What is COP and why is it important?

Oxfam campaigners participated in a Fridays for Future march in New York City in September 2022, one of many such events around the world calling for action on climate change. Karelia Pallan / Oxfam America

The UN’s annual global gathering on the climate crisis is an opportunity for the US to show its commitment to climate justice. Here’s what’s at stake for the world and what we need the Biden administration to do in Egypt.

The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties is a global conference where world leaders, civil society, companies, and activists gather to discuss the response to the climate crisis. These meetings are crucial opportunities to show commitment and progress towards climate justice and this year, COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt is certainly important. But why? Every year since the historic Paris Agreement we have hoped for concrete global action on climate. And each year, while world leaders claim to be taking action (or, during the Trump years, proudly reject climate action), we are forced to confront the fact that we are still far away from meeting emissions reduction and finance goals laid out in 2015. And that even the goals set out are far below what is needed to protect humanity from dangerous climate change.

This year, in the face of the realization that countries’ current combined climate plans will increase global emissions by over 10 percent by 2030, real leadership that is more than platitudes can feel far away.

What is the US’s responsibility for tackling the climate crisis?

The climate crisis continues to wreak havoc on the poorest communities around the world, while rich countries, corporations, and financiers of polluting industries actively perpetuate the crisis by allowing, or even incentivizing, increased emissions. As the country that has emitted more emissions than any other, the US has the most responsibility for tackling the climate crisis. In 2022, after a summer of floods, hurricanes, droughts, and extreme heat, we must ask what responsibility looks like. The vision for this COP is not one of more greenwashing and endless discussion but for real, time-bound commitments to implement climate justice.

Seinab Abdi Maalim lives in Isiolo county, Kenya, an area affected by severe drought. Oxfam is providing cash and other support to people in this area in collaboration with the ASAL Humanitarian Network. Oxfam and other groups are advocating for wealthy countries responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change to provide financial assistance for communities like this one that have been severely affected by climate change. Loliwe Phiri/Oxfam

So how should the US “show up” at COP?

President Biden himself will be traveling to Egypt to show dedication to fighting climate change. He will tout commitments that the US has made and celebrate the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which, while dedicating significant funds to renewables, is predicted to fall short of the 50 percent emissions reduction goal for the US under the Paris Agreement, and is in any case well below what the US should be doing to reduce its emissions. In order to prove that the Biden administration takes the climate crisis seriously, US negotiators at COP 27 must:

  • Show that we are ready to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and take real steps to end reliance on fossil fuels. This will require more ambition from President Biden including stopping new leases for fossil fuel development on public lands and opposing the dirty side deal made as part of the negotiations to pass the Inflation Reduction Act.
  • Commit to pay our fair share of the $100 billion pledged by wealthy countries to support programs in developing countries to reduce emissions and help protect people from climate impacts. The US should also ensure that the money is provided primarily through grants rather than high interest loans, and support proposals to increase the amount committed by wealthy countries (currently well below what is needed to prevent climate breakdown and widespread human suffering).
  • Support proposals to provide funds for damage already done or that cannot be prevented. Kenyan activist Elizabeth Wathuti says it well: “People who have contributed least to the climate crisis are right now suffering its worst impacts, and decency demands that finance be mobilized urgently through a loss and damage facility to help them.” The US must stop blocking this action and be a leader for justice.
  • Ensure that racial and gender justice are at the center of solutions to the climate crisis by ensuring feminist, BIPOC, and grassroots frontline voices and expertise are recognized and respected. At Oxfam, we envision a world where the US shows up at COP and follows the lead of those most affected by this crisis.

Related content

Oxfam.org Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+