COP27 climate summit: is the world out of breath?

Climate Change
November 9, 2022
Liisi Ruuse

Every year, world leaders gather to discuss the actions to tackle climate change. The 27th consecutive “Conference of the Parties“ climate summit, called COP27, takes place in Egypt between 6.-16. November 2022. 

The main purpose of the COP gatherings is for governments to agree on steps to limit global temperature rises. If temperatures rise 1.7 to 1.8°C above 1850s levels, the IPCC estimates that half the world's population could be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity. To prevent this, 194 countries signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, pledging to pursue efforts to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C.

Leaders to solve rifts in their agreements

During the COP27 opening speeches on Monday, the fight against global warming was framed as a battle for human survival. The situation is distressing, acclaimed the head of the United Nations, stating how the lack of progress has the world speeding down a “highway to hell”. 

“Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible,“ said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. While leaders tended to agree on the urgency, their speeches revealed huge rifts in how they see the future of fossil fuels and who should pay for climate damage that has already occurred.

Poorer countries that bear little responsibility for historical carbon emissions argued rich nations should compensate them for the losses from climate-fueled disasters, including floods, storms, and wildfires. “We are for a green transition that is equitable and just, instead of decisions that jeopardize our development,” said Macky Sall, president of Senegal and chair of the African Union.

Source: Reuters/Mohammed Salem at COP27 on November 7, 2022

Scientists ask: are we beyond catastrophe?

Despite decades of climate talks, countries have failed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the latest reports by the UN (Emissions Gap 2022) and IPCC (Climate Change 2022), the international community is falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place. Back in May 1992 when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was formed, 178 member states unanimously agreed to bring CO2 emissions down to return to 1990 levels of 354 parts per million by 2000. Annual emissions have climbed 65% since then. 

With these alarming results and the annual COP coming up, a debate around the aftermath of climate change got heated. A widely read piece in the New York Times on “A New Climate Reality“ by David Wallace-Wells appears to be calming the nerves of climate professionals at COP27 and beyond. Wells mainly argues that the situation is bad but not as bad as we thought as we’re making progress. This was supposedly received well by the general public but not the science community. 

Professor Jem Bendell criticized the Times article heavily, saying it gives false hope, and he apologizes for the science community not doing enough. He and his peer scientists now signed the Scholar's Oath for the Future, which he stated is “an apology for the younger generations whom we are meant to serve and a renewed commitment to learn from our past mistakes as we seek to better contribute in future.” By the day of its launch, 165 scholars from 34 countries had taken the oath.

Professor Bendell continues to provide further arguments in his essay: “In this essay, I will look at the three scientific sources provided in the Times article, and compare them with other authoritative analysis, to show that such claims for renewed hope are, sadly, insubstantial. Reframing our situation to offer an emotional escape from the dire reality could be counter-productive by giving people an excuse for remaining in service of the current systems that are destroying life on Earth.”

Arildo Dias, a senior researcher at Single.Earth, urges people to persist with a can-do attitude: “I have to say it has been really painful going through the truth. I encourage you to not take this as a pessimistic message, but instead, a “wake-up and let’s get back to work” one that emerges from acknowledging the real situation and that we need to do even more than before. All attitudes matter, from individual to collective (social movements), from businesses to political institutions.”

Faster, bolder climate action: all hands on deck

While world leaders find their consensus to make realistic plans that countries can follow, and the science community is arguing how bad the situation truly is – what can the rest of us do?

Last year at COP26, the Secretary-General stressed that climate action is everyone’s responsibility and lauded many sources of inspiration, from youth movements to women’s and indigenous groups to businesses stepping up to climate commitments.

“I am inspired by the mobilization of civil society, by the moral voice of young people keeping our feet to the fire, by the dynamism and example of indigenous communities, by the tireless engagement of women’s groups, by the action of more and more cities around the world, by a growing consciousness as the private sector aligns balance sheets and investment decisions around net zero,” said UN Secretary Guterres. 

The global climate crisis is lost or won within this decade. Only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid the ecological disaster, which scientists say will be catastrophic. It is up to all of us to find ways to contribute and step up. Furthermore, to create new solutions and technologies that help society transition to a greener way of living. Shifting to a green economy needs to be radical – not just incremental – and will need all hands on deck.  

Whether we continue on the gloomy “highway to hell” or take rapid action to build a green society, a change in our lifestyle is inevitable. Are we already out of breath, or can we still muster up the force to change course?

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