Time for world to end climate talks ‘Groundhog Day’

Time for world to end climate talks ‘Groundhog Day’

Time for world to end climate talks ‘Groundhog Day’
All roads lead to Sharm El-Sheikh for the UN COP 27 climate conference. (AFP)
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The 1993 hit movie “Groundhog Day” is based around the lead character played by Bill Murray being caught in a time loop, repeatedly living the same day. Climate change watchers could be forgiven for having the same feeling as the latest big annual UN summit starts in Egypt on Sunday. Despite landmark report after landmark report being released on the crisis point the world has reached with climate change, game-changing progress in global negotiations is unlikely to be made at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh.

In recent days, for instance, the UN concluded in a hard-hitting publication that there is now “no credible pathway” to keep the increase in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. That target, which was set at the Paris conference in 2015, is significant as many scientists say it is the threshold at which global warming will begin to have the most dangerous impact on populations around the world.

The report goes further and states that, since COP26 in Glasgow a year ago, moves by governments across the world to tackle climate change have been “woefully inadequate.” Today, only a profound change in our economy and society can ensure we avoid the worst-case scenarios.

While the difference between a 1.5 C rise and higher may seem inconsequential to some, the impact will be huge. For instance, the UN forecasts that the portion of the global population subject to water stress could be 50 percent lower with overall warming of 1.5 C compared to 2 C. Meanwhile, it is forecast 99 percent of corals could be lost at 2 C compared to between 70 percent and 90 percent at 1.5 C.

While the world is currently on course for disastrous warming of more than 3 C, this pathway can still be changed through proactive, concerted global action, starting at Egypt. In so doing, we can move out of the “Groundhog Day” loop of climate summitry.

Many concerned bystanders had hoped that the recent cacophony of damning publications, alongside the growing incidence of extreme weather events across the world, would be a call to action for world leaders. However, numerous key presidents and prime ministers, including the UK’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, have wavered over attending the event.

The potential failure of key world leaders to attend is compounded by concerns about whether Egypt is fully prepared to host the event. To be sure, Cairo has carried out extensive diplomatic legwork in recent months.

Suboptimal as this is, there is at least one ray of hope that could change the picture. That is, if the US and China can put aside their wider geopolitical and economic differences to come together on the climate agenda as a beacon to the rest of the world.

Only a profound change in our economy and society can ensure we avoid the worst-case scenarios

Andrew Hammond

If Washington and Beijing become broadly aligned again on this agenda, the EU would provide a third leg of the stool to push ahead with more ambitious global action. Collectively, the 27-nation European club, China and the US account for about half of global climate emissions and are critical to achieving more positive international climate diplomacy.

While closer Washington-Beijing action on climate change may seem fanciful, it should be remembered that the mood at COP26 was lifted by the surprise US-China cooperation agreement. While short on specifics and lacking the ambition of the two countries’ pre-Paris Agreement deal in 2015, this helped create the political space for agreement in Glasgow.

So, whether or not the world goes further and faster on the global warming agenda in the 2020s could well rest on the climate cooperation between these two powers. Tackling global warming is a key political priority for both US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Beyond such statecraft, there is much else now needed to try to lock in the high levels of business engagement that was one of the key themes of COP26. This is because, ultimately, the world’s future success in tackling climate change will rest on deep, collaborative partnerships across the public and private sectors, plus wider society.

Massive and unexpected momentum is needed in the days ahead. While the worldwide climate pledges made so far are not yet close to meeting the limit of 1.5 C, the domestic frameworks being put in place could be crucial building blocks to measure, report, verify and manage emissions. In the future, and as the COP process heads to the UAE in 2023, the ambition must be that they are replicated in even more countries and progressively ratcheted up too, helping create a key global sustainability framework for billions of people across the world.

• Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.

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