COP 27 in Egypt: The United States Got Back To the Table

November 2022

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The top stories in ESG and sustainability in November included the coverage of the annual global climate meetings that took place in Egypt – COP 27 (the Conference of Parties), convened by the United Nations.

These meetings of about 200 sovereign nations’ leaders and other global influentials began in Rio de Janiero in 1992 (President George H.W. Bush was in his last year in office).

The position of the United States in the global talks (and the agreements that result) have see-sawed over the years in terms of staying at the table, and exerting leadership or not. The welcome news for 2022 is that the U.S. is back at the table. And at least for now, attempting to lead. 

This year’s meetings saw President Joseph Biden drop in to address the gathering. ormer Secretary of State John Kerry, now the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, appeared to be playing a much more visible role than was the case during prior years (during when the Trump Administration was in charge and moving away from the COP talks and the Paris Agreement of 2015).  

It is fitting for the United States of America attempting to lead in the global efforts to address climate changes and the challenges posed  — the U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the second largest emitter of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Use of oil and natural gas define the American economy and the culture of the nation.  The US is a major producer of and user of fossil fuel products. 

In his remarks at COP 27, President Biden “reclaimed” the country’s role as global leader in climate change actions and committed to help to address global warming at home and abroad.

The Biden Administration’s “Whole of Government” comprehensive approach to climate change was the centerpiece of his commentary to the gathered at COP 27.

Emphasizing the U.S. commitment to address climate change, President Biden told the summit participants: “I introduced the first piece of climate legislation in the United States Senate way back in 1986, 36 years ago. My commitment to this issue has been unwavering.

“And today, finally, thanks to the actions we’ve taken, I can stand here as President of the United States of America and say with confidence: The United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030. We are racing forward to do our part to avert the ‘climate hell’ that the U.N. Secretary-General so passionately warned about earlier this week. We’re not ignoring the harbingers that are already here.”

For domestic U.S. audiences, President Biden had this important news: “The United States became the first government to require that our major federal suppliers disclose their emissions and climate risks and set targets for themselves that are aligned with the Paris Agreement.

“As the world’s largest customer, with more than US$630 billion in spending last year, the government of the United States is putting our money where our mouth is to strengthen accountability for climate risk and resilience.”

However, while the U.S. government could leverage almost US$400 billions committed by Congress and the Administration to make investments in climate change solutions, “missing” are major investments to help other less-wealthy nations in climate change mitigation.

Not that President Biden was unsympathetic about helping other nations — . he has pledged to help developing countries with $11 billion each year to 2024 for transitioning to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

Who Will Pay?  A Question Floating Above the Conversations

“Reparations” was the a key word circulating at COP 27 — who will help the less fortunate nations to address climate change issues? The expectations of less developed economies is that the rich peers, who generate the carbon emissions that affect the climate, will come to the aid of the nations they are negatively affecting.

While the U.S. expresses ambitions to help, with a divided U.S. Congress (keepers of the purse strings), the U.S. is not likely near-term to commit funds for other countries to address their climate change challenges.  The present state of affairs in US governance poses the question of whether the nation itself can continue on course to meet the goals of the “whole of government” approach to addressing climate change over changes of administrations. 

The “reparations” are about “loss and damage”. As The New York Times pointed out in its coverage of the COP meetings –  determining “loss and damage” funding is very difficult to define and loaded with potential legal liability for donating nations (such as for the U.S. and European powers).

Not that President Biden was unsympathetic about helping other nations. He has pledged to help developing countries with $11 billion each year to 2024 for transitioning to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

One of continuing stories we see as this conference (COP 27) ends and the almost 200 nations that participate in the Conference of Parties are back at home dealing with climate change will be increasing focus among the participants on the “who pays” question going forward. The G&A team will be being staying tuned and will keep you updated as we move toward COP 28.

President Biden’s Comments at COP 27:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/11/11/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-27th-conference-of-the-parties-to-the-framework-convention-on-climate-change-cop27-sharm-el-sheikh-egypt/

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