The Final Bell to Save the World: As It Happened |Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Updated: Jul 14
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022 - With the planet teetering on the brink of a meteorological apocalypse, the United Nations World Climate Conference COP27 in Egypt rang in as the most urgently needed climate change conference in history. Climate negotiators from 197 countries headed into the conference against a backdrop of unprecedented climate catastrophes hitting every region in the world this year. Underscoring the task at hand is the trillions of dollars in damage and millions of lives lost across the globe in the 2022 floods ravaging India and Pakistan, heat waves devastating China and Europe, drought spreading across African, and wildfires and hurricanes destroying North America. Facing cataclysmic global warming of 2.8℃ above pre-industrial levels, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres opened the conference with the warning that “the world is on the road to climate hell and our foot is on the accelerator - we are getting dangerously close the the point of no return.” It is with that dire reminder in mind that negotiations kicked off with two imperatives on humanities’ agenda: First, how to implement emission reductions to ensure the 1.5℃ commitments, and second, how to finance those commitments, particularly in developing countries least responsible for emissions but most affected by climate change.
Inside the diplomatic zone, our own Director of Sustainable Development, Dr. Kelly Jckson, attended with the Forces of Nature delegation. Here’s what has not been widely reported: Energy inside the venue itself was markedly different than COP26, with far less American starpower and fewer heads of state than in years past. Missing from the Leaders Conference were President Biden who arrived after it had ended, as well as Chinese leader Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Russian Vladimir Putin, all key figures in this live or die moment. The UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, left COP27 in a highly atypical hurried exit. And the head of the US Envoy, John Kerry contracted COVID and had to appear via phone at the end. Without the main players (and notably, emitters), negotiations stalled. Missing was the hype needed for urgent action. Unlike COP26, which produced global agreements on multiple issues from methane reductions to the elimination of deforestation, impactful announcements out of COP27 were largely missing. When the biggest claim is that an imperative topic like Loss and Damage “made the agenda” with details on funding still mysterious at best, it's a miss. Electric transportation, innovative energy solutions, building sustainable cities, and most importantly, further emission cuts, didn’t see the same focus as in years’ past.
On the upside, despite news of a non-inclusive COP, there were seemingly more African, MENA, youth, and female delegates than at prior conferences. While we await the UNFCCC’s official tallies, and not all voices were represented, Forces of Nature delegate, Dr. Kelly Jackson, Sustainability Director at Ransom Everglades School, was thrilled to see Indigenous and Small Island Nation speakers commanding a presence inside the COP27 Blue Zone, as well as more pavilions hosted by developing nations than in past years. “It’s absolutely essential that we have every voice in this fight,” said Jackson.
So who showed all the way up? Hats off to EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, who redlined draft agreements, threatened walk-outs, and redoubled efforts on finding mutually acceptable solutions to both keep the 1.5℃ goal alive, as well as initiating a fund to compensate developing countries for climate-related damages. From the outset, the EU called for countries to reach net-zero emissions by 2025, rather than current promises of the US by 2050 and China and India by 2060. And while Timmermans was criticized by developing nations for blocking the loss and damage fund until he could garner commitments on further emission cuts, his point was this: an agreement on loss and damage funding is not enough, because without an agreement on emission cuts, catastrophic losses will just keep escalating. Funding past loss without taking action to curb future global warming won’t save lives in the long run.
We watched as our world verged on collapse. But as the final bell rang and the venue emptied out, with delegates racing to catch their planes out, some negotiators stayed and kicked final harried meetings into overdrive in a last-ditch effort to save humanity from itself.
And at 4:10 am on November 20, 2022, Egyptian Foregin Minister Sameh Shoukry gathered a weak but legal quorum of 111 nations to sign off on a landmark deal to compensate poorer countries for damages caused by global warming. The historic agreement represents a major breakthrough and begins to repair relations between the Global North and the Global South on climate issues.
Developing countries leave COP27 relieved that there may finally be a mechanism to fund their climate-related losses. But questions remain on how and when such compensation will be funded. And eclipsed by talks of how to compensate past and present losses is the looming question: Have we now begun the task of paying for losses of the past, but missed all opportunities to secure our future? The scientists exited COP27 with faces drawn. Plans for global emissions to peak by 2025 and a phase out of all fossil fuels were cut from the final draft agreement. That means that those relying on the much hoped for loss and damage fund, already trillions behind what is needed to address climate catastrophes before it even gets started, will face increased climate losses in the coming years.
Forces of Nature delegates maintain hope. But as anxiety filled the empty halls, and negotiators and heads of state departed, the sense of urgency in the climate community sank from palatable energy to a quiet desperation. The last grains of sand in our planet’s hourglass are running out, and we won’t be able to turn back time. Frightening statistics coming from the scientists at COP27 report that the world is on pace for temperatures to rise past the irreversible tipping point, melting our ice sheets and leading to an escalation of global warming, rising seas, and loss of lives. As we anxiously wait to see if the COP27 Agreement will gain teeth post-session to map out details on funding and on implementation, it remains more important than ever that we redouble our own efforts, wherever we are in the world today, to reduce global warming. We need big government commitments. But the financial and convenience sacrifices will, in the end, be ours. Turn off your lights, eat your vegetables, buy electric vehicles, reduce consumption, write your officials, and vote. Innovate and make changes - everyday - in the call for a better tomorrow. We’ve got to believe - and act like - we’ve still got this. Afterall, we don’t have another choice.
Will Charouhis is a 16-year-old student at Ransom Everglades. He is the founder of Forces of Nature, a youth-led organization whose mission is to halt climate change, accredited as the youngest delegation by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He can be reached at email@example.com or Linked In.