We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it. ~Jay Inslee
Every year since 1995, countries meet at the world’s biggest climate conference – the ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP). Every year, impassioned speeches are made, agreements are reached and great ambitions are followed by great failures. Yet, although the outcome stays bittersweet, this year seems to have sparked hope with a long-awaited climate costs ‘breakthrough’. But what exactly happened during Sharm el-Sheikh’s summit?
Big Successes And…
This year’s conference was framed by additional pledges aiming to reduce our carbonic footprint. More countries have now committed to last year’s promise to cut methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. The U.N. also unveiled plans to track methane emissions from space by launching a new satellite system to detect its hotspots and allow governments and business to respond to leaks.
Furthermore, significant steps were taken to stop deforestation by 2030. The LEAF (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance) coalition gained more allies that agreed to mobilise $1.5 billion for forests protection. Brazil, Indonesia and Congo, home to more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests, signed a pact to negotiate a funding mechanism for conservation. Ministers from these three countries announced that they will cooperate on sustainable management, ecosystems’ restoration and the building of a greener, decarbonised economy.
However, it is the addition of the historic ‘loss and damage’ fund to the climate agenda that undoubtedly highlighted this year’s summit, marking a massive step towards climate justice. After 30 years of delay, the most climate-vulnerable countries, hit by heatwaves, floods, wildfires and extreme droughts that they have done little to cause, have finally been heard. In the early hours of Sunday 20th November, rich polluter states have indeed agreed to offer them financial support.
Nevertheless, experts fear that, like many before, this newly sealed deal may yet again remain unfulfilled. They said that, although the hailed ‘landmark agreement’ can bring positive effects, it might also have served as an umbrella pledge to quell criticism. It all depends on whether or not the countries honour their promises. At the moment, the mists of uncertainty have not yet faded: how much will be paid? And when?
Last year’s conference in Glasgow brought the decision on an annual fund of $40 billion for poorer nations. Since the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh were to focus on the implementation of those commitments, a similar amount of money might be estimated. However, this would be far from enough. According to recent analyses, to meet the global net-zero targets, poorer countries need as much as $2 trillion a year by 2030 which only further emphasises the acute urgency of tackling the climate crisis.
…Even Bigger Losses
With 636 attendees and 95% of the sponsors linked to the fossil fuel industry, among which is Coca Cola, the largest plastic waste producer in the world, an entirely positive outcome would seem rather ironic. “There were more fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 than delegates from the Pacific islands, which their industry is pushing below the waves.”, stressed The Guardian.
COP26 reached for an agreement on a coal phase-out. But what about oil? And gas? “Not in this text”, pinned Alok Sharma. The battle against fossil fuels remains to be won, or even fought for. How is it possible that in almost 30 years of negotiations, eliminating the primary cause of global heating has never even been officially mentioned in the final decisions?
This year, India did come up with a proposal to change that. Over 80 countries backed it up. Nonetheless, surprisingly, or maybe not so much, it was not accepted as several oil-exporting nations shot down all calls to phase out the fossil fuels and peak global emissions by 2025. A Saudi Arabian delegate claimed: “We should not target sources of energy; we should focus on emissions. We should not mention fossil fuels.”
Thus, once again, the ultimate text duly omits them and petrostates can continue to polish their dark gold. As U.N. Secretary General, António Guterres, stated, the planet is “on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
Consequently, the most recent IPCC report predicts that we are likely to overshoot the 1.5°C target but that we can also bring it back if we now adapt better climate policies. If, however, we do not, the world could warm up to 2.4°C by the mid-century. Scientific warnings could not be louder: we sit on the brink of irreversible climate breakdown. As record levels of pollution are being pumped into the atmosphere, the World Resources Institute also found that current commitments would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7%. We need 43% to stay under the threshold.
Does that mean giving up? Absolutely not. Our home is falling because the climate crisis is moving faster than our response to it. The 1.5°C goal is not truly alive anymore but it is not dead either. Humanity stands at a crossroad between cooperation and self-destruction. At stake? Nothing less than our entire future. The world needs nature-based solutions for mitigation and above all, a shift from empty promises toward concrete action.
We cannot lock ourselves into climate disasters: we are the key to a better future. Plant based eating or walking instead of driving are only two examples of small lifestyle changes capable of achieving giant wins. COP’s annual two weeks are important, but all those in between them are even more so. We must not wait for COP28 but act now.
The environment is where we all meet; where all of us have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. Lady Bird Johnson
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Laura Lachowicz is an Assistant Manager for the Queen Mary Pro Bono Society’s Green Law Department