Category: Analyses

This category presents deeper analyses of certain cases, e.g. political decisions

In final week of COP27, progress rests on ‘loss and damage’

As ever, the annual climate summit of the Conference of the Parties (COP) has centered on a few and highly conflictual issues. Most notably, loss and damage, and the financing of such, is for the first time included in the formal negotiations and highly advocated by low-income countries. Moving onto the final week of COP27, observers report that negotiations are moving ahead too slowly and too little, and that several knots need to be untied.

This year’s COP meeting in Sharm-El Sheikh in Egypt started per usual with heads of states convening for the World Leaders Summit. Joe Biden, encouraged by the midterm election results which soothed worries of US climate policy drawbacks, announced a new plan to cut methane emissions and supported the “Early Warnings for All Action Plan” drafted by the World Meteorological Organization. The plan aims at establishing warning signals for extreme weather and climate-related events, especially for the most vulnerable countries. French President Emmanuel Macron strongly emphasized the need for climate justice considerations in his speech and that “loss and damage” righteously should be discussed during the coming two weeks.

Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, President of this year’s host country Egypt, has named this the “Implementation Summit”. He urged all parties to center their efforts towards implementing the rules agreed upon last year in COP26 in Glasgow.

Leading up to the summit, discussions were expected to concern financing and the previously precluded concept of “loss and damage”, as well as clean energy developments and climate adaptation. As expected, both formal negotiations and informal discussions have centered around these issues. 

Money talks

Financing has been a cornerstone and stumbling block in the climate negotiations since the Paris Agreement in 2015. The failure to deliver the annual $100 billion by 2020, agreed upon in Copenhagen 2009, has come into light as poorer countries are increasingly devastated by extreme climate catastrophes. Such as the one in Pakistan earlier this year, leaving over 20 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The World Bank headed by president Malpass – who have been accused of climate denialism by former Vice President Al Gore – has come under increasing fire for insufficient climate financing as well as continued financial support to fossil fuel projects. 

A partial success concerning climate finance from the first week was the tentative support for the “Bridgetown Agenda”, proposed by Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley. The agenda seeks to reform the international financial system to ensure financial flows to low-income countries. It received support from French President Emmanuel Macron, with Germany and the UK tentatively supporting the idea. The Bretton Woods financial system managed by the World Bank and IMF is, according to Mottley, insufficiently structured to allow poorer countries to adapt to increasing climate-induced extreme weather events. With poorer countries being charged with substantially higher interest rates than the rich, Mottley argued that poorer countries should receive concessional lending, but also that discussions must include oil and gas companies, which in recent months have seen unprecedented windfall profits. “How do companies make $200 billion in profits in the last three months and do not expect to contribute $0.10 on every $1 of profit to a loss and damage fund?” she said. Success of the Bridgetown Agenda does, however, rely heavily on the support of the G7 countries who historically been reluctant to adopt concessional lending and debt cancellation policies.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry announced a plan to marshal investments in renewables in developing countries through a framework for carbon credits. The plan, dubbed the “Energy Transition Accelerator”, would allow private companies to gain carbon credits by investing in projects in developing countries. The initiative has not landed well amongst developing countries. Critics argue that another voluntary carbon market will neither instigate necessary deep emission reductions in richer countries nor ensure any additional funding – that would happen anyway – to clean energy developments.  

Rich countries criticized for preventing loss and damage mechanism

The most contentious – but previously precluded from formal COP negotiations – issue is the financing of loss and damage arising from climate change calamities. Although discussions within the UNFCCC have been ongoing since COP19 with the establishment of the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage”, strengthened at COP25 with the Santiago Network and with the Glasgow Dialogue at COP26, progress has been slow. Securing hands-on financing is not expected in Egypt, but emphasis is directed towards settling on the mechanisms of such funding. One week into the negotiations, however, a few countries have pledged to provide loss and damage money. Scotland broke the ice, followed by Denmark, Germany, Belgium Austria and New Zealand. More countries are expected to follow suit and pledge to the loss and damage fund in the second week of the summit, but sums are still far from adequate. Concerning the loss and damage mechanism, progress is even slower. Rich countries, especially the G7, have been accused of distracting from establishing a mechanism by proposing the alternative Global Shield insurance scheme, aimed at establishing a protection scheme to account for climate catastrophes. This has not landed well amongst poorer countries. It is perceived as a way of circumventing the loud calls for a loss and damage mechanism. The Global Shield insurance scheme does not include slow onset events brought about by climate change and includes only a fraction of countries in need of loss and damage money.

Demonstrations and fossil fuel delegates

A worry leading up to the summit in Egypt has concerned the role of civil society groups and activists. The Egyptian regime, with a record of human rights abuses and mass imprisonment of civil society actors, have come under critical scrutiny and commentators have warned of regressive restrictions. The currently imprisoned Egyptian human rights advocate Alaa Abd el-Fattah has become a figurehead of demonstrations and campaigns. Although attempts to raise human rights issues have been made and demonstrations have taken place, civil society organizations have been largely smothered.

If civil society action has been much curtailed during the first week, the oil and gas industry has not. With over 600 oil and gas representatives participating at the meeting, according to official registration lists, they outnumber all delegations from African countries. 

What to expect from the final week of negotiations

Moving onto the second week, informal discussions will center around a few topics that traditionally fall outside the scope of the COP summits, beginning with water scarcity and gender issues on Monday. On Tuesday, attention will be directed towards the role of civil society. Discussions on Wednesday will raise to the fore biodiversity issues, paving way for the UN Biodiversity (COP15) starting on 7 December in Canada, ending with “solutions day” on Thursday where prospects for novel solutions such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and hydrogen centers on stage. 

Turning to the formal negotiations, government ministers have replaced government leaders in the pursuit of untying the knots from the first week. The most pressing issue being the loss and damage funding, and whether the funding mechanism or the insurance scheme proposed by the G7 countries will prevail. How these negotiations end will much likely define whether COP27 will be seen as a step forward or not, especially concerning the contested issue of accountability.

A conference draft of formal agreements is expected on Wednesday, but a final draft is not expected until the end of the week. As last year’s COP focused on keeping the 1.5C target alive, a year later, that ambition looks even bleaker. In the run-up to the negotiations several reports concluded that the target is slipping away. That it is politically unfeasible to keep the 1.5C target alive and that there is “no longer any credible pathway” to achieving it. The last-minute calamities and weakened commitments in Glasgow made Alok Sharma, President of COP27, tearfully claim that the 1.5C target was, albeit barely, kept alive. Egypt’s COP27 President Sameh Shoukry will face a similar task. 

Winter is coming and so is energy sufficiency?

In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, gas and energy prices have soared to dramatically high levels. Hoping for a mild winter but preparing for the worst, Europe is now considering energy conservation and rationing policies. Perhaps time has come for the important but mostly forgotten climate solution: energy sufficiency.

The ongoing energy crisis has uncovered the European dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia supplied more than 40% of the EU’s total gas consumption as well as 27% of oil imports. This share is shrinking quickly as Russia has turned down the flow into the European energy system. As a response to this, the EU and its Member States have adopted radical measures to safeguard energy supply and avoid economic losses.

Energy sufficiency measures are taken as winter is approaching
As winter is approaching, different measures are taken across Europe to save energy.

EU plans to reduce energy use drastically

On 14 September, the EU Commission proposed the REPowerEU plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels before 2030. The plan includes amongst other things an update of the energy efficiency target to 14,5% (the earlier target was raised from 9 to 13 percent as late as in May earlier this year). Only ten days later, the Commission proposed an “emergency plan” which sets out to reduce electricity use in the EU by 10 percent until March 2023. It also mandates an obligation to reduce electricity use by at least 5 percent during peak hours and a temporary “solidarity contribution” on excess profits from energy producers. EU Member States are also incentivized to undertake voluntary energy and gas savings. The EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans states:

“Demand reduction is fundamental to the overall success of these measures: it lowers energy bills, ends Putin’s ability to weaponize his energy resources, reduces emissions and helps rebalance the energy market. A cap on outsize revenues will bring solidarity from energy companies with abnormally high profits towards their struggling customers.”

Several European governments are following suit

The French government is planning to cut total energy use by 10% and impose energy rationing as a last resort. The country has launched a program of sobriété (sufficiency) including restrictions on indoor temperature in public buildings. As winter approaches, president Macron has stated that sacrifices by the French people is necessary.

Germany, where gas makes up 27 percent of the energy mix and of which 55 percent was imported from Russia before the invasion, have also proposed several energy-saving measures, including limitations on temperature in public buildings. Private companies are encouraged to do the same.

Italy, importing 40% of their gas from Russia, is preparing an emergency energy-saving plan including amongst other things restrictions on domestic radiation, street lighting and opening hours for restaurants and shops.

In Spain, the parliament approved a decree in the beginning of August to limit air conditioning and heating in public and commercial buildings including shopping centers, cinemas, rail stations and airports.

In Sweden, the government has assigned state authorities to undertake measures to reduce electricity use until April 2023. Beyond this, the political response to the energy crisis has been weak. Instead, the debate running up to the national elections in September saw a revived focus on nuclear power. This captured not only the energy but also the climate policy discussions.

The imperative for energy sufficiency

The current emphasis on energy savings is promising as it shines a light on an alternative, often neglected policy strategy, namely energy sufficiency. Energy sufficiency, in its simplest form, is about avoiding carbon emissions by targeting and reducing energy use. National energy policy have traditionally focused on improving energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewables, while neglecting sufficiency. But research shows that energy sufficiency is fundamental for rapid climate mitigation. In the latest IPCC report on Mitigation of climate change, demand-side mitigation strategies such as sufficiency was for the first time included. The IPCC defines the three strategies followingly:

“(i) sufficiency, which tackles the symptoms of the environmental impacts of human activities by avoiding the demand for energy and materials of the lifecycle of buildings and goods; (ii) efficiency, which tackles the symptoms of the environmental impacts of human activities by improving energy and material intensities; and (iii) the renewable pillar, which tackles the consequences of the environmental impacts of human activities by reducing carbon intensity in energy supply.”

To reduce environmental impacts from energy use, sufficiency policies should be undertaken first, followed by efficiency and consistency (Saheb, 2021). This is because sufficiency holds great potential to reduce GHG emissions rapidly.

Less is better!?

Although the scientific community emphasize sufficiency as an important climate solution, efforts steering towards energy demand reductions have been mostly ignored in policy making. This is unsurprising since energy sufficiency conflicts with current economic, political and social ideas such as economic growth, consumerism and ideas of “more is better”. But what sufficiency research shows is that less could actually be better. In terms of climate change mitigation, sufficiency policies are cheap and can reduce carbon emissions fast (Spangenberg and Lorek, 2019). In terms of wellbeing, energy sufficiency combined with better provisioning systems could actually lead to improved global health and wellbeing (O’Neill et al., 2018).

But energy sufficiency does not mean restraints for all, but mainly for affluent countries and especially for the over-consuming “super-rich” (Otto et al., 2019). This is the other side of energy sufficiency, namely to provide universal minimum levels of energy to ensure basic needs and wellbeing for all within planetary boundaries (IPCC, 2022). We live in a world constrained by ecological resources and when a majority of these resources are eaten up by wealthy countries and individuals, not much is left. At the same time we’re struggling – and currently failing – to stave of the climate crisis. Energy sufficiency responds to both of these challenges.

Person in a woolen pullover with a cup of tea
Although behavioral changes are important, energy sufficiency goes beyond individual downshifting.

Energy sufficiency policies are needed

Although individual downscaling to some extent is necessary, an orientation towards sufficiency requires that infrastructure and systems of consumption and production change, to ensure that all have access to necessary (clean) energy services. Research on energy sufficiency policies have grown exponentially in recent years. Ambitious work by scientists from a range of disciplines have developed policy packages and practices.

The suggestions laid forward by the EU Commission and European governments, such as restrictions on indoor temperature, air conditioning and business opening hours are however concrete examples of sufficiency policies. These are all effective in the short-term. But a long-term sufficiency orientation requires further, systemic measures. It requires a planned reduction of energy use. This includes policies such as the abolishment of environmentally harmful subsidies, energy taxation, infrastructure development, upper income limits and ban on advertisements for energy-intensive products, to name a few. For a full list of existing sufficiency policies, the Energy Sufficiency Policy Database is a great seed for inspiration. Such policies require that the EU Commission and EU Member States acknowledge energy sufficiency as an important lever next to efficiency and renewables. Behavioral changes and short-term measures are indeed important, but limited in our current societies which are built on unsustainable infrastructure and geared towards increasing emissions, not the reverse.

The energy crisis as an opportunity

The energy crisis is by all means a crisis. Low-income and vulnerable households are affected the most. A transition towards sufficiency should not be built on havoc, but on a planned reduction of energy use to ensure decent levels of clean energy services to all. Such a transition does not happen through radical measures in the midst of an energy crisis. But the crisis could be, if the momentum towards energy sufficiency sticks, a stepping-stone towards recognizing the importance of energy sufficiency.

This is a moment to revitalize solidarity and collective responsibility. To recognize what values such as “enoughness” and limitations means for us as individuals and society at large. The energy crisis provides a strong imperative for energy sufficiency, but further action is needed. Only then can Europe break free from its dependence on Russia, ensure energy security and do its parts in mitigating climate change.



Article written by Oskar Lindgren, research assistant in the CCL team.