COP27: A deeply flawed process, but it’s all we’ve got

When I first began following the annual, international UN climate talks in 2007, I was powerless to influence their outcome. So, I started a not for profit in our community and set out to reduce our climate impact locally.

Fifteen years later and now as the Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre, I just returned from my second one: COP27 in Egypt. Held in a police state with an estimated 60,000 political prisoners behind bars – and a media system tightly controlled by an authoritarian regime – I was concerned going in. There would certainly not be protestors in the streets pleading with the elected leaders present to increase their ambition.

Mike at COP27

Of the Canadian MPs attending this time, besides the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, I was the only one returning from COP26 in Glasgow.

Even our Prime Minister made it clear he wouldn’t be attending this year. Maybe for good reason: I was there in Glasgow when our PM made two promises: one, that we would end our international public financing of oil and gas, and two, that we would put a cap on domestic oil and gas emissions. A year later and he hasn’t delivered on either.

In fact, in the time since, the governing party has approved new fossil fuel infrastructure (i.e Bay du Nord, a deep water oil drilling project off the coast of Newfoundland not set to even open until 2028) and new subsidies for the oil and gas industry (i.e. a tax credit for them to implement a technology called carbon capture and storage – which more often than not leads to increased, not decreased, emissions). The UN Secretary General recently called actions like these “moral and economic madness”. I agree with him.

Given all of this, my expectations were diminished going into COP27. But I attended because my advocacy to the federal government will never be enough if it is not also extended to these international negotiations.

The climate crisis is a global one, and it requires global solutions.

Some will say it’s time we boycott these talks. And if it were merely a conference with some panel discussions, I could see their point: there is no shortage of corporate lobbyists looking to greenwash the whole thing. In fact, on Canada’s official delegation, the governing party included eight fossil fuel lobbyists! If all of the lobbyists attending showed up as a single delegation, theirs would have been the largest of the whole event.

A delegate’s view of the conference

But COP is not merely a conference. At its core, it is also a negotiation. This year, 197 countries that are parties to the UN framework convention on climate change came together to update their commitments to one another on measures to address the climate crisis. Attending gave me the unique opportunity to advocate for more ambition in these negotiations, to collaborate with like-minded Parliamentarians from around the world, and to report back to my neighbours on what progress was made on this issue that is of critical importance to so many of them.

And so, what came of COP27? A mixed bag.

On the plus side, many had said the litmus test for this COP was whether countries would – for the first time – agree to have countries like ours in the Global North commit to directing funds to countries in the Global South who are disproportionately experiencing losses and damages as a result of the climate crisis This is particularly important given this crisis has been primarily caused by countries like ours.

This text was included in the final decision late in the Sunday morning hours, and this is worth celebrating. It’s an expression of needed global solidarity, and recognition that there must be justice for the Global South when we discuss the climate crisis.

Of course, we must also phase out fossil fuels to reduce our climate impact, given it’s the combustion of fossil fuels that causes this crisis. In Canada, we must avoid burning 83% of our known fossil fuel reserves, if we are to do our part in ensuring even a 50% chance of avoiding the worst effects of the climate crisis.

This is why some countries were pushing for a fossil fuel phase out to be included in the final decision, but sadly they weren’t successful. Canada was silent on this until the talks went into overtime on the final Saturday, at which point our Minister claimed we supported text calling for the phase out of “unabated” fossil fuels (meaning, tricks like carbon capture would allow for production to continue to increase). I may be cynical, but it sounds to me like our delegation may have already known the text wasn’t going to be included and tried to save face in the public eye somewhat, at the last minute.

Either way, the text wasn’t included, and this means the possibility of holding on to warming of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius – the maximum climate scientists tell us would prevent the worst effects of runaway climate chaos – is further out of reach. We’re already past 1.1C and show no signs of letting up – while I was at COP27, our federal government even accepted bids for *more* oil exploration off the coast of Newfoundland, potentially expanding our known reserves further! It is baffling.

No doubt, the process of these climate negotiations is flawed. But they are all we have for global cooperation on this global crisis. One that will dictate the quality of life for my kids and yours.

I’m often asked if I still have hope.

If I’m honest, it depends on the day. On the days where I’m advocating in Parliament for our federal government to wake up and listen to the science, on the days when I’m rallying in the streets in our community alongside neighbours of ours, and on the days I’m at these negotiations putting pressure on the Minister to step up, these are the days I feel the most hope. It reminds me that hope is an action. I find hope in contributing in a positive way to the solution to the climate crisis. And I wish the same for you.

Mike with fellow panelists at a COP27 side event hosted by Equiterre

Because if enough of us take to the streets, sign petitions, tell our MPs what we think, and speak out in our own communities, there’s still a window for us to turn this around. And these actions are what move us in the right direction.

A safe climate future for our kids? This is worth fighting for.