“1.5 is dead!” – Global media on the first week of COP27

Biden apologizes, Lula makes promises the for Brazil, eyes on two main topics while civil society, the great absentee of the conference, raises its dismay from afar. A roundup of the topics holding court at the COP27’s halfway point.

Between backstage peeks into the negotiations and global media coverage, numerous outlets have weighed in on the state of affairs and where things seem to be heading. After the first week in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, one of the main themes to emerge in global media reporting is how leaders are choosing to tackle the 1.5 degree Celsius goal, just one year after the COP26 in Glasgow hedged its bets on keeping “1.5 alive”.

In a somewhat controversial and shocking editorial piece, The Economist greeted the start of COP27 by declaring that 1.5 is deadand that failure to accept this could actually undermine progress on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Catherine Brahic, Environment editor at The Economist, emphasized how it is clear that “The world is going to miss the totemic 1.5°C climate target”.

This issue has quickly become one of the major themes in global media coverage of the ongoing negotiations. Although some report it as effectively “giving up” on the most vulnerable nations, others argue that admitting 1.5C is not attainable does not stop efforts to keep temperatures “as low as possible”. The idea that a, perhaps temporary, overshoot could have irreversible consequences for the most vulnerable countries and that adapting requires investments in infrastructure that will last decades is also hotly debated.

“Investing in infrastructure that is resilient to 1.5°C in some faint hope that unicorns may materialize will not help anyone. There is a moral cost to pretending 1.5°C is still feasible, just as there is a moral cost in not limiting warming accordingly,” explains Brahic. This reflects some of the earlier messages we heard from climate scientists such as Zeke Hasufather who talked about climate change being a matter of degrees and not thresholds in our interview with him last month.

However, it is also important to acknowledge that for low-lying atoll nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, St Lucia and the Maldives, more than 1.5°C of warming could spell disaster, and many are, understandably, reluctant to admit that 1.5°C is a lost cause.

“But the truth needs to be faced and its implications explored. What does the certainty of a post-1.5°C world mean for the planet? Can a world which warms significantly more find its way back? And what will missing a totemic target mean for the credibility and sustainability of continued efforts to limit climate change?” continues The Economist.

Not all agree. “I have been worried that there seems to be some kind of attempt to say maybe 1.5C is not achievable any more,” the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, told the Irish Times on the sidelines of this summit.

“That is not acceptable,” she said when talking to the BBC. A position that was also echoed in a strong statement from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group within the talks. Representing the 46 countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures, they are resolutely opposed to any watering down of this key commitment. “COP27 must send a strong political signal and show that the world is united on fighting climate change,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, from Senegal, the chair of the LDC. “This means that at COP27, the 1.5C goal must remain within reach by having strong commitments to halving emissions by 2030.”

In the media: topics and actors at COP27

 The lack of progress on the 1.5 goal is not only addressed by western media. In India, the largest English language daily newspaper, The Hindu, also looks at the issue and how the goal is hanging on a cliff edge. In his climate editorial, environmental journalist G. Ananthakrishnan looks at what this means for “elements such as monsoons and heat waves” which directly affect India.

Yet this COP27 was also seen as a vital moment to address issues such as Loss and Damage as we explored in our interviews leading up to the talks. According to Deputy Science Editor at The Hindu, Jacob Koshy, the “implementation COP” (as it has been dubbed), India must set out a transparent payment system and spell out how countries already reeling under climate disasters can be compensated.

In Brazil The newspaper Estado looks at how negotiations are proceeding and how the newly re-elected President Lula da Silva will put Brazil back at the center of climate negotiations, which his predecessor Bolsonaro had forgone. 

In Egypt, this year’s host nation, the most widely circulating Egyptian daily newspaper, Al-Ahram, features widespread coverage of the negotiations, which in some cases focuses on Egypt’s role as a bridgemaker between negotiating parties.

The paper’s weekly editorial looked at how adopting “loss and damage” as an item on the summit agenda “is going to be the real test in the coming years for the world’s wealthiest countries that produce over 90 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions if they are serious about implementing their pledges”

Other articles highlight the achievements of the nation in terms of decarbonization, including Egypt’s potential as a leader in the African continent “in embracing a net-zero roadmap for its concrete and cement industry,” said former ambassador and industry expert Yasser Al-Naggar in an opinion piece for the paper.

Al-Ahram also reported the words of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who stressed that: “Developing countries should not pay the price for disasters caused by the wealthy nations that are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, and that the future generations should also be spared more damage.” Sisi also went on to state that the present generation of world leaders should make a better future for the generations to come, “generations that must not bear the consequences of mistakes they have not made”.

However, in coverage by Climate Home News. Environment editor Chloe Farand, claims that for the negotiations to be a success for Egypt they must deliver on Loss and Damage. “A loss and damage finance facility would be a huge Egyptian gift to the developing world. But, as John Kerry said on Saturday, “that’s just not happening” because the US and others still fear being sued for their historic pollution. “

For South African online newspaper, SA NEWs, the African continent is presenting a united front at the negotiations. “As Africa and as African leaders, we…collectively called upon the more developed economy countries to honor their commitments. At COP21 in Paris, they made a commitment that they would be…making available $100 billion per year [to address climate change], they have not met those commitments.”

The online newspaper also featured words from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa: “Collectively…one message, several voices, we said we want them to address the loss and the damage that our countries are suffering from. Once again, Africa is showing a great deal of integration of thought, effort and articulation.”

In China the China Daily newspaper focused on the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Simon Stiell’s statement on Friday, which lauded China’s determination and concrete actions taken to deal with climate change, going on to emphasize the country’s progress in dealing with climate change and role in advancing the global response to climate change during the global energy crisis.

Finally, in the US The New York Times dedicated much of its coverage of COP27 to Biden’s speech at the conference and how he apologized for Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and stressed a renewed U.S. commitment to tackling the climate crisis.

Elsewhere on The New York Times climate reporter Elena Shao writes about the issue of who will pay for climate change, once again stressing loss and damage as the core issue that must be resolved at the negotiations.

Some activists and researchers have boycotted this year’s proceedings, most notably Greta Thunberg, who claimed the meeting in Egypt was merely another chance for greenwashing. “I’m not going to Cop27 for many reasons, but the space for civil society this year is extremely limited,” she said during a question and answer at the launch of her latest book at London’s Southbank Centre. Thunberg sees the proceedings as “not really meant to change the whole system” but instead encourages gradual progress. “So as it is, the Cops are not really working unless, of course, we use them as an opportunity to mobilize.”


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