Differences must be put aside for the sake of the planet
Some 120 world leaders are due in Sharm El-Sheikh this month. It is time to ask, how is the planet faring? How has the global effort progressed since COP26 in Glasgow?
For all its critics, COP26 did see some major agreements. States agreed to try and stick to the target of keeping global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Some 34 countries also committed to end state funding for fossil fuels overseas. And countries agreed to end deforestation by 2030, which is perhaps a more achievable aim after the result of last week’s Brazilian presidential election.
Agreeing to all this and achieving it, however, are two totally separate things. To get close to the 1.5 C aim, greenhouse gas emissions will need to be halved by the end of this decade. The reality is that this target just will not be met. Are we even prepared for what this will mean?
Glasgow was about the last time — perhaps for a long time to come — when most of the international community gathered in earnest to tackle a major planetary issue. It was the tail end of an era that has now been smashed in the ruins of Ukraine. Within weeks of COP26 concluding, Russian troops were massing on Ukraine’s border. Russia is increasingly isolated, but for climate change the bigger challenge is the deteriorating relations between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies and largest emitters.
So, as hundreds of private jets wing their way to Egypt, optimism is in short supply. Joe Biden’s plane will only set down later this week, when the US midterms are out of the way. Three vital leaders will be absent entirely: Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and India’s Narendra Modi.
Meanwhile, with energy shortages and nervousness about supply, various countries are ditching their pledges on climate change. The UK, for example, has issued new licenses for North Sea oil and gas exploration.
The Ukraine crisis has also made certain countries less willing to be reliant on oil and gas. Germany has reconsidered nuclear power. With high energy prices, renewables such as wind and solar look far more attractive. Electric vehicles are being adopted too. Renewables also answer concerns about energy security.
It has been a stellar year for oil and gas companies. High prices have led to jaw-dropping profit levels. So far in 2022, the five largest have trousered a handsome profit of $170 billion. This may tempt some governments into introducing windfall taxes on such companies, but will any of the proceeds go toward climate-related issues?
Many argue for increased oil and gas exploitation to counter energy insecurity. Some argue this will be a temporary move. Germany looks as if it might break its Glasgow pledge not to invest in oil and gas overseas, as it debates whether to invest in offshore gas fields in Senegal.
But has the world truly accepted the sacrifices required? The science is crystal clear — the world is warming. Skeptics have little room. People’s lived experiences are bearing out this scientific analysis as well.
The skeptics, deniers and fraudsters are still out in force. Skepticism is fine, it keeps people on their mettle. We should always question assumptions, including on climate change. But the skepticism must be allied to a reasoned debate, something the deniers are not prepared to engage in. The fraudsters are downright dangerous.
Just take a look at the last 12 months. What about the floods in August in Pakistan, the worst in the country’s history? Remember the typhoons in Bangladesh, heat waves in Europe leading to the worst drought in 500 years, wildfires in North America and droughts in Africa. At present, 146 million people in Africa are facing extreme hunger as a result of the worst drought in 40 years. The UK experienced temperatures over 40 C for the first time in recorded history this summer. European rivers such as the Po and the Loire dried up to the extent that people could walk across them in places. The American West has experienced what scientists have referred to as a “megadrought,” the most extreme in 1,200 years.
All in all, what is the cost of this? One leading insurer estimated that, so far, it is $229 billion. It is probably more.
Time is running short. Take sea levels. The World Meteorological Organization has found that sea levels are now rising 5 millimeters a year. In the 1990s, the annual rate was 2.1 millimeters. For low-lying areas, this will be devastating.
Will richer countries be willing to help the poorer nations? This looks less likely now given the economic climate, but it is required. In Glasgow, wealthier states promised to increase adaptation assistance to $40 billion by 2025, up from $29 billion in 2020. Many are critical of the World Bank’s performance in raising funds for the climate. The World Bank’s head, David Malpass, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, dodges questions about his stance on climate change. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the multilateral development banks to “step up and deliver.”
This is why, at COP27, rebuilding funds — known as “loss and damage” — will be a hot topic. Poorer nations need investment to defend their territories and peoples from floods, storms and drought.
COP27 is also being held on the continent of Africa. This is the continent that has contributed least to man-made climate change, with just 3 percent of all emissions historically. Yet it has arguably suffered the most. According to the African Development Bank, it loses between 5 percent and 15 percent of gross domestic product every year due to the effects of climate change.
Poorer nations need investment to defend their territories and peoples from floods, storms and drought.
Far-right leaders, in particular, need to reevaluate their position. They should consider how climate change will impact mass migration, which they so hate. The number of migrants moving across the world to richer, safer states will only increase. It does not justify the racist, hostile attitudes, but should give them food for thought. Perhaps they might care to consider the words of one of the icons of the right, Margaret Thatcher, in 1990: “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”
It is hard not to see the last 12 months as a huge setback in the quest to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Leadership is needed. Differences needs to be set aside for this issue. All strains of political opinion need to get on board. We are not doing nearly enough.
- Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, in London. Twitter: @Doylech