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It is the second time in only a few years that the COP is crossing the Mediterranean to take place on the African continent, and the COP27 President, Egypt, underlines that it is holding this COP on behalf of Africa, one of the most vulnerable continents in the world to the adverse effects of climate change, to showcase innovative solutions to address this danger. Six years ago we commented on the role of the Mediterranean (), and now the Mediterranean will be in the spotlight again. It will have a key role to play in reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement, especially in these difficult times when the climate change threat is compounded by multiple crises that are throwing energy and other markets into turmoil.
Although some deemed COP26 results as disappointing, Glasgow did deliver some significant accomplishments. The Glasgow Pact highlights some specific measures that are necessary to realize the Paris Agreement and notes the need for support for a just transition. In particular, for the first time ever in a COP, the Pact calls on countries to accelerate the phase-down of unabated coal. The other new and noteworthy item is the decision to address non-CO2 GHG emissions, especially methane, which will be particularly important at a time when there is wide debate over whether natural gas should be considered as a transition fuel. It was left to COP27 to turn those decisions into implementable actions, in particular through the mobilization of climate finance, with particular attention to developing and emerging economies.
The IPCC report just issued in March 2022 reiterates the urgency of intensifying efforts to slow global warming, lest the Paris Agreement objective of limiting temperature increases to less than 1.5°C not be met. However, it also contains a positive message that solutions exist, such as winding down the fossil fuel infrastructure, leaving coal, oil and gas in the ground, decommissioning coal power plants, accelerating the deployment of renewable energies that are becoming cheaper, removing all remaining fossil fuel subsidies, transforming the way we use energy in industry, buildings and transport, and changing lifestyles and behaviors.
Solutions exist but the road to COP27, and beyond to full decarbonization, is becoming increasingly chaotic with the energy price crisis of late 2021 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Countries first reacted by adopting measures to limit price increases for consumers, temporarily delaying coal phase-out and slowing down nuclear shutdowns, as well as finding new sources of natural gas to replace Russian supplies. Then, with the EU in the lead with the RePower Europe program, they acknowledged that energy security and the Green Deal were not incompatible. The solution could be found in accelerated deployment of renewables and green hydrogen (and other forms of energy storage), as well as intensification of energy conservation efforts, both based on energy efficiency improvements and behavioral changes. The EU’s plan calls for replacing 16-32% of Russian gas imports with hydrogen before 2030.
The COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh will face the challenge of reconciling the two seemingly opposite objectives of climate change mitigation and energy security, while managing costs and leaving no one behind. The conference will need to ensure that none of Glasgow's accomplishments are wiped out by the energy market turmoil, as every country in the world forgets cooperation to tackle climate change when it seeks to find substitutes for Russian oil and gas. Collective solutions to the gas dependency challenge are in fact more likely to succeed.
As an African country, Egypt has promised that COP27 will have a strong focus on the continent most heavily exposed to climate change-related risks, like droughts and food shortages. As such, adaptation is to figure prominently. However, the continent is also blessed with abundant renewable energy resources and African countries are now ready to tackle climate change, with adequate financial and technical assistance. And, as we had commented before, the Mediterranean has a key role to play in the transition from COP26 to COP27. The region is a go-between linking European and African countries. It is the only place in the world with such a vast potential for carbonless energy, so close to consuming centers with appetite and money for decarbonisation.
Around the Mediterranean there is a high number of both developing and developed countries in close proximity, making the region unique in the world. This potential could be developed for the climate and economic benefits of the countries in the Mediterranean, but also globally. In particular, the region could also become a role model for the nascent green hydrogen economy, at a time when the search by western economies to wean themselves from Russian gas makes green hydrogen a very valuable commodity.