COP27 was an African COP, which made it important in its own right, as it addressed issues that had been left out of COP26: climate finance, adaptation and, of course, loss and damage. This year climatic disasters made clear that we have entered unraveling climate territory and that negotiations on finance are competing with those on mitigation in terms of urgency.
This would have been enough to explain why COP27 was a defensive COP. But there were also other reasons. Russia’s war in Ukraine prolonged the terms of negotiation. This has worsened inflation, which has complicated many countries’ path to recovery from the pandemic. The war has also amplified significant food security risks, especially for fragile and climate-vulnerable countries. And of course, war-related energy crises and the militarization of fossil fuels have pitted short-term energy security in Europe against that of other countries, including those most exposed to climate change and economic shocks due to the gas rush and supply crunch it has led to. It also risks locking in fossil fuel investments in Africa at a time when the world needs to accelerate towards clean technologies.
In this context, the geopolitical fracture lines were exposed, and the risk of a relapse was real on the Target 1.5°C. Not only did that not happen; geopolitical fault lines have actually led to tectonic shifts. Climate-vulnerable countries led the negotiations with courage, creativity and tenacity, a trend that will strengthen in the years to come. This resulted in a series of breakthroughs.
The first and most obvious is the creation of a loss and damage (L&D) facility, something that US climate envoy John Kerry has publicly stated. scolded as impossible a few weeks ago. It is true that the L&D facility is currently an empty shell, and much work will be needed to ensure that it provides the kind of funding that is urgently needed. This is why the second breakthrough is of particular importance: the BridgeTown Initiativethat the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley offers at COP27, and which countries like France fully supported, is now reflected in COP27 final cover text. The latter calls “for the reform of multilateral development banks and financial institutions”, sending a strong and clear message: the Bretton Woods institutions are not adapted to their mission in terms of climate, and the global macroeconomic architecture aggravates the risks. climate-related failure and maladjustment.
What a confession. What an opportunity for transformative thinking.
One of the main challenges ahead will be to avoid risk aversion. The latter would put the global system on a path of geo-economic fragmentation, greater decoupling and securitization. On the other hand, a healthy and bold openness to risk will drive the necessary reforms in financial institutions and the international economy, leading to a more resilient global system.
For that, we need a change of assumptions. So far, economic policies, including at COPs, have aimed to stimulate economic growth in the hope of having a fiscal buffer and managing shocks. Let’s turn our heads in the future: disasters and shocks must become the central pillar around which we design economic activity. This will guide new thinking on how to mitigate and adapt, and how to create international economic exchanges adapted to climate degradation.
This is why the COP was important in another way: the establishment of a work program on agriculture and food security. Macroeconomic exchanges begin with food in any global economic system. Redesigning food systems means we could be accelerating towards a new global economic metabolism. The latter will have to offer regenerative and complex crops that support local and regional resilience based on relevant contexts for nature and soils. This is something for which research, civil society and political actors must mobilize over the next four years.
And finally, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty— a civil society initiative that aims to ban new fossil fuel exploration and fast-track climate solutions — made extraordinary progress at COP27. Vanuatu and Tuvalu endorsed the treaty and brought it up during the negotiations. African civil society actors endorsing the treaty provided strong evidence that gas investments in Africa are dangerous for the continent’s mitigation and adaptation potential, and for its development trajectory. While not a breakthrough in cover text, the march is now on to name all forms of fossil fuels in future trading rounds, with progress likely to be rapid.
All this equates to a brilliant result: climate-vulnerable countries delivered an extraordinary COP against all odds. In doing so, they have shown themselves to be the powerful and visionary actors that competing global systems need to produce global public goods.
It is therefore all the more significant that the EU has fought tooth and nail to support the leadership of countries vulnerable to climate change and to demonstrate its own at the same time. Not only EU threaten to withdraw negotiations if the 1.5°C was not respected; it was the first to Support the proposal of L&D installations in a radical change of position. This step led the United States to follow suit.
The EU and its Member States are also committed additional funds for adaptation in Africa and supported stronger partnerships. The EU has stood on the right side of history and, more importantly, on the right side of the future as we now move into an era of systems transformation.
Climate-vulnerable countries continue to view the EU as hypocritical. It is clear that much remains to be done to improve consistency, particularly with regard to European gas investments in Africa. But things are going in the right direction. As COP27 unfolded, the EU held its Commodities Week, during which the workings of EU climate policy were debated at length. There is still a lack of a real geopolitical and geoeconomic security strategy to consolidate the EU’s trajectory towards real systems change that goes beyond decarbonisation alone.
This is why the EU’s memorandum of understanding with Namibia on Critical Raw Materials, signed on November 8, 2022, is a golden opportunity to use industrial policy for visionary change for co-silience. However, the scope of the MoU is currently too narrow and should be deepened as part of the development of the roadmap over the next six months. The partnership is expected to lead to synergistic investments in decarbonization and regeneration as well as research on climate smart development. As such, it can serve as a test of how the economy can be designed for resilience to shocks rather than the usual transactional partnerships. This would go a long way to building trust between Europe and Africa while accelerating climate action in a concrete and united way.
Buckle up, the time for the middle powers has come. The quality of their relationship will define what public goods will look like on the climate and security fronts. The journey will feel like a highway to hell, but the disruptions will open up opportunities for new thinking and transformative international relations. This is what will lead to climate action. And that is why the EU must build on its achievements and think boldly.
The future of the EU will look brighter once it realizes that the future of its peace and single market project depends on better and deeper partnerships with partners in Africa and beyond.