Cop27 summit must focus on how world will adapt to climate change, says UN envoy

Mahmoud Mohieldin tells Sydney audience Egypt talks will need to get from ‘summits to solutions’ amid increasing wild weather
Mahmoud Mohieldin, the United Nations climate change high-level champion for Egypt, says November’s Cop27 summit must focus on adapting to life in a changing climate and grapple with finance for loss and damage given the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.

Mohieldin told the Sydney Energy Forum on Wednesday adaptation had been “forgotten for many years” at UN climate conferences “because of a generous assumption that we are going to be doing fantastically well on mitigation, so nobody should worry about adaptation”.

“But we are facing severe problems when it comes to adaptation,” he said. “This very great country Australia has more than its fair share of that in extreme weather events.”

He said both the scientific community and the general public were now well aware of the existential dangers associated with global heating and the climate crisis – a development he said that was reflected in Australia’s election result in May “in the recent vote for the new government”.

Egypt will host Cop27 in Sharm el-sheikh in November. The international climate talks will take place in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, as well as rising energy and food prices around the world. Wednesday’s intervention came on the second day of the Sydney Energy Forum, an event co-hosted by the Australian government and the International Energy Agency.

Against the backdrop of a global energy crisis sparked by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, energy ministers from Australia, the United States, Japan and India – member countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – also met for the first time on the sidelines of the event.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s discussion, ministers said in a statement they had a “shared commitment” to accelerating zero-emissions technologies necessary to driving the transition to low emissions – a strategy that would over time “mitigate against supply disruptions”.

Mohieldin, a professor of economics, former Egyptian investment minister and World Bank Group senior vice-president for the 2030 Development Agenda, said the November climate conference in his home country needed to get from “summits to solutions” because previous events had “exhausted the English dictionaries of words of love and affection to the planet”.

He said success in November would require abandoning the “siloed approach to climate action” and an “reductionist approach” that focused only on mitigation and a price on carbon. Mitigation relates to strategies reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mohieldin said mitigation mattered but only in a holistic approach, including a focus on finance for loss and damage, which he said would be “very controversial” at Cop27.

He said the looming global adaptation task was expensive, and it would be very difficult for small states and developing countries to finance that transition, particularly given the world was in a cycle of debt that often triggered a global economic downturn.

Given renewable energy was now much cheaper, it would be possible, he said, for the private sector to fund a larger share of global mitigation efforts if governments did not crowd out business and investors from financing solutions. This would reserve more public finance for adaptation measures both domestically and internationally.

He said the $100bn in climate financing committed at the Cop in Copenhagen “will not cover half of what is required for the energy transition in developing economies and emerging markets alone” so those funds needed to be leveraged to allow business “to do their miracles”.

Mohieldin spoke at a session of the forum ahead of Japan’s trade and industry minister, Hagiuda Koichi, who told the event Japan was committed to achieving a 46% cut in emissions by 2030, and net zero by 2050.

Given gas shortages triggered by the war in Ukraine, Japan has sought increased supply of liquefied natural gas from Australia and the US. The Japanese energy minister said on Wednesday the world needed to achieve a clean energy transition “to realise carbon neutrality, and stability of the energy market would be a prerequisite”.

Hagiuda said it was “critical” for Japan to diversify its energy sources and secure stable supply “while realising carbon neutrality concurrently”. There were “a variety of paths” to reach net zero that aligned “with each country’s situation”.

He said energy demand would continue to grow in Asia “while the potential for renewables was limited”.

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