Imperial College London

COP27: Imperial experts reflect on progress and failures

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Negotiators at the COP27 conference centre sit behind a large desk, former COP President Alok Sharma speaks from a podium, backdrop reads: United Nations Climate Conference COP27 Sharm El Sheikh Egypt

Former COP President Alok Sharma speaks at COP27 (Credit: Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street)

As the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) ends, Imperial experts give their thoughts on areas of progress and disappointments.

The two weeks of often fraught negotiations between world governments on how to take forward joint international action on the climate crisis, have concluded with the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan.

COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, took place in the context of an ongoing geopolitical crises, energy security risks and food shortages.

Many feared this would lead governments to turn inward and be reluctant to step forward on climate ambition.

Despite this, while there was stagnation on some issues, other routes forward were found.

fossil fuel phase out: No progress

COP27 did not set out language explicitly stating the need to phase out gas and oil, because of blocks by oil and gas exporting countries. It also failed to change the terms agreed at COP26 in Glasgow on ‘phasing down’ coal to phasing out coal production and use.

Professor Ralf Toumi, Co-director of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, labelled COP27 as "a victory of the fossil lobby with no requirement for a peak in emissions in sight" and called for more “promotion of disruptive innovation that displaces their business models".

Photo of fossil fuel protest at COP27. People painted their hands red, signs read: They have blood on their hands, and Stop Fossil Fuels
Ongoing protests pressure parties to negotiate better deals for cleaner energy (Credit: @SSCP_DTP)

Reducing emissions: No progress

There was stalemate on efforts to further reduce emissions and accelerate action to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels so the world avoids more severe climate impacts including heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and hurricanes.

[The COP27 outcome] falls considerably short of what needs to be done to limit warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C Dr Alaa Al Khourdajie Research Fellow in the Centre for Environmental Policy

This 1.5°C target was agreed in the 2015 Paris negotiations and reaffirmed at COP26 in Glasgow last year. But governments are not on track to achieving this and the planet is currently on a path to heat to between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees, according to a recent UN report.

COP27 did not ensure countries set out concrete actions to reduce emissions by half by 2030 and achieve NetZero by 2050 so they can achieve the 1.5°C target.  

Dr Alaa Al Khourdajie, Research Fellow in the Centre for Environmental Policy and Senior Scientist for the IPCC, WGIII TSU, said the COP27 deal "does not exclude fossil fuels like gas, and it only calls for ‘accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power’, which falls considerably short of what needs to be done to limit warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C."

Dr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute, said that Nationally Determined Contributions (the mechanism countries use to measure their emissions reductions) so far indicate the world to be on track for a 0.3% reduction in emissions by 2030, compared to 2019 levels. "We need closer to a 50% reduction. This is the starkest example of how poor ambitions are… We require ‘the widest possible international cooperation'," he said.

Loss and Damage: progress

Action on loss and damage was seen as a make-or-break issue for COP27. Developing countries have for decades called on rich, polluting countries – which are historically responsible for causing Greenhouse Gas Emissions – to provide financial ‘loss and damage’ compensation for vulnerable countries that are experiencing the most harmful impacts of climate change but have done the least to cause it.  

Conference centre view with speakers from UAE on the big screen
Representatived from the United Arab Emirates speak at the closing plenary. UAE will host COP28 next year. (Credit @SSCP_DTP Nick Reynard)

At the eleventh hour, countries reached agreement to establish a new loss and damage fund to protect poorer nations that suffer destructive extreme weather events that destroy communities or cause land to disappear as sea levels rise.  

It signals a shift towards recognising climate justice (see side-bar). However, the agreement is yet to set out the exact scope for which countries will be eligible for support and where the finance will come from. This will be a battleground for COP28 in the United Arab Emirates next year.  

Professor Michael Wilkins, Executive Director at Imperial’s Centre for Climate Finance & Investment, commented: "This COP will be remembered for the historic success on establishing a loss and damage fund to help the world’s most vulnerable nations cope with the impact of climate change but will also remain tinged with disappointment at the lack of progress made on ratcheting up ambition on emission reductions."

Ms Hanyuan Wang (Karen), Research Assistant at Imperial’s Centre for Climate Finance & Investment, said: "The finance gap, particularly for adaptation, loss and damage, has become an urgent issue that cannot be ignored. In light of the current food and energy crises, governments must restore trust and move forward with implementations despite the fact that there are numerous uncertainties and obstacles to overcome, such as funding arrangements. COP27 marked a beginning point."

Climate finance reform: progress

Beyond discussions on loss and damage finance, COP27 also saw a major focus on mobilising wider climate finance to support developing countries in transitioning towards clean energy.   

Two photos of ministers speaking from a podium
Dominican Republic and Pakistan ministers are demanding a long-term financial plan to address devastating challenges exacerbated by climate changes (Credit: @SSCP_DTP)

Progress on this issue was limited in the negotiating rooms. But the Bridgetown Agenda, spearheaded by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, gained traction, calling for reform of the global financial system to enable more and better finance for climate action in low and middle-income countries.

Professor Wilkins said: "Moves to reform the global financial architecture so that it better aligns with climate goals should be seen as positive."

He added that multilateral development banks such as the World Bank and international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, need to have their role "revamped to ensure that greater financing flows to energy-transition projects, especially in developing countries. This is essential if we’re to get closer to the $3-4 trillion per year required in green energy investment instead of the $1 trillion expected in 2022, to enable the 1.5°C maximum global warming goal to be met."

Oceans: Progress

The Sham el-Sheikh Implementation Plan devoted a section to actions needed to protect the oceans.

Mr Nick Reynard, Research Postgraduate in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and a member of the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP, commented: "The ocean community definitely made an impact at COP27. In the negotiations, there was significant progress in the recognition of the oceans as a key ally in fighting climate change. Considering the ocean is the planet's biggest carbon reservoir, this progress needs to keep on growing."

Photo shows a room with a stage, people are giving a presentation, the sign on the wall reads: Ocean Pavillion, For our blue planet
Research postgraduate Nick Reynard visits the Ocean Pavillion where discussions take place about protecting the ocean under climate change (Credit: @SSCP_DTP, Nick Reynard)

Technology: Progress

COP27 saw the promotion of technology and data to combat climate change. Ms Wang said: "COP27 brought a vast group of technology-based initiatives to solve climate change, such as Climate Trace, satellite imagery, and machine learning technologies to offer reliable climate data. We have limited time; technology is critical to accelerating climate action."

Youth participation: Mixed

COP27 saw the establishment of the Children and Youth Pavilion and Youth Envoy. Calling for  wealthier countries to fund young people’s involvement in climate negotiations, Ms Batz said: "The vigour and advocacy of children and youth offer hope for the future and is of utmost importance."

Fangjun Peng and Alyssa Gilbert stand in a cut-out circle that represents universities attending COP27
Fangjun Peng and Alyssa Gilbert stand in a cut-out display that represents universities attending COP27

Dr Caroline Wainwright added: "It was great to see so many young people represented and their drive for climate action. Outside of the negotiations at COP27 there seemed to be so much ambition, urgency and drive for climate action to reduce emissions and progress on adaptation, it’s disappointing that this isn’t represented in the final outcomes."

Mr Fangjun Peng, Research Postgraduate in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and a member of Transition to Zero Pollution cohort of the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP, said: "COP has gradually focused more on youth participation. This is because the future of the world comes to youth, whose actions will influence the future of the planet."

Looking ahead

Every COP generates conversations on whether the UN climate negotiations process is fit for purpose and how geopolitical dynamics between countries create challenges for ambitious action. And there is the question of how to enable better international cooperation in future.  

Three people stand outside a conference venue, two are wearing traditional outfits of Indigenous people of Brazil, they hold up a sign in Portuguese
People from Indigenous communities of Brazil attended COP27 (Credit: @SSCP_DTP, Sally Musungu)

Dr Adam Hawkes, Professor of Energy Systems in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Director of the Sustainable Gas Institute, commented: "COP27 reminded the world that there is no one-size-fits all in climate change action – and particularly that the needs of developing world must be recognised and supported… There is still a big understanding gap between the developed and developing world. Developed nations need to remember that they cannot dictate their version of low emissions pathways to the rest of the world."

Dr Gambhir added: "The COP27 text acknowledges that the international community is facing ‘overlapping crises of food, energy, cascading risks, geopolitical, financial, debt and economic challenges, compounded and coupled by more frequent and intense climate impacts’.

"Describing humanity as being in a polycrisis, where multiple global systems are degrading humanity’s prospects, he said: “Business-as-usual notions of economic growth and development are not fit for purpose and genuinely visionary thinking is required. We don’t have the leaders that are up to this job – yet. Let’s hope they emerge from younger generations."

Ms Batz said: "Governments must urgently scale-up climate action that addresses the root causes of the crisis while enhancing our collective resilience to trauma, vulnerability, and change."

Ms Wang said: "This year's slogan is Implementation… Negotiation without implementation will benefit no one. In light of the current food and energy crises, governments must move forward with implementations despite the fact that there are numerous uncertainties and obstacles to overcome."


Katrine Petersen

Katrine Petersen
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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Linsey Wynton

Linsey Wynton
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change


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