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Equilibrium/Sustainability — 10-year-old activist’s appeal gets ovation at COP27

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A 10-year-old Ghanian activist received a standing ovation on at the U.N. climate conference (COP27) on Friday, as she called upon world leaders to “have a heart and do the math” to solve the climate crisis.  

Nakeeyat Dramani Sam addressed the global climate change conference after the summit’s president, Sameh Shoukry, asked if anyone wished to make a final statement, according to the U.N.  

The delegation of Ghana requested the floor — passing the microphone to the young activist. Dramani Sam proceeded to scold world leaders for their apparent failure to take the climate crisis seriously.  

“There’s less than 86 months to go before we hit 1.5,” Dramani Sam warned, referring to a key threshold of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).  

“I’m already much older than that,” she said, in video footage.  

The child activist asked wealthy countries to provide funds to those suffering the most, stressing that “payment is overdue,” according to the U.N.  

“I appeal to you: Have a heart and do the math. It is an emergency,” she stated.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. I’m Sharon Udasin. Send tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? 

Today we’ll start with COP27, where delegates are still negotiating a deal that might fulfill some climate goals. Then we’ll head to Buffalo, which is being battered by multiple feet of snow. Plus: why corporate recycling pledges aren’t reducing plastic use.  

Europe makes ‘final offer’ at UN climate summit 

The European Union released a proposal at the COP27 climate summit on Friday that includes portions of a “loss and damages” fund long demanded by developing nations, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.  

A slow push: Nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis have been pushing for loss and damage reparations to be part of COP conferences for years, according to Budryk. 

  • Until now, however, the issue has never made it to final negotiations, largely due to the unwillingness of major industrialized nations to pay.  
  • But this year, the U.S. expressed openness to discussing the idea — stopping short of explicit endorsement. 

Focusing on the vulnerable: European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans presented the proposal on Friday as a compromise, as EU leaders also been leery of creating such a fund, Budryk reported. 

European officials, Timmermans told reporters, were willing to negotiate on a fund proposal as long as it was “targeted toward the most vulnerable.”

Vague commitments: U.S. and Japanese delegates said at a Friday meeting that they would back the proposal, which would commit them to “new funding arrangement” but not to a specific fund, The Washington Post reported. 

Getting past the politics: COP27 host Egypt argued that countries were putting too much pressure on the final politics of the deal, according to Reuters. 

A senior Egyptian official said that the document needed to “be a reflection of the negotiations” that have been occurring since the summit began on Nov. 6, Reuters reported. 

GETTING THE US AND CHINA ON BOARD

The success of the climate talks could hinge upon getting Washington and Beijing on board, the Post reported.  

“I do hope this proposal does not fall apart because that would mean the unraveling of this COP,” Preety Bhandari, a climate finance expert at the World Resources Institute, told the Post. 

The China question: China, the world’s single largest carbon emitter, was deemed a “developing” nation under the 30-year-old U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  

But the EU document stresses that the proposed fund would be reserved for “particularly vulnerable countries,” the Post reported.

Will Beijing support the proposal? That remains unclear, according to the Post.  

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that developed countries should “take the lead” to give developing countries “room to achieve sustainable development,” the Post reported.  

The U.S. may be the biggest obstacle: Mohamed Adow, executive director of the Kenya-based nonprofit Power Shift Africa, told the Post that the U.S. remains the biggest barrier in securing loss-and-damage funding.  

The U.S. is the biggest oil and gas producer and houses most of the world’s new gas projects, which could use 10 percent of the Earth’s outstanding carbon budget, the Post reported, citing the Climate Action Tracker group.  

Extending the deadline: The Egyptian Presidency of COP27 announced on Friday that the summit would close at least one day later than expected — ending no earlier than Saturday. 

  • COP27 President Sameh Shoukry called upon parties to “urgently” work together to resolve outstanding issues.  
  • “I remain concerned at the number of outstanding issues, including on finance mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage and their inter linkages,” Shoukry told delegates.  

Maximizing ambition: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres echoed similar sentiments in a note issued by his spokesperson. 

“As the negotiations draw to a close, the Secretary-General urges parties to aim for maximum ambition on loss and damage and in reduction of emissions,” Guterres said. 

Curveball: As the clock was ticking toward the final hours of COP27, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

While a Kerry spokesperson said that he would continue to work by phone in isolation, the announcement comes at a pivotal crunch time for negotiations.

Western New York buried in 4 feet of snow

Extreme snowfall has been battering the eastern shores of Lake Erie, dumping as much as 4 feet of snow on western New York by Friday afternoon, The Washington Post reported. 

The pileup is the result of what is called a “lake-effect snowstorm,” and even more snow is likely on the way, according to the Post. 

What’s a ‘lake-effect’ storm? Such snow develops when frigid, dry air moves over relatively warmer waters, the Post reported. 

  • In this case, the storm formed Thursday night and rapidly intensified — generating several inches of snow per hour, alongside thunder, lightning and heavy winds.  
  • The most snow thus far has fallen southeast of Buffalo, with 42.5 inches in Orchard Park and 48 inches near Blasdell, the Post reported, citing the National Weather Service.  

It’s not over yet: Snow totals could climb to as much as 5 feet by Sunday, according to the Post.  

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service described the storm as “crippling” and “paralyzing.”

Widespread state of emergency: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency on Thursday for 11 counties, banning commercial traffic on multiple state roads.  

The administration, she said, had brought in safety personnel and equipment, while also activating emergency operation centers.  

Snow doesn’t phase Buffalo: Just east of Buffalo on Friday, local ABC affiliate WKBW spoke to residents who were taking the snowfall in stride.  

  • Patrick Craft, out shoveling in the town of Cheektowaga, assured WKBW that the snow was nothing he couldn’t handle.
  • “It’s just Buffalo, man. We get snow. That’s about the worst we get,” Craft said. 

Recycling pledges aren’t leading to less plastic use 

Corporate pledges to address plastic pollution are failing to yield sufficient reductions in the material’s use, a new study has found. 

Recycling may not be enough: As public expectations for corporate accountability increase, more large companies are committing to decrease plastic use, according to the study, published on Friday in One Earth. 

  • But the companies — among the world’s largest and most powerful corporations — are focusing on recycling, rather than reducing the use of virgin plastic materials. 
  • These circumstances, in turn, have made corporate commitments less meaningful. 

The ‘plastic tap’ is flowing: The Duke University researchers focused on the top 300 Fortune 500 companies — finding that 72 percent had made a pledge to reduce plastic pollution in public reports. 

“There is a heavy focus on recycling and less attention is being paid to turning off the ‘plastic tap’ as the source,” the authors wrote. 

Downsizing is insufficient: Another practice commonly adopted by large companies is “lightweighting,” according to the study.  

  • This approach involves marginally decreasing the volume of plastic used to package a product. 
  • “Multiple companies, such as the Coca-Cola Company and Walmart, are producing lighter and smaller plastic products,” the authors wrote, referring to items like bottles and bags.  

Why doesn’t that help? When companies engage in lightweighting, they typically reinvest their savings into markets that include new plastic products, the researchers found. 

  • From 1950 to 2017, plastic production surged 174-fold and is projected to double again by 2040. 
  • As of 2015, about 79 percent of global plastic waste ended up in landfills or in the natural environment, while 12 percent was incinerated and 9 percent was recycled. 

What does industry say? Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council, said that the trade group “remains opposed to caps on plastic production for multiple reasons.” 

  • Baca expressed the group’s support for evaluating both the effectiveness of voluntary corporate commitments and progress toward meeting these pledges.  
  • “America’s plastic makers continue to move toward achieving our goal of
    100 percent of U.S. plastic packaging to be reused, recycled or recovered by 2040,” he added.  

To read the full story, please click here.

Follow-up Friday

In which we revisit some of the issues we’ve covered this week.   

Royal Air Force trials first U.K. flight using entirely sustainable fuel 

  • Scientists showed how the decarbonization of the U.S. aviation sector could be “in reach” by generating biofuels from grass planted on unused farmlands. The U.K.’s Royal Air Force has successfully piloted Britain’s first flight that used 100 percent sustainable fuel — based on wastes like cooking coil, the Independent reported. 

SpaceX selected for both first and second crewed lunar landings  

  • Following Wednesday’s Artemis mission launch, we explored NASA’s vision of eventually establishing a “sustainable” base on the moon’s surface. NASA has selected SpaceX’s Starship for its second crewed Artemis lunar landing in 2027, Engadget reported. SpaceX was already chosen for the first crewed mission in 2025.   

China’s 2021 birth rate dropped to lowest since 1961  

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you Monday.

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