Key takeaways from COP27

From 6 to 18 November, Heads of State, ministers and negotiators, along with climate activists, mayors, civil society representatives and CEOs met in Egypt for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), the largest annual gathering on climate action. Minister Bowen led the Australian delegation.

Faced with a growing energy crisis, record greenhouse gas concentrations, and increasingly extreme weather events, COP27 sought to renew solidarity between countries, and focus on implementing pledges for people and the planet.

The outcomes of these UN climate talks are important to Greening Australia – and to us all – given the urgent need for global action on climate change and biodiversity loss, in the broader context of sustainable development. What happens at COP signals global willpower for change and guides our own efforts restoring nature as effective, local climate action.

So how did it go? Here are our key takeaways from COP27.

Photo credit Jesse Collins.

Landmark agreement on Loss and Damage Fund

COP27 saw all governments agree to establish a new Loss and Damage Fund, a big step forward in supporting developing nations and billions of people that are least responsible but bearing the brunt of widespread climate impacts such as floods, droughts, hurricanes and sea level rise.

The decision marks the climax of a decades-long effort by small island states and other vulnerable nations. While this is a major breakthrough for ‘downstream’ climate solutions, it’s pivotal for the global community to deliver on ‘upstream’ solutions.

No agreement to phase out fossil fuels

There has been no real progress made for efforts to stay below 1.5C warming, beyond what had been agreed at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

While COP27 saw an agreement on scaling up investment in renewable energy for the first time, parties failed to reach agreement on phasing out all fossil fuels. In fact, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan – as the cover decision from COP27 is known – excluded any mention of winding down the use of fossil fuels.

This is of major concern in terms of keeping the hope of limiting global warming to 1.5C alive. The Emissions Gap Report 2022, released by UNEP just before COP27, found that to get on track to 1.5C by 2030, the world must cut emissions by 45 per cent compared with projections based on policies currently in place.

Australia has committed to reducing its methane emissions, such as from ruminant livestock, by a third by 2030. Photo credit Toby Peet.

On the plus side for keeping the 1.5C target within reach, a further 50 nations (including Australia) signed onto a pledge to cut global methane emissions 30 percent by 2030, taking the total signatories to over 150 countries.

Nature-based solutions made it to the cover

The cover decisions from COP27 – the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan – included a ‘forests’ section and a reference to ‘nature-based solutions’ for the first time.

The cover text also underlined the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement 1.5C goal, including via terrestrial and marine ecosystems as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases such as carbon. Importantly, the decisions text calls for protection of biodiversity with social and environmental safeguards.

Nature-based solutions tackle land degradation issues such as rising salinity, while simultaneously capturing carbon, supporting biodiversity, providing local jobs, and opening pathways for First Nations leadership in healing Country. Photo credit Jesse Collins.

Recognising the potential of nature-based solutions for accelerating meaningful action on both climate change and biodiversity loss, the Egyptian COP27 Presidency, the Government of Germany and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) launched the ENACT (Enhancing Nature-based Solutions for an Accelerated Climate Transformation) initiative at COP27.

ENACT will help boost global nature-based solutions by strengthening collaborations and ensuring high-integrity outcomes that meet ecological and social safeguards. It will report annually, providing a comprehensive quantitative overview of global progress in implementing nature-based solutions commitments.

This planting in Western Australia is an example of a nature-based solution, simultaneously reversing salinity, capturing carbon, providing habitat, improving livestock production, and employing First Nations ranger groups (for planting). Photo credit Jesse Collins.

While care must be taken that nature-based solutions are not seen as an alternative to cutting fossil fuel emissions and protecting existing intact ecosystems, it’s great to see recognition that well-designed nature-based solutions can restore carbon-rich, biodiverse native ecosystems and support the objectives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities worldwide, helping both people and nature mitigate and adapt to climate impacts.

Pledges for protecting forests

The president-elect of Brazil received a rockstar welcome at COP27. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pledged a transformation of Brazil’s policy that signals a big shift and hopeful future for the Amazon. Brazil has also signed a new alliance with Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the three tropical countries with the most rainforest cover) to cooperate on protecting forests. A private sector-led coalition called the LEAF (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance) pledged to mobilise $1.5 billion for tropical countries committed to forest protection.

Also, 26 countries representing around 35% of the world’s total forest cover (including Australia) launched the new Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, aiming to hold each other accountable on commitments to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation.

Protecting remnant forests and re-planting linking vegetation both captures carbon and supports biodiversity to adapt to climate impacts and increases habitat connectivity for wildlife such as the genetically significant Strzelecki Koala and the nationally threatened Greater Glider. Photo credit Annette Ruzicka.

New initiative for ecological connectivity

During COP27, the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature launched The Wildlife Connect initiative. This initiative focusses on conserving ecological corridors and networks as nature-based solutions to climate change.

Actions to protect ecological connectivity – the “unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on earth” – are nature-based solutions to climate change.

So what’s next?

All things considered, though some good steps were taken, COP27 has not built strongly on COP26. It was meant to be the ‘implementation COP’ but most would agree not enough progress has been made towards implementing change that would keep the 1.5C target alive. An urgent, system-wide transformation is needed to avoid climate catastrophe.

The eyes of the world are now turning to COP15 – the United Nations’ Biodiversity Conference – being held in Montreal, Canada from 7-19 December. Laurent Fabius, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Christiana Figueres and Laurence Tubiana, who all helped design the Paris Agreement, have signed a joint statement urging world leaders to secure a similar deal on nature.

They are calling for a fully-fledged agreement under which countries would set national conservation targets and routinely report on their progress. If such an agreement were signed, it could be an unprecedented opportunity to turn the tide on nature loss.



Further reading

Keen to learn more? Here are some articles we suggest for diving deeper on COP27.

  • Carbon Brief provides an in-depth analysis of all key outcomes in Sharm el-Sheikh – both inside and outside the COP: go to article
  • More on the landmark decision to set up a loss and damage fund: go to article
  • Nature-Based Solutions Initiative summarises the inclusion of nature-based solutions in COP decisions: go to article
  • Time Magazine’s article on the breakthrough on climate compensation and seven other takeaways: go to article

Australians know all about the extreme pressures of climate change and biodiversity loss. Fires and flooding have impacted large parts of our country over the past few years, displacing communities and threatening our unique wildlife.

We’re making a difference, but we need your help. Help us deliver nature-based solutions at the speed and scale that Australia and the world needs. Please donate to support our work rebuilding nature. You’re the key.