As the COP27 UNFCCC climate talks were gaveled to completion in the early hours of Sunday morning in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the failure to mention the necessary phase out of fossil fuels in the concluding document marked a huge win for the industry and for oil producing and emitting countries.

The COP, which was attended by more than 65 fossil fuel industry lobbyists, made history by its pledge to set up a fund for loss and damage to developing regions that have already been severely impacted by climate change. But many feel it will be best known as the meeting where the world stood on the precipice of climate devastation, averted our gaze, and caved to the power of the fossil fuel industry.

Indeed, the deal was a small step in the direction of climate justice, said one representative of the Global South, acknowledging that we have a long way to go.

And not much time in the battle to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees C as set forth in the Paris Agreement. The 1.5 threshold is seen by scientists as the ultimate tipping point beyond which climate change becomes irreversible with runaway global heating and devastating consequences.

“Those of us who came to Egypt to keep 1.5 degrees alive, and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow, have had to fight relentlessly to hold the line,” Sharma told the conference on Sunday morning. “I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support. And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror, and consider if we have fully risen to that challenge over the past two weeks.” — Alok Sharma, president of Cop26

The quest to include the phasing out of fossil fuels in the final text was supported by both rich and developing countries; it was initially suggested by India, who took issue that the Glasgow document only called for phasing out coal. The text did not include language pledging to keep emissions from peaking before 2025. Instead, the text now references “low emission and renewable energy.”

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at UCL and author of Hothouse Earth: an Inhabitant’s Guide, referred to the COP as a “bloated travelling circus.”

In The big takeaway from Cop27? These climate conferences just aren’t working, McGuire writes:

What is needed is an apparatus that is less cumbersome and more manageable – something leaner and meaner that zeros in on the most critical aspects of the climate crisis, that does its work largely hidden from the glare of the media, and which presents a less obvious honey pot to the busy bees of the fossil fuel sector. One way forward, then, could be to establish a number of smaller bodies, each addressing one of the key issues – notably energy, agriculture, deforestation, transport, loss and damage, and perhaps others.

Such bodies would operate full-time, liaising with one another and perhaps coming together a few times a year. Ideally, they would be made up of representatives from both developed and majority-world countries. In direct contact with representatives of national governments, part of their remit would be to negotiate agreements that are workable, legally binding, and which actually do the job – whether reversing deforestation, cutting methane emissions, or drawing down coal usage. As and when all terms and conditions are agreed, these could be validated and signed off by world leaders as a matter of course and without the need for the ballyhoo of a global conference.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry, who was in isolation with Covid during the final two and a half days of the COP, issued a statement at the conclusion calling out China:

As we continue to lead along with our allies and partners in the fight to protect our planet, the United States will also continue to press major emitters like China to significantly enhance their ambition to align with what science says is necessary.

Vice-president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans:

“What we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward for people and planet. It does not bring enough added efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emissions cuts. It does not address the yawning gap between climate science, and our climate policies. The EU came here to get strong language agreed and we are disappointed we didn’t achieve this.”

“The fact that the outcome only talks about ‘phase-down of unabated coal power’ is a disaster for Africa and for the climate,” said Babawale Obayanju, from Friends of the Earth Africa.

“We don’t need more gas extraction in Africa, devastating our communities for the benefit of rich countries and corporations. What we needed from COP27 was agreement to a rapid, equitable phase out of all fossil fuels.”