• COP27: Global fossil-fuel emissions are rising — and so are the stakes
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Laurie Stone

COP27: Global fossil-fuel emissions are rising — and so are the stakes

Week two of the U.N. climate conference kicks off with a focus on curbing methane, greening shipping with hydrogen, and wondering where all the women are.
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People stand on a bridge over a small pond looking at a building with the words Cop 27
(Mohammed Abed/Getty Images)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Week two at COP27 has begun.

Last week closed with the announcement of the United States’ ambitious plan to track and cut methane emissions — a greenhouse gas that’s over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term — timed with a visit by President Biden. (Catch up on last week’s news with our first, second and third dispatches from the U.N. climate conference.) This week opened with Gender and Water Day.

Not on track

To hit midcentury emissions targets, emissions should by now be bending downward. Yet Friday brought news that global emissions from fossil fuels, after a Covid-induced dip, are once again heading up, on track to hit another record high this year. The news highlighted the urgency of making further progress on climate strategy by the end of these talks.

Tackling methane emissions

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an ambitious plan to improve the tracking of methane emissions by the oil and gas industry to press for further reductions. The plan includes requiring companies to fix methane leaks, targeting emissions from super-emitters and slashing emissions from idle wells.

Pinpointing methane leaks and taking swift action to repair them at oil and gas operations and landfills is the best chance we have to put a down payment on a safer climate future,” said Deborah Gordon, senior principal of the Oil and Gas Solutions Initiative at RMI.

The U.N. also announced a new satellite-based system to detect methane emissions, the Methane Alert and Response System. MARS will use state-of-the-art satellite data to identify large methane hot spots, and the U.N. Environment Programme will then notify governments and companies about the emissions so that the responsible entities can take appropriate action.

🌍 For more, see RMI’s take on key methane announcements at COP27

Biden makes a COP stop

In addition to apologizing for the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement, President Biden highlighted the Inflation Reduction Acts potential to help make the transition to a low-carbon future more affordable for everyone.”

He also reiterated a 2021 pledge to provide $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to help developing countries transition to renewables. However, he did not mention climate reparations, disappointing some who stress the importance of compensation to developing countries for loss and damage caused by climate disasters.

From COP, Biden headed to Bali, Indonesia for the G20 summit, where he met today with Chinese leader Xi Jinping for their first in-person encounter since Biden took office.

🌴 Stay tuned. At the G20 Summit in Bali this week, announcements of major steps to cut emissions are rumored.

Decarbonizing shipping

A consortium of 10 leading shipping and green-hydrogen organizations signed a historic joint statement committing to the rapid deployment of green-hydrogen-based fuels.

Signatories agreed to work together to achieve commercially viable zero-emissions vessels operating on the deep seas by 2030, to scale up production of green hydrogen to 5.5 million tons per year by 2030 for use in shipping, and to fully decarbonize the shipping sector by 2050 or sooner.

This is the first public commitment connecting the shipping sector to leading producers of the low-carbon fuel needed to decarbonize it. This is getting all the key actors along the value chain aligned along the same goals,” said Nigel Topping, U.N. high-level champion for COP26. This alignment of major actors is what all future COPs will be about.”

🟢 For more, check out the Green Hydrogen Catapult’s work to drive a massive green hydrogen scale-up by 2026.

Stepping up

While the rich countries continue to wrestle over payments for loss and damage, other countries are stepping up their climate commitments.

  • India released its long-term strategy to achieve net zero by 2070 (the goal it set at COP26 last year) and argued for a global phase-down of all fossil fuels, not just coal.
  • Mexico announced a new target to reduce emissions by 35% by 2030, up from its previous target of 22%.
  • Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced an alliance to coordinate on the sustainable management and restoration of tropical forests.

Where are the women? 

Today was Gender Day (and Water Day) at COP27. Despite a day focused on gender, many feel that women’s voices remain underrepresented. The U.N. estimates that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and girls, but they make up only 30% of global and national climate decision-makers.

This is apparent at COP27. While there are a handful of women at the side events and on national delegations, of the 110 official delegates — heads of state and governments — only 11 are women. 

A picture of the many male and few women delegates at COP27
World leaders pose for a group photo during COP27 climate conference on November 7, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Only 10% of the official delegates at COP27 are women. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

On the bright side, women’s participation at COPs has been growing, from 30% of national delegations in 2009 to 38% in 2021, according to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. But on the not-so-bright side, at that rate, COP national delegations won’t reach gender parity until 2040.

As Catherine McKenna and Amy Myers Jaffe write in Scientific American, We need traditional knowledge and different visions of sustainable development and community engagement rather than business as usual at the center of climate action deliberations. Women shouldn’t have to keep yelling from the bleachers.”

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Laurie Stone is the managing editor for RMI. She has a master's degree in energy engineering and has been writing about renewable energy and the clean energy transition for more than three decades.