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Reflecting on COP 27 with Dr. Nicholas Micinski and Dr. Cynthia Isenhour

The Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held its 27th annual climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Representatives from nearly 200 countries (plus representatives from the private sector and nonprofits) convened to discuss furthering action that will help achieve the collective climate goals of the world. The meeting took place from Nov. 6 to Nov. 20 and was live streamed.

One of the primary focuses of this year’s conference revolved around establishing a loss and damage fund.

The function of this fund is to allocate money that will be put toward reparations within regions most harshly affected by the changing climate. Once pledges are made, the fund could be distributed to impoverished communities facing direct environmental harm. Although it was officially formed at COP 27, most aspects are still unknown — such as the scale of the damage, who will pay for it and which countries will be compensated.

In 2015, at COP 21 in Paris, France, an international consensus on climate change was established. The Paris Agreement established the pledging system for these conferences by uniting all participating nations through a common cause: combating global warming. COP 27 functioned to identify and expand upon previous COP resolutions in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change globally.

Nicholas Micinski is the libra assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Maine. His research and expertise are centered around climate migration and global governance. Micinski was in attendance at COP 27 this year.

“The Paris Agreement has nationally determined commitments. Those NDCs are tracked by national authorities through the Enhanced Transparency framework,” Micinski said.

There are two levels of international agreement that occur at COP meetings. The first are official, universal resolutions such as the Paris Agreement, which pertain to all of the countries. The second are bilateral agreements between two or more states on various issues that are announced and publicized through COP, despite often being discussed prior. In addition to these types of international agreements, national climate legislation and unofficial resolutions between diplomats have found their inspiration from standards set at COP.

An example of such legislation is the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in August of this year. It is a historic down payment on deficit reduction to fight inflation, which is set to be invested in domestic energy production and manufacturing. Through this budget reconciliation bill, carbon emissions are said to be reduced by roughly 40% by 2030.

“The United States passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which has more money in it for climate change than ever in history. In the next 10 years, we will see a shift in the way that climate funding is invested in the U.S.,” Micinski explained.

The Global Stocktake, as established in the Paris Agreement, is the process by which we take stock of implementing pledges to reduce emissions. It is critical to assess the progress of the long-term goals discussed at COP and determine any further opportunities for action or revision. The first stocktake was held at the UNFCCC in Glasgow in November 2018 and is set to conclude next year at COP 28. Its primary function will be to reflect on the scale of international ambition to cut emissions in an effort to keep international goals realistic.

An active political will to implement clean energy is vital to mitigating global warming. Impoverished countries tend to have the political will to contribute to mitigation but lack the ability to act due to a reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure and the need for donors from wealthier countries to fund climate-forward technology.

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Climate Change Dr. Cynthia Isenhour attended COP 27 along with Micinski and several other UMaine students and faculty.

The following are Isenhour’s responses to various questions regarding the annual conferences:

Q: What has been your main focus in terms of climate mitigation and sustainability? 

A: My research and expertise is focused on how to account for the emissions that cross international borders through chains of extraction-production-consumption-disposal. In other words, I’m interested in the emissions embedded in the materials economy. Because nations account for domestic emissions only, they can have quite a significant portion of their impact be linked to imports from other countries (often with much more carbon intensive economies). This ability to offshore emissions in a global marketplace is connected to issues of international climate justice and the concept of accurately accounting for a fair share of the remaining carbon budget.

Q: How would you describe the productivity of COP 27, in comparison to the conferences that have come before it? 

A: The international progress is slow but it is forward moving. While this conference was not as ambitious on mitigation, it was essential to rebuild trust that had been damaged previously. Developing countries, after years of hearing developed countries talk about climate finance and then seeing them fail to deliver, were understandably demanding more to help with adaptation efforts and especially with loss and damage. The inclusion of loss and damage on the agenda and the commitment to a dedicated fund helps to rebuild trust.

Q: To what extent has the Paris Agreement succeeded in its goal of limiting global warming below two degrees celsius, since being entered into force six years ago? 

A: It has not – yet. But there are mechanisms including the Global Stocktake and the Mitigation Work Programme that are working to help ratchet up mitigation ambition. I remain hopeful.

Q: Similarly, do you feel its implementation will manage to evoke vast economic and social transition? 

A: I agree with the U.S. administration and many others that the PA and subsequent commitments send an important market signal that is helping to shift the private sector. The PA was agreed to in 2015 but with several years of rule making and negotiation. The process is fragile but it is making forward progress.

Q: What are your hopes for COP 28? 

A: That the first global stocktake (which will roll out at COP 28) will be based on a fair allocation of the remaining carbon budget. I also hope to see more tangible progress on Loss and Damage and strong mitigation commitments from the worlds’ largest emitters.

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