COP27 continued work on implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement’s aim of limiting the global temperature increase to “well below” 2.0 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees celsius. It followed COP26 which was held in 2021 in Glasgow under the UK’s presidency.

On 24 November 2022 the House of Lords is due to debate a motion moved by Lord Harries of Pentregarth (Crossbench) “that this House takes note of the case for further commitments on climate change and other environmental matters to be made at COP27”.

Section 4 of this briefing was updated on 21 November 2022 with high-level outcomes of the conference.

1. What is COP27?

COP27 is the 27th ‘conference of the parties’ to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is an international convention which entered into force on 21 March 1994. It was opened for signature at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification have been described as the UNFCCC’s sister conventions by the UN, and as “intrinsically linked”.

The UNFCCC has “near universal membership” with 198 countries having ratified it. The UN has stated that the convention’s objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous levels of climate change:

The ultimate objective of the convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system”. It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”.

The COP meetings are the “largest annual conferences currently held under the auspices of the United Nations”.

1.1 COP27: Targets for progress

Egypt has said that under its presidency it wants to move from negotiating changes designed to combat climate change to implementing these changes:

Egypt’s COP27 presidency vision is to move from negotiations and planning to implementation. Now is the time for action on the ground. It is therefore incumbent upon us to move rapidly towards full, timely, inclusive, and at-scale action on the ground.

Egypt has said its vision focuses “on how the world pays for the estimated $125tn bill to tackle climate change by 2050”.

The goals and vision for COP27 are centred around four themes:

  • Mitigation. Egypt has argued that climate change should be mitigated by limiting global warming “well below” 2 degrees celsius and countries should “work hard” to keep the 1.5 degree target alive. It has said this required “bold and immediate actions”. COP27 should “witness the implementation of the Glasgow pact call to review ambition in NDCs (nationally determined contributions), and create a work program for ambition on mitigation”.
  • Adaptation. COP27 should make “crucially needed progress” on the global goal of adaptation. It should also witness an “enhanced global agenda for action on adaptation, confirming what we agreed on in Paris and further elaborated in [the] Glasgow pact with regard to placing adaptation at the forefront of global action”.
  • Finance. Egypt has argued that it is essential that COP27 makes “significant progress on the crucial issue of climate finance while moving forward on all finance related items on the agenda”. The COP27 president has said that the “adequacy and predictability” of climate finance is central to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. It said that there was a need for improved transparency in the flow of finance “and facilitated access to meet the needs of developing countries specially Africa, LDCs [least developed countries], and SIDS [small island developing states]”.
  • Collaboration. Egypt has noted that UN negotiations are based on consensus and that reaching agreements would “require inclusive and active participation from all stakeholders”. It said it was therefore working to ensure participation by all “relevant stakeholders” at COP27, particularly “vulnerable communities and representatives from countries in the African region [which] are increasingly affected by the impacts of climate change”. Egypt also argued that governments, the private sector and civil society needed to work together “to transform the way in which we interact with our planet”.

1.2 COP26: The Glasgow pact

On 13 November 2021, COP26 agreed the ‘Glasgow climate pact’.

The press release on the COP26 website stated that the Glasgow climate pact, “combined with increased ambition and action from countries”, would mean that limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees celsius remained “in sight”. However, it would only be delivered “with concerted and immediate global efforts”.

The Glasgow climate pact text also called upon parties to accelerate the transition to low-emission energy systems. This included deployment of clean power generation but also efforts to reduce the use of coal and fossil fuels. This included:

[…] accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.

This was the first time that the COP had agreed action on phasing down unabated coal power.

COP26 also finalised the Paris Rulebook, including rules for the exchange of carbon credits:

The Paris Rulebook, the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is delivered, was also completed today after six years of discussions. This will allow for the full delivery of the landmark accord, after agreement on a transparency process which will hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets. This includes article 6, which establishes a robust framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the UNFCCC.

Countries also agreed to “revisit and strengthen” their current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in 2022 (NDCs are discussed further in section 2.1 of this briefing). This would be combined with a yearly political ‘roundtable’ to examine progress worldwide. In addition, commitments were made to “significantly increase financial support through the Adaptation Fund as developed countries were urged to double their support to developing countries by 2025”.

Alok Sharma, then COP president, said that the Glasgow climate pact was a “fragile win”. It had kept 1.5 degrees alive, which was the UK’s overarching objective when it took on COP presidency-designate. However, Mr Sharma said that the “pulse of 1.5 is weak”. He said that whilst it was an historic agreement, it would be judged not just on the fact that countries had signed up to it “but on whether they meet and deliver on the commitments”.

Egypt, COP27 president, has argued that the outcomes of COP26 underlined the need for increasing support, particularly for developing countries:

The Glasgow outcomes also highlighted the centrality of urgently scaling up support, including appropriate finance, capacity building and technology transfer, to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in line with the best available science, considering the priorities and needs of developing country parties.

For further information on COP26 see the House of Lords Library briefing ‘COP26: aims, goals and progress’ (15 November 2021).

2. Paris Agreement 2015

Implementation of the Paris Agreement is a key element of the COP process. The convention was adopted by 196 parties on 12 December 2015 at COP21 in Paris.

Article 2(1) of the Paris Agreement sets the aim to limit the global temperature increase to “well below” 2.0 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. Article 2 of the Paris Agreement also highlights the need to improve the ability to adapt to climate change and to use finance that is consistent with lowering greenhouse gas emissions:

This agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the convention [UNFCCC], including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development.

In a press release following the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat described the 1.5 degrees target as “a significantly safer defence line against the worst impacts of a changing climate”.

To achieve these long-term temperature goals, article 4 of the Paris Agreement calls on countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible:

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in article 2, parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

2.1 NDCs and progress on climate change

NDCs are a key part of delivering the aspirations of the Paris Agreement.

Article 4(2) of the Paris Agreement requires parties to “prepare, communicate and maintain” successive NDCs. These set out what the country intends to achieve. They contain information on targets, and policies and measures for reducing national emissions and on adapting to climate change impacts.

Parties should pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of the NDCs. The UN has said that it is the combined impact of the NDCs that will govern whether the long-term aims of the Paris Agreement are achieved:

Together, these climate actions determine whether the world achieves the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement and to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. It is understood that the peaking of emissions will take longer for developing country parties, and that emission reductions are undertaken on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, which are critical development priorities for many developing countries.

Parties communicate new or updated NDCs every five years. The most recent NDC synthesis report was published on 26 October 2022.

Under article 4(3) of the Paris Agreement successive NDCs are expected to “represent a progression beyond the party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition”.

A press release for the 2022 NDC synthesis report stated that countries were “bending the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions downward” but the efforts “remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius by the end of the century”. Instead, the climate pledges of the parties to the Paris Agreement “could put the world on track for around 2.5 degrees celsius of warming by the end of the century”.

The release said that there had been an improvement in the estimated impact of the commitments over last year’s assessment:

Today’s report also shows current commitments will increase emissions by 10.6% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. This is an improvement over last year’s assessment, which found countries were on a path to increase emissions by 13.7% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.

However, the executive secretary of UN Climate Change, Simon Stiell, said the world was “still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees celsius world”. He said that it was disappointing that only 24 new or updated NDCs had been submitted following COP26 (up until 23 September 2022):

At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their climate plans […] The fact that only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP 26 is disappointing. Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change.

Mr Stiell has urged national governments attending COP27 to show how they intend to implement the Paris Agreement in their countries. He said that COP27 was when governments could move from negotiations to implementation:

COP 27 is the moment where global leaders can regain momentum on climate change, make the necessary pivot from negotiations to implementation and get moving on the massive transformation that must take place throughout all sectors of society to address the climate emergency.

Article 4(19) of the Paris Agreement states that parties should “strive” to formulate and communicate long-term strategies on low greenhouse gas emissions. These strategies are published on the UN Climate Change website and are available for 57 countries. A synthesis report on the long-term low-emission development strategies was published on 26 October 2022.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body that assesses the science in relation to climate change. It produces regular assessments of the scientific basis for climate change and examines its risks and impacts, as well as options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC is currently in its sixth assessment cycle (AR6). Its three working groups have published contributions to the sixth report:

The synthesis report, the last of the AR6 reports, is expected to be published late 2022 or early 2023.

Egypt has argued that recent IPCC reports “have highlighted the gravity of the climate crisis and the need for immediate and sustained political will, impactful action and effective cooperation”. Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea has said emissions reductions were needed right now:

It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) […] Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.

The recent Working Group III report found that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was still possible by the end of century, but the global average temperature would almost certainly rise above that before falling back again:

In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5 degrees celsius requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.

3. The UK at COP27

The UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, attended COP27 on Monday 7 November 2022. In an oral statement to the House of Commons after his visit Mr Sunak said that progress had been made under the UK’s presidency of the COP:

When the United Kingdom took on the presidency of COP, just one third of the global economy was committed to net zero. Today, that figure is 90%, and the reduction in global emissions pledged during our presidency is equivalent to the entire annual emissions of America. There is still a long way to go to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, but the historic Glasgow climate pact kept that goal within reach.

He said that the UK would meet its commitment to reduce emissions by at least 68% by the end of the decade. Referencing the war in Ukraine, Mr Sunak said that he believed that “climate security and energy security go hand in hand”. He argued that the impact of the war on energy prices reinforced the need to end dependence on fossil fuels. He said he would “make this country a clean energy superpower” and invest in renewable energy:

We will accelerate our transition to renewables, which have already grown fourfold as a proportion of our electricity supply over the last decade; we will invest in building new nuclear power stations for the first time since the 1990s; and, by committing £30bn to support our green industrial revolution, we will leverage up to £100bn of private investment to support almost half a million high-wage, high-skilled green jobs.

The prime minister also said that the UK:

  • committed £90mn to the Congo basin “as part of £1.5bn we are investing in protecting the world’s forests”
  • was delivering on its promises on climate finance, including a commitment of £11.6bn
  • would triple its funding on adaptation “to reach £1.5bn a year in 2025”
  • made further commitments to support clean power in developing countries, including a further £65mn in “commercialising innovative clean technologies” and delivering green investment projects in Kenya

Mr Sunak said even though the UK had handed over the presidency of the COP to Egypt, it would still “continue to lead the global effort to deliver net zero, because this is the way to ensure the security and prosperity of our country today and for generations to come”.

4. COP27: Outcomes

4.1 Developments at the conference

COP27 was scheduled to run from 6 to 18 November 2022.

Developments at the conference included:

  • The first high-level ministerial roundtable on ‘pre-2030 ambition’ took place on 15 November 2022. The roundtable is a new annual event “to set the global direction on mitigation ambition and implementation that should be taken before 2030”. Attendees issued a call to “urgently ramp up ambition across the board”. Many developing countries stressed the need for support and sustained financial flows. Most ministers said that limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees celsius was a “red line” that could not be crossed.
  • A joint work programme was launched for the UNFCCC technology mechanism. The technology mechanism was established in 2010 by the COP to facilitate technology development and transfer to developing countries. It consists of two bodies, the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). At COP27 the TEC and CTCN launched a work programme “to accelerate the deployment of transformative climate technologies that are urgently required to tackle climate change”.
  • The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) was launched. At COP26 in Glasgow the leaders of 145 countries made a declaration on forests and land use. The FCLP aims to promote action to implement the commitment to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Twenty-seven countries have joined the partnership “representing over 60% of global GDP and 33% of the world’s forests”. It was announced at COP27 that of the $12bn committed at COP26 to protect and restore forests over 2021–25 “$2.67bn have already been spent and that public and private donors have committed a further $4.5bn since COP26”.

COP27 was structured around 11 thematic days, covering: finance; science; youth and future generations; decarbonisation; adaptation and agriculture; gender; water; ACE (action for climate empowerment) and civil society; energy; biodiversity; and solutions. High level summaries of the days have been published on the COP27 website.

4.2 Draft decision document

On 18 November 2022, a draft overarching decision document was published by the UN. Time stamped at 9:00am, the draft text reaffirmed the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals, saying the COP:

Reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels;

Recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 degrees celsius compared with 2 degrees celsius, reaffirms the resolution to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius;

BBC News reported that disagreements remained about money to assist poorer countries to cope with the impacts of climate change and also about the phasing down of all fossil fuels. It suggested that the talks could overrun into the weekend, “such is the scale of division”.

Reuters reported that the EU had proposed a special fund to cover loss and damage in the vulnerable countries as a way to move the talks forward. The LSE has explained that “loss and damage refer to the negative consequences of climate change on human societies and the natural environment”. LSE has stated that the debate around the issue has been contentious in international climate negotiations “because of questions of fairness and equity, and proving historical responsibility for climate change”.

Four reports on climate finance were published by the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) prior to COP27. This included a report on the progress towards achieving the goal of “mobilizing jointly $100bn per year to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency of implementation”. At COP26, countries had reaffirmed that they would fulfil a promise of providing $100bn annually from developed to developing countries. The Glasgow pact urged developed countries to “fully deliver” on this goal “urgently and through to 2025”. The SCF confirmed that the goal had not been met in 2020:

The report confirmed the goal was not met in 2020. It also identified the role of international public climate finance as critical in the face of the current economic challenges in developing countries due to extreme weather, food and energy crises.

Furthermore, the report identifies the need to overcome capacity gaps in building project pipelines in developing countries, for example through country platforms and investment plans outlined in national climate action plans (nationally determined contributions, or ‘NDCs’), and the importance to scale up access to climate finance and innovative instruments such as sovereign guarantees.

4.3 COP27: Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan

COP27 agreed the ‘Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan’ on 20 November 2022. This followed the conference extending into the weekend. An ‘advance unedited’ version of the plan has been published on the UN’s website.

The implementation plan included what the UN described as a “breakthrough” agreement to provide loss and damage funding for vulnerable countries that had been the victims of climate disasters. The UN argued that the creation of a specific fund for this was important progress, “with the issue added to the official agenda and adopted for the first time at COP27”.

Parties took the decision to establish new funding arrangements and a dedicated fund for loss and damage. A transitional committee was also agreed. It will make recommendations on how to operationalise the funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 in 2023. The committee is expected to meet for the first time before the end of March 2023.

In its press release on the outcomes of COP27, the UN set out a number of other outcomes, including:

  • Progress on adaptation. This included new pledges totalling more than $230mn to the adaptation fund. The SCF was asked to report on doubling adaptation finance for consideration at COP28.
  • Cost of moving to a “low-carbon economy”. The Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan stated that this would require investments of “at least $4 to $6tn a year”.
  • $100bn pledge. The implementation plan expressed “serious concern” that the goal to jointly mobilise $100bn per year by 2020 had not been met. It urged developed country parties to meet the goal.
  • Climate finance. Deliberations on setting a new ‘collective quantified goal on climate finance’ in 2024, “taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries”, continued at COP27.
  • Global stocktake. Delegates at COP27 concluded the second technical dialogue on the first global stocktake, “a mechanism to raise ambition under the Paris Agreement”.

COP27 President Sameh Shoukry said that the outcome of COP27 was a “a testament to our collective will, as a community of nations, to voice a clear message that rings loudly today, here in this room and around the world: that multilateral diplomacy still works”. He stated that the COP had risen “to the occasion, upheld our responsibilities and undertook the important decisive political decisions that millions around the world expect from us”.

4.4 Reaction to COP27

Whilst the loss and damage fund has been welcomed, concern has also been expressed that COP27 did not go far enough in other areas.

Alok Sharma, the COP26 president under the UK’s presidency, said that he recognised the progress on loss and damage, describing it as “historic”. However, he said COP27 was “not a moment of unqualified celebration”. He said there had been challenging conversations and that those who wanted to “keep 1.5 degrees alive and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow” had to “fight relentlessly to hold the line”. Mr Sharma also said that there had been a desire to make progress but several proposals to do this had not been successful:

[W]e also wanted to take a definitive steps forward.

We joined with many Parties to propose a number of measures that would have contributed to this.

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.

And the energy text, weaken[e]d, in the final minutes.

Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak.

Unfortunately, it remains on life support.

In his statement on the conclusion of COP27, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that the COP had taken an “important step towards justice” and he welcomed the decision to establish a loss and damage fund. However, he said that “clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust”. Mr Guterres described the planet as “still in the emergency room”, that further action was needed and that COP27 had not addressed this:

We need to drastically reduce emissions now—and this is an issue this COP did not address.

A fund for loss and damage is essential—but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert.

The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.

The red line we must not cross is the line that takes our planet over the 1.5 degree temperature limit.

To have any hope of keeping to 1.5, we need to massively invest in renewables and end our addiction to fossil fuels.

Specific phrasing in the Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan has also been reported on by the press. BBC News has described references to “low emission” energy as ambiguous. It stated that experts had said it “could open the door to some fossil fuels being considered part of a green energy future”. In an article on five “key takeaways” from COP27, BBC News explained that this was “being seen as a significant loophole that could allow for the development of further gas resources, as gas produces less emissions than coal”. Glada Lahn, senior research fellow for Chatham House’s environment and society programme, has argued that gas had “appeared to gain a pass via the inclusion of ‘low emission’ energy alongside renewables”. The implementation plan includes a reference to low-emission energy alongside renewable energy in its section on ‘energy’. For example, paragraph 8 states the conference of parties:

Emphasizes the urgent need for immediate, deep, rapid and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions by Parties across all applicable sectors, including through increase in low-emission and renewable energy, just energy transition partnerships and other cooperative actions;

In a tweet from the 10 Downing Street Twitter account the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

I welcome the progress made at COP27, but there can be no time for complacency.

Keeping the 1.5 degrees commitment alive is vital to the future of our planet.

More must be done.

5. Read more

5.1 Reaction to COP27 implementation plan

A number of climate groups and other organisations have also issued reactions to the outcomes of COP27, including:

5.2 UK announcements at COP27

5.3 Library background briefings

Cover image by NASA.

This article was updated on 21 November 2022 with high-level outcomes of the conference.