COP27: A little bit of this, none of that

The 27th United Nations Conference of Parties has limped to a close with results that are disappointing at best. The delegates did agree to provide some forms of help to the countries most affected by climate change but nothing about the gorilla in the room: climate change itself. It was little bit of this (help), but none of that (serious change in emissions). So another year has passed without a serious international effort to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, the sources of climate change.

Here are some details plus a bit on the other Conference of Parties, COP15.

Support or reparations?

The central issue of COP27 was the problem of funding climate relief activities in the poorer countries. The theme was: Since it’s the richer countries that produced most of the greenhouse gases (CO2, Methane, Nitrous oxide, etc.), and many of the ill effects of global warming are visited upon the poorer countries, why shouldn’t the rich countries foot at least some of the bill for the recovery?

A particular contrast lies in the fact that China is now the world’s foremost emitter of greenhouse gases. Yet it presents itself as a poor developing country and therefore should be receiving support, not paying reparations to those less fortunate. Meanwhile, the richer countries, who had promised to collectively pay $100 billion annually to the poor countries, have failed to do so.

After days of negotiations, lasting until after the Conference was to have closed, almost 200 countries finally agreed to set up a fund to help pay for the losses and damages produced by climate change. The negotiators also agreed to set up a system for establishing the donor and recipient countries by COP28 a year later. A year later than what was supposed to happen before COP27! Note: no mention of actually paying.

Meanwhile, emission of greenhouse gases worldwide has been accelerating.

A year of inaction

Although some countries have been reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases, others have been increasing emissions to blot out those savings by more than enough. The best the negotiators could come up was a pledge to phase down (not eliminate) coal power and phase out (not immediately stop) inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. The primary excuse for this sop was Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, emissions of greenhouse gases are still accelerating.

So substantive actions by governments to actually take positive steps to reduce fossil fuel use largely failed to show. As the Financial Times put it:

[T]he two-week Egyptian COP managed to sink below even the meagre expectations held for it on the most crucial test. At a meeting held in the shadow of floods in Pakistan that Islamabad has called “the climate event of the century”, this was the moment to send a vivid political signal that the world is ready to crack down faster on the fossil fuels driving up global temperatures.

Financial Times 20 November 2022

Consequently, 2022 appears to have been a year of lost opportunities. As we fail to take more positive action the price of finally acting continues to rise. But wait, there’s more.

Then there’s COP15

COP15 is being held in Montreal as I write this. Its focus is on the plummeting rate of biodiversity worldwide. For years the conference on biodiversity was notable for the lack of participation by the financial world. But apparently the finding of the World Economic Forum that “nature” is very important, affecting $44 trillion of global GDP, has caught the attention of investors. They are showing up in Montreal.

The UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found in 2019 that at least one million animal and plant species are in danger of extinction, many within decades. This includes major crop losses from reduced viability of land and the extinction of pollinator species. WE need to reverse these problems starting NOW.

What to do

There are things we can do to accelerate action on many levels. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Reducing long distance jet travel
  • Solar powering your home
  • Replacing your fossil-fueled vehicle with an electric one
  • Replacing your gas furnace and water heaters with electric ones
  • Buying computers and other accessories from zero-carbon manufacrurers
  • Pestering your government representatives and large companies to get a move on

There’s more but these are the higher leverage ones. Also, get a copy and read Electrify, by Saul Griffith. More facts, less hand-waving.

Not all is gloom and doom. There are many private sector activities toward reducing emissions, to the extent that companies such as Apple are now nearly emission-free. Corporate and other private actions are not waiting for governments to move. So the actual global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions may occur in the next year or three.

Here’s hoping.

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