The Current

Progress was made at COP27, but more is needed, says climate activist

The COP27 climate conference led to a major breakthrough, with the creation of a loss and damage fund, but activist Catherine Abreu said more work is needed to phase out fossil fuels.

Catherine Abreu says more work needs to go towards phasing out fossil fuels

A protest calling for money for climate action at COP27 on Nov. 11 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Calls for loss and damage funding have featured prominently at this conference. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

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The COP27 climate conference led to a major breakthrough, with the approval to create a fund to help poor countries most affected by climate change, but activist Catherine Abreu said more work is needed to phase out fossil fuels.

The deal on a loss and damage fund was reached at the end of the global climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which started earlier this month. This fund is for countries battered by climate damage, such as the flooding in Pakistan and drought along the Horn of Africa. 

Abreu is the founder of the climate advocacy group Destination Zero, a Canada-based NGO that's pushing to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.

She spoke with Matt Galloway on The Current. Here is part of that conversation.

You said in some ways that this has been a tale of two COPs. What did you mean by that? 

So the top issues being discussed at COP27 were loss and damage and the phase-out of fossil fuels. And these are both issues that this process has failed to address for over 30 years. And so it was really significant to see them coming to a head here in Sharm el-Sheikh.

However, we unfortunately got a great outcome on one of those issues and a not-great outcome on the other. We did establish a loss and damage fund, but calls by multiple parties to include language in the final outcomes of COP27 that would suggest all parties have to phase out fossil fuels — so that's coal, oil, and gas — didn't make it into the final text. 

People have been pushing for this for years and we have seen the urgent need for it when it comes to the effects of the climate crisis right now. From your perspective, how significant is this? 

This is a landmark achievement for this process, particularly in a year like this which, as you say, has witnessed so many devastating climate impacts on communities around the world. I mean, you mentioned a few examples from outside of Canada, but we here in Canada have experienced loss and damage as well. 

When I took a look at the coastline of Prince Edward Island after Hurricane Fiona, I thought: that's loss and damage right there. We're never getting that coastline back.

And so having a fund that helps the world's most vulnerable and poorest nations to address those devastating impacts is so critical to climate justice. 

Catherine Abreu is with Destination Zero, a Canada-based NGO that's pushing to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

What do you think Canada's role will be in this fund? 

I think it's important to note that on both of these key issues that I mentioned, Canada actually showed up at COP27 much more constructively than it ever has before. And that's particularly true on the issue of loss and damage. 

Canada ... provided $7 million in funding to a project called Global Shield, which is linked to issues of loss and damage. 

So what Canada needs to do is to keep being that constructive player and to think about how to bring real money to the table. $7 million isn't a whole lot to deal with these kinds of crises, so we're going to have to figure out how to increase that funding. 

On the other side of things, when you look at the final text, you said the weasel words were in full force. What was wrong? What was missing in the final text? 

With loss and damage ... we see that this COP had something meaningful to say about dealing with the consequences of climate change. However, it still missed the boat on having something meaningful to say about the cause of climate change, which is fossil fuels. 

About 80 countries in total were asking the presidency of this COP to include a phase-out of all fossil fuels in the text. Just a handful of parties, really less than 10, were able to stall that progress. 

Instead, we got text in the final decisions that calls for a phase-down of unabated coal and a phase-out of inefficient subsidies, and makes lots of references to things like low-emissions technologies.

And all of these, we know, are secret loopholes or backdoors that can really open the door to keeping up the production and consumption of fossil fuels, which we know we have to dramatically decrease and transition to renewable energy if we're going to address the climate crisis. 

A climate activist takes part in a protest, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh on Nov. 19, 2022. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Canada's federal environment minister, Stephen Guilbeault, said last week that this country would not agree to adding that language, calling for a phase-out of all fossil fuels. What do you make of that? 

That has been Canada's position for as long as we can remember, resisting any calls to really double down on the cause of climate change and to use the U.N. climate talks as an opportunity to think through how we move away from coal, oil and gas and toward renewable energy. 

But it was really interesting, I think, to see Canada kind of change its position at the last minute at COP27. So while we heard earlier in this week that Canada would not support that statement, in the end they did actually voiced their support. 

And I think that that's a sign of Canada coming around along with its major allies, including the U.S. and the U.K. and Australia. They also said: let's include a phase-out of all unabated fossil fuels.

So they included some of that weasel language, but they were willing to let the oil and gas element of it come into the text. 

The message that is directed to those who are feeling this crisis right now — what do you think they should be thinking coming out of this conference? Will they feel as though the discussions met that urgency that they're feeling right on the ground? 

I'll be honest that as much as we might have some critiques about the failings of this COP to really step up to the plate and have the guts to finally talk about phasing out all fossil fuels ... the fact that we made this leap on the issue of loss and damage does really give me hope. 

I wouldn't have believed that we would be here, let alone a year ago. Not even two weeks ago would I have believed it. 

And we were able to push to land this outcome on loss and damage. And we got so close to landing an outcome on fossil fuels as well.

I actually am walking away from this conference feeling a little more hopeful that it will be a constructive space for countries to really grapple with the depths of the climate crisis from now on. 

That being said, the reality is what matters is what we do when we go home. And so for Canadians listening in on this, my message is the same as it often is, which is tell your elected official that you were expecting them to take action on climate change regardless of their political affiliation. 

Produced by Julie Crysler. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity. 

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