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December 14, 2022

Nicholas Institute Experts Reflect on COP27

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

In November, world leaders gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) to negotiate agreements for advancing climate action. Beyond the formal agenda, the annual conference is a hub for exchanging ideas between researchers, industry leaders, non-governmental organizations, and activists through myriad side events and discussions. 

As in years past, Duke University had a robust presence at COP27, as scholars and students actively engaged with global decision makers. Experts from Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability who were on the ground in Egypt share their thoughts on the outcomes of the conference.  

What was your major takeaway from COP27?

Jide Olutoke (MPP '23) and Jackson Ewing (Nicholas Institute) in a selfie at COP27
Jide Olutoke (MPP '23) and Jackson Ewing, senior fellow at the Nicholas Institute, were among a contingent of Duke University students and experts who attended COP27 in Egypt.
(Credit: Jackson Ewing)

Jackson Ewing, Senior Fellow, Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability; and Adjunct Associate Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment

“COP27 was designed to be the ‘implementation’ COP, and it will be remembered as the ‘Loss and Damage’ COP. After years of slow to modest progress on the issue, a Loss and Damage fund was created, and the concept was further codified in the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] system. Celebrations of this breakthrough should be tempered, however, by the arguably symbolic levels of capital committed to the effort and the continuing reticence of many major countries to contribute at all.”   

Jonathan Phillips, Director, James E. Rogers Energy Access Project at Duke

“Important progress on three fronts has the potential to shift the underlying dynamics holding back low-carbon investment in low- and middle-income countries: 1) building integrity and confidence around voluntary carbon markets to deliver private capital to climate-related projects in the Global South; 2) successfully demonstrating high-level “Just Energy Transition Partnership” investment agreements—like those moving for South Africa, Indonesia, and Vietnam; and 3) discontent finally boiling over with the scale and focus of climate investment from key international financial institutions like the World Bank, including an insufficient mobilization of private investment. It appears change is coming.   

"It’s worth noting that all three of these developments came largely outside the formal government-to-government negotiating framework of COP, an indicator that the growing value of these annual gatherings is the unparalleled coordination opportunity they provides governments, businesses, civil society, and advocates.”

Tibor Vegh, Senior Policy Associate, Ocean and Coastal Policy Program, Nicholas Institute

“The mainstreaming of nature-based solutions for both mitigation and, more importantly, adaptation. The scientific community, non-state actors, and the private sector have been successful in elevating the topic on the agenda and identifying key next steps to deliver on the Race to Resilience target of making 4 billion people resilient by 2030. This success is due in part to the private sector finally coming to understand that resilience is a key strategic goal for them to reduce financial, supply chain, and other risks to their business.” 

What were missed opportunities this year?

Ewing

“COP27 did little to advance climate finance. While modest progress on loss and damage is important, the need has never been greater for clarity and efficiency on where climate finance will come from, how it will be managed, and how it can galvanize greater private sector investment. Much of this must happen outside of COPs—and in fact did this year via climate finance commitments for Indonesia announced at the concurrent G20 meetings—but future summits must take up in earnest new ideas and pathways for impactful climate finance.”    

Phillips

“If COP is going to be the world’s premier sustainability conference, then the UNFCCC Secretariat responsible for organizing the event should start treating it as such, using it as a platform to demonstrate and reward sustainability. The Sharm El-Sheikh gathering required 100 percent of attendees to fly, was powered almost exclusively by fossil fuels, and derived 100 percent of fresh water from fossil-intensive desalination. The misalignment is staggering. Unfortunately, this troubling disconnect looks to persist next year with the conference slated for the United Arab Emirates, where 97 percent of primary energy supply is from fossil fuels.” 

Vegh

“There remains a continued and growing need for finance flows to increase into both restoration of ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs, as well as coastal adaptation and resilience projects and programs starting with some of the most vulnerable communities. For finance to flow to the right places, a list of projects needs to be assembled for vetting by the funding and finance community, which has not happened to date.” 

What do you see as post-COP policy priorities? 

Ewing

“2023 will be the year of the global stocktaking, which will put in stark relief the decarbonization challenge that the world collectively faces. This lends itself to redoubled efforts on increasing mitigation ambition, and will yield pressure on developed countries, corporates, and development banks to provide more resources to drive a low-carbon transition, and on high-emitting developing countries to rapidly change their economic development strategies to avoid emissions booms. Fostering high ambition on both fronts, and matching them together, is the post-COP priority.”   

Phillips

“Reforming institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is not a sexy exercise, but its time has come. These institutions were born in a different time and under a different mandate, but their control of the vast majority of public climate funding to the developing world requires they adapt their mission and tools with urgency. Developed country shareholders—led by the US—along with developing country clients are loudly demanding new approaches. Look for these institutions to bring a laser focus in mobilizing the private sector, spurring innovative approaches to debt restructuring and forgiveness, and advancing efforts to free up additional balance sheet to boost climate-related investment.” 

Vegh

“Engage in dialogue on resilience and adaptation with a focus on finance between states that negotiate agreements or outcome documents and civil society, NGOs, academics, and other non-state actors, such as city mayors or chief resilience officers. We also need to ensure progress on the targets that we have defined to date. One example is Mangrove Breakthrough, which aims to secure the future of 15 million hectares of mangroves globally by 2030 through collective action. Application of recent adaptation finance principles to unlock finance flows to coastal cities is another priority.” 

Duke’s presence at COP27 was reflective of the Duke Climate Commitment, which unites the university’s education, research, operations and public service missions to address the climate crisis. The commitment builds on Duke’s longstanding leadership in climate, energy and sustainability to educate a new generation of climate-fluent innovators and create equitable solutions for all. It also supports the university priority planks in the president’s strategic framework.