, oil, and gas will exacerbate deadly planetary heating, negotiators at the United Nations COP27 climate conference failed yet again to directly confront the fossil fuel industry whose insatiable quest for profits is putting the future of humanity in jeopardy.

“In a critical year, this COP made no progress towards the just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Oil Change International executive director Elizabeth Bast said Sunday in a statement. “Despite important progress on the establishment of a loss and damage fund, the final outcome reiterated unambitious language on fossil fuels that will lead to catastrophic consequences.”

In what climate justice advocates called a major breakthrough, the United States on Saturday dropped its opposition to the establishment of a loss and damage fund that aims to compensate low-income nations for the devastating effects of global warming. Through no fault of their own, the world’s poorest people are most vulnerable to the deadly impacts of increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather caused primarily by wealthy polluters. A committee of 24 countries has one year to hammer out details, including which governments will contribute to the fund and which will benefit from it.

However, “COP27’s key steps toward a loss and damage fund are deeply marred by the lack of progress on fossil fuels,” said Collin Rees, U.S. campaign manager for Oil Change International. “Despite unprecedented discussion of equitably phasing out oil, gas, and coal, the end result was yet another COP without formal recognition that Big Oil is driving the climate crisis and harming communities.”

“The failure of leaders at COP27 to commit to an unqualified phase-out of oil, gas, and coal not only pushes 1.5ºC further out of reach, it also undermines progress on loss and damage,” Nikki Reisch, director of climate and energy at the Center for International Environmental Law, wrote on social media. “The plain truth is that more fossil fuels equals more loss and damage. Remedy requires cessation of the harm.”

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“In settling for a copy-paste of the Glasgow Pact’s incomplete and loophole-ridden language on a ‘phasedown of unabated coal power’ and ‘phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,'” Reisch continued, “governments at COP27 took a giant step backward.”

This critical assessment was shared by many observers.

“If all fossil fuels are not rapidly phased out, no amount of money will be able to cover the cost of the resulting loss and damage,” said Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “When your bathtub is overflowing you turn off the taps, you don’t wait awhile and then go out and buy a bigger mop.”

Ahead of the COP27 summit, the U.N. found that Earth is currently on track to be up to 2.9°C hotter than the preindustrial average by century’s end. Existing emissions reductions targets and policies are so weak, the body warned, that there is “no credible path to 1.5°C in place,” and only “urgent system-wide transformation” can prevent the world from crossing dangerous tipping points that will lead to the most cataclysmic outcomes.

Temperature rise of roughly 1.2°C to date has already unleashed chaos around the world, including calamitous flooding in Nigeria and Pakistan, along with several other disasters in various places this year.

Despite the worsening nature of the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency, hundreds of corporations are planning to expand dirty energy production in the coming years, including several proposed drilling projects and pipelines in Africa. To make matters worse, delegates at COP27—where more than 630 fossil fuel industry representatives made their presence felt—refused to endorse a complete phase-out of coal, oil, and gas.

“I don’t in any way want to diss the great success by poorer nations in achieving a loss and damage agreement,” environmental journalist George Monbiot tweeted Sunday, though he predicted that “rich nations will break their promises to pay,” as they have when it comes to providing $100 billion each year to fund climate action in the Global South. “There was no progress on stopping climate breakdown. COP27 is another terrible failure.”

“Whenever an agreement is reached at one of these meetings, people celebrate, largely with relief at having got to the end,” Monbiot added. “It’s only afterwards that we begin to ask, ‘What exactly has been achieved?’ If it’s is anything other than decisive action, the answer is not much.”

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David Tong, global industry campaign manager at Oil Change International, said that “some people turned up to negotiate for their futures, but oil and gas lobbyists turned up to negotiate for their wallets.”

“The reality is that the only way to safely limit warming to 1.5ºC is to equitably phase out oil, gas, and coal,” said Tong. “Instead, we are at risk of a major surge of new oil and gas production.”

Tong noted that “new fields and shale wells approved from 2022-2025 could result in 70 gigatonnes of additional climate pollution—and every single tonne of that would take us further beyond 1.5ºC because burning just the oil and gas in already existing fields would exhaust our carbon budget for a 50% chance at 1.5ºC.”

“Although this COP failed to call for an equitable phase-out of oil, gas, and coal,” Tong continued, “momentum is growing. A remarkable group of countries across numerous negotiating blocs spoke up together, urging the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Notwithstanding the anti-extraction struggles being waged by communities and climate justice campaigners the world over, Seve Paeniu, minister of finance for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, denounced his fellow policymakers for omitting language that explicitly demands a fossil fuel phase-out. Tuvalu called for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty at COP27, becoming the second country to do so, after Vanuatu at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

“We have finally responded to the call of hundreds of millions of people across the world to help them address loss and damage. So this is a defining COP in that respect,” said Paeniu. “However, it is regrettable that we haven’t achieved an equal success in our attempt to achieve the 1.5ºC target. It is regrettable that we haven’t got strong language included in the cover decision before us on phasing out fossil fuel.”

“It is regrettable that we haven’t got text on peaking emissions before 2025,” Paeniu continued. “It is regrettable that we haven’t managed to get stronger mention of methane reduction.”

“In Glasgow, we saw a phase-down of coal,” Zeina Khalil Hajj, head of global campaigning and organizing at 350.org, said in a statement. “At COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, we needed to see an equitable and just phase-out of all fossil fuels.”

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“A text that does not stop fossil fuel expansion, that does not provide progress from the already weak Glasgow Pact makes a mockery of the millions of people living with the impacts of climate change,” Hajj continued. “The agreement on loss and damage is a major breakthrough, but without action to phase out the expansion of the fossil fuels that will cause further loss and damage, COP27 has failed to make the progress needed. And we are building a fund for our own destruction.”

Bast, for her part, said that “even with this disappointing outcome, we’re seeing growing momentum from individual governments making meaningful commitments to phase out fossil fuels through initiatives like the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition.”

“Most importantly, COP27 has showcased the growing power of the climate justice movement,” said Bast. “Throughout these two weeks, civil society voices have demanded a phase-out of fossil fuels and called for rich countries to pay up for climate debt.”

“Every day, we are seeing the power of communities resisting harmful oil, gas, and coal projects,” she added. “We are seeing massive growth in the breadth and depth of the movement. With this people power, we will force an equitable end to fossil fuels and a just transition to clean energy.”

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