After the COP27 Summit, in Sharm El-Sheikh, in end 2022, some would say that Governments need to do better to successfully address the issues with sincerity or, in some cases, even to comprehend them. I say this against the backdrop of the fact that the world again failed to reach an agreement to phase out fossil fuels.
A government is a group of people. In a reasonably perfect world, these are generally intelligent people governing an organised community. They don’t get divine interventions, so they need to understand the issues and find feasible economic solutions and, in the case of Nature, they need to understand what it’s telling us, or source scientists who do and then take decisions.
In Europe and the world, in general, we have witnessed that political institutions have either collapsed or are on the brink of collapsing, purely because there is no consensus about anything even within their own parties. When it comes to climate change, though, we can’t afford to have such disarray… at least, not anymore.
The United States and the EU are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases along with China. At COP27, US climate envoy, John Kerry announced the creation of a carbon-offset plan that would help developing countries speed their transition away from fossil fuels. Easier said than done!
So, what is carbon offsetting? It’s a process by which funds are directed to projects that help reduce global emissions. It’s a way for countries or organisations, to “neutralise” their proportion of carbon emissions by investing in carbon-reduction projects. Some common examples of projects include reforestation, building renewable energy, carbon-storing agricultural practices, and waste and landfill management. “Carbon offsetting apparently has benefits at both ends of the process: It helps environmental projects that can’t secure funding on their own, and it gives businesses increased opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint”1.
Historically speaking, countries of the West have been the major polluters. Gabon, considered the lungs of Africa, is being paid for not cutting its forests. Its forests store more carbon per hectare than the Amazon, absorbing the equivalent of around 30 million cars CO2 emissions a year, and help regulate temperatures.
A comparatively small pay-out is being offered, so that countries like Gabon remain dependent on the Western economic powers; and these powers continue with their advancements and the riches they make from their industries. In return, they offer these countries some crumbs so that they don’t starve to death. A bit harsh opinion, but it appears to be true for now.
And let’s not forget – to replenish this fund, more fossil fuel will be used to keep their industries operative and produce even more, in order to make more money; it is kind of a vicious circle.
The money has to come from somewhere, and for now, there seems to be no sustainable, green way of making it.
What would be economical in the long term for these countries, then? Manage controlled cutting of their forests, followed by reforestation or getting fuel at exorbitant and ever fluctuating prices. But then, setting the hand on the current fuel structure would play havoc on their respective national budgets and never-ending debt.
The Ukraine conflict has unmasked the truth and hypocrisy of some of these countries gassing African nations. Coal is making a comeback in Europe out of necessity, a complete U-turn in the policies, albeit temporary, as they put it. Nevertheless, it shows a lack of commitment… whether it will be temporary or not, the message it sends out is that it’s okay for them to go off track if it suits them and that this small hiccup will not make a huge difference in the long term. In the meantime, they maintain to find other solutions or rather debatable distractions, such as the carbon-offset plan and the loss-and-damage fund.
“What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.” This is a quote from the Pakistan Prime Minister’s speech at COP27. But let’s admit it, as long as your front porch is not flooded, you are not bothered, believing you have enough time – that seems to be the general policy.
In the past year, devastating flooding overwhelmed Pakistan and Nigeria, and wildfires scorched dozens of other countries. These events led to thousands that were killed, displaced or made homeless. They led to infrastructure that was destroyed and economies that were destabilised. A key point to note is that most of these developing/underdeveloped countries are already heavily in debt. In most cases, the costs of rebuilding far exceed the financial capacity of the governments, which leaves these countries even more exposed to future climate impacts.
These countries are demanding progress on climate change loss-and-damage fund for obvious reasons.
At the summit, the United States and EU finally agreed to establish a fund for nations vulnerable to climate disasters; this had been long avoided, as it may expose them to legal liabilities and lawsuits. Therefore, the fund will not include liability or compensation provisions.
The apparent reason the outcome on a fund came in 2022 is because the G77 bloc of developing nations stayed unified, exerting increased leverage. But we need to understand that forced commitments don’t really work, so we would have to wait and see.
There are so many questions that remained to be answered, such as: What shape and form will this loss-and-damage fund adopt? When will it be operational? Who will gain and benefit from it? Will the fund allow the developed and major developing nations to carry on with their current practices, assuming that just because they are paying into this fund makes them less accountable, and therefore, they may continue to pollute the planet at the expense of the countries who would be the recipient of aid from this fund? And when it comes to accountability, who will hold nations accountable?
Bureaucrats would soon demand another commission of some sort. Perhaps more conferences under another banner, a forum to blame each other but without any outcome.
There were over 600 lobbyists from the oil & gas industry at COP27, more than any other frontline community affected by the climate crisis. This indicates the growing influence of oil & gas interests at the climate talks. Is that good for the cause? I think not.
So, what may work, considering the past track record and the evident disharmony among the nations? Nothing, really! You may brand that as a pessimistic view, perhaps, but the recent U-turns amplify this notion.
It’s just not possible to have the entire world in sync. Countries will support a cause as long as it does not undermine their political agendas, interests, goals and economic gains. Communities that are facing – and those that are forecast to be facing – the brunt of the impact of climate change would have to take a stand; devise their own strategies, in line with their interests; and negotiate with the polluters on a level playing field.
There has to be a mechanism that does not originate from the countries that are causing the most harm. The time for debates is over. Really, debates are conducted when there are doubts, and there are certainly no doubts about the consequences of climate change.
Around 35,000 participants and 90-odd heads of state were at COP27. One big holiday camp, some would say.
Data from FlightRadar24 shows 36 private jets landed at Sharm el-Sheikh between November 4 and 6. Studies suggest 90 kgCO2e is produced per hour per passenger in flight 4; that would amount to more than 31,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions for a return journey just to attend one conference.
Attending virtually would have generated less than one per cent of the emissions. There is obviously a lack of will and sense to address the climate crisis.
The apparent commonly pursued solutions to climate change and the difficulties in their implementation are:
|Keep fossil fuels in the ground.
|Most difficult; in fact, impossible, at least in the foreseeable future.
|Improve farming and encourage vegan diets.
India is one of the major players and second in the world in the agricultural sector having 24% of its population as vegan.
According to one recent survey, 48% farmers don’t want the next generation to take up farming because of the low profits, high risk involved and lack of social status. And this seems to be the theme elsewhere, too.
Agricultural reforms are needed.
|Invest in renewable energy.
|Possible, but first the innovations and technologies would have to be shared on affordable terms in order to truly make it sustainable. And these facilities should be nationalised.
In Nov 2022, a solar energy company fell into administration after racking up more than half a billion pounds in debt to a local authority in Essex, southern England.3
|Switch to sustainable transport.
|Only possible for the developed nations for now, as they have the infrastructure. Poor countries are struggling to even provide electricity to their homes.
|Restore Nature to absorb more carbon.
|Possible, but a mammoth task. Who will be part of it and for how long?
|Protect forests like the Amazon
|Possible but not easy. A mechanism has to be in place where it’s a win-win for all and not just for the polluters. There are countries who have maintained their forests but don’t get any benefit in return.
There is no one solution, perhaps, because there is no single source of CO2 emissions. Therefore, efforts to tackle climate change have to be multi-faceted and, above all, collective. Unfortunately, the efforts so far have been half-hearted, if not non-existent.
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