COP 27 delivered a mixed bag for the climate. Two weeks of painstaking negotiations finally ended with the “historic” loss and damage fund agreement. This success is credited to tireless advocacy from the Global South, who have fought for years to secure this on the agenda. However, glaring omissions in the final agreement, such as an emphasis on fossil fuel phase-out and emissions reductions, remain of critical concern. Some have attributed this to the high presence of fossil fuel interests at this year’s summit, blocking progress on climate action.

Furthermore, outside of COP, historical big polluters, such as Europe, North America and Australia, have ramped up fossil fuel production this year. These developments risk hoarding the dwindling carbon budget to keep 1.5 alive and inflicting devastation on climate-vulnerable nations.

COP 27: Australia’s pledges

For Australia, this was the first UN climate summit to take place with the Labor government “back on the field“, following years of blocking progress. Here is a roundup of Australia’s engagement and pledges surrounding COP 27, and what it means for climate, nature and justice.

Supported loss and damage finance fund

Australia supported discussions of a loss and damage fund which will compensate climate-vulnerable countries hit hardest by disasters. Wealthy nations – Australia included – have stalled progress in previous years. 2022 was the first year loss and damage made it to the main agenda, following decades of advocacy from civil society, activists and youth groups.

Nations most at risk of climate disasters, such as sea-level rise, storms and drought-induced crop failures, are often the poorest with the least resources to recover. A loss and damage fund can include support for early warning signals, emergency relief and resources to rebuild from extreme events. However, the fund is currently an “empty bucket”, with the difficult details yet to be negotiated. 

Announced bid to co-host Cop 31 with Pacific nations

Climate and energy minister Chris Bowen announced that Australia would bid to co-host COP 31 in collaboration with Pacific island nations in 2026. This marks a stark difference from previous leaderships that blocked progress at talks and alienated Pacific neighbours. This host bid presents the opportunity to revive Australia’s reputation for climate action and its intentions to embrace a green economy.

However, despite the rhetoric of its new leadership, Australia is still a fossil fuel nation. Analysis by Climate Action Tracker found that Australia has, in fact, ramped up fossil fuel production this year. Vanuatu’s new climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu, told Guardian Australia that his government could not endorse the co-hosting bid if Australia continued to invest in fossil fuel developments. Therefore, Australia needs to show that it is serious about climate leadership with actions – not words – if it hopes to become a true ally to its climate-vulnerable Pacific neighbours. 

Joined Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership

Australia announced that it has joined the Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership (FCLP) at COP 27. This voluntary partnership of 26 countries aims to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Priorities include scaling up solutions for deforestation, forest degradation, reforestation, and sustainable forest and land use management. This is while advancing sustainable and inclusive development. 

Forests are one of the Earth’s important carbon sinks that help to mitigate the impact of climate change from human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Achieving the goals of the FCLP would deliver 10 per cent of the climate mitigation action needed by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement. However, Australia is currently a deforestation hotspotIndustrial logging, land clearing for agriculture and wildfires pose severe threats to Australia’s native forests and wildlife. Ambitous and effective policies must protect and restore Australia’s forests and meet the goals of the FCLP.

Joined the Global Methane Pledge

Ahead of COP 27, the government announced that it had joined the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 from 2020 levels. Over 120 countries have now committed to the Pledge. Energy, agriculture and waste are the primary methane-emitting sectors. 

Methane is a potent but short-lived greenhouse gas. It has approximately 80 times the climate-heating impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) over 20 years and has caused roughly 30 per cent of global heating since pre-industrial times. While methane is a leading driver of climate breakdown, there are economical ways to reduce emissions quickly. For these reasons, cutting methane is the best way to slow climate change in the next 25 years, says Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. 

Signed up for the Green Shipping Challenge

Australia signed up for the Green Shipping Challenge at COP 27 to reduce global maritime emissions. Currently, shipping generates more than one billion tonnes of CO2 each year, accounting for almost three per cent of all human-generated emissions. As per the Paris Agreement, the industry must rapidly decarbonise and meet net zero emissions by 2050. 

Over 80 per cent of the world’s merchandise trade is carried by sea, and international shipping and ports are vital to global trade and development. However, worsening climate impact means the industry is at risk of billions of dollars in infrastructure damage and trade disruption. Efforts of the Green Shipping Challenge will focus on zero-emissions fuels and renewable energy infrastructure to help mitigate such impacts. Australia has signed a Green Economy Agreement with Singapore that includes measures to implement green shipping corridors, which are low-emissions routes between international ports.

More accountability for Australia’s big polluters

Also launched at COP 27 is Climate Trace, the world’s first comprehensive inventory of GHG emissions based on direct, independent observation. The global emissions map pinpoints emissions hotspots from fossil fuel facilities – and finds many of the world’s biggest polluters are underreporting their emissions. This is a big problem in trying to tackle the climate crisis, says Al Gore, former vice-president of the US and founding member of the Climate Trace coalition. “We can only manage what we can measure”, Mr Gore told the Guardian. “Climate Trace is the neighbourhood watch for the globe.”

Based on the emissions data provided by Climate Trace, analysis by the Climate Council highlights some shocking statistics:

  • Australia’s emissions are more than triple those of the entire Pacific region, including New Zealand
  • The emissions from Australia’s single most polluting power station – Origin’s Eraring coal power station in NSW – are higher than the combined emissions of all monitored facilities in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Kiribati, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and the Federated States of Micronesia
  • Australia’s emissions are almost double those of the whole of Scandinavia

This new accurate emission data is vital for polluter accountability and climate action. “This really shows just how much of a fossil fuel giant Australia is and the injustice of the climate crisis”, said Dr Simon Bradhsaw, Climate Council Research Director. “The world’s biggest polluters, like Australia, need to start forking out for the damage they have caused.”

Lead photo: COP 27 opening plenary, UNclimatechange