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At COP27, empower emerging nations to lead the climate fight

Demonstrators call for climate action on the African continent prior to the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, which start on Nov. 6, and is scheduled to end on Nov. 18, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Demonstrators call for climate action on the African continent prior to the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, which start on Nov. 6, and is scheduled to end on Nov. 18, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

“Today, climate must be at the heart of everything that we do,” said COP26 President Alok Sharma at a recent event hosted by the Wilson Center, where I am currently serving as a distinguished fellow. 

“We have to incentivize every aspect of the international system to recognize the systemic risk of climate change, and to make managing it effectively a central task,” Sharma continued. 

His call to action is one that must be heeded, but are world leaders up to the task in this era of competing crises? 

Starting yesterday, and through Nov. 16, the world will gather for the 27th United Nations Climate Summit (COP27), where heads of state, private sector leaders, non-governmental organizations and civil society will discuss the policies and actions needed to contain the alarming climate crisis that’s affecting our planet. 

This year COP27 will take place in Egypt and there is already an excess of challenges on the horizon. The energy crisis sparked by Russia’s despicable war against Ukraine, the rising inflation that affects the majority of countries, the considerable devaluation of emerging market currencies and fiscal disputes within governments are all undermining the opportunity for COP27 to advance ambitious actions by world powers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Climate change is the defining issue of the 21st century, and COP27 continues to be the key platform for galvanizing action. With a decreased appetite for short-term action from wealthy countries, however, there is an opportunity for developing countries to lead. 

Many countries faced with the energy crisis have favored access to coal or hydrocarbons for thermal generation, while others with the capacity will likely resort to nuclear energy. Why? One reason is that buying the most expensive energy is not an option and energy security is preferable to the structural weakening of public finances and the massive loss of collective quality of life. Therefore, immediate access to cheap energy is seen as a means to prevent rampant and dangerous social discontent. 

For many, this line of reasoning makes sense and some observers suggest that countries behave during COP27 as if the meeting was just a formality without pressure to achieve any major global agreements. If true, this would be a fiasco in the face of a climate crisis, which becomes more relentless every year. In the midst of chilling scientific data, we cannot let indifference triumph and millions of citizens be ignored.   

The COP requires concrete progress and unavoidable climate action commitments from the most powerful nations, but this will not happen in a strained geopolitical environment where there are great tensions between the U.S. and China, and with the COP27 conference occurring around the time of the U.S. midterm elections. Therefore, the leading role should be assumed by middle-income and developing countries, through effective financing mechanisms that support their efforts.   

In Egypt, leaders must convince a large majority of countries to join the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which has a goal to protect 30 percent of land in each country by 2030. This measure is not only necessary to reduce emissions from land misuse but also to coordinate carbon neutrality objectives and prioritize positive conservation measures that are the cornerstone of the anticipated advances for the COP15 U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Montreal in December. 

COP27 should also be the place where the creation of a dynamic voluntary carbon credit market for Africa is announced, with an initial fund of $500 million. On the continent, only 5 countries generate 65 percent of existing carbon credit issuances, according to the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative, a committee to expand Africa’s participation in carbon markets. The Africa Carbon Markets initiative will be formally announced during COP 27 in collaboration with The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, Sustainable Energy for All, the UN Climate Change High Level Champions and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. An initiative of this scale is the best possibility of hope for the regulatory systems to be modernized and to incentivize eligible projects. 

Another main theme of COP27 will be to galvanize private philanthropic entities that can contribute to achieving many of these goals and initiatives. The alliances between the Bezos Earth Fund, Conservation International, World Resources Institute, World Wide Fund for Nature, Nature Conservancy, and NatGeo, among others, are called upon to galvanize contributions from donors around the planet to support countries in the aforementioned efforts and to set an example for the most powerful nations to disburse the resources that they’ve announced year after year.   

We also need leadership from outside the climate and environment space because, as foreign policy institutes like the Wilson Center have rightly noted, foreign policy is climate policy. Climate change and responses to it are already altering trade, finance and systems of production. For countries already navigating destructive climate change impacts, action cannot wait.  

COP27 will not be the long-awaited summit of big agreements between powerful nations to once and for all assume responsibility for carbon neutrality in the shortest time possible. What it can, and should be, is the opportunity for developing countries to show the world how much can be achieved when the political will exists. If this does not happen, climate action will be yet another victim of Vladimir Putin and a polarized world. 

Iván Duque Márquez is the former president of Colombia (2018-2022) and is currently a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In June, Márquez was awarded the 2022 Planetary Leadership Award by the National Geographic Society for outstanding commitment and action toward protecting our oceans. This opinion is solely that of the author and does not represent the views of the Wilson Center.

Tags Alok Sharma Climate change cop27 developing countries Politics of the United States United Nations Climate Change Conference

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