‘Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with one foot still on the accelerator.’ These were the words spoken by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in welcoming delegates to the 27th Conference of Parties on climate change (COP27) at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt (Nov 8-16).
He went on to call it the ‘defining issue of our age’ adding ‘Greenhouse gas emissions keep rising … It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the back burner.’ ‘The science is clear,’ he warned. ‘Any hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees (Celsius) means achieving global net zero emissions by 2050 … But that 1.5 degree goal is on life support — and the machines are rattling.’
By the way, scientists are now giving us a 50% probability of breaching 1.5 C. It is after all only 0.4 C higher than the current 1.1C rise above preindustrial levels. Guterres also called for a phase out of coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 everywhere else. Last year at COP26, the language on coal was changed at the end from ‘phase out’ to ‘phase down’ at the insistence of China and India, the world’s largest users of coal.
Guterres hoped for a ‘Climate Solidarity Pact between developed and developing economies and especially developed and emerging economies.’ He noted ‘a particular responsibility [for US and China] to join efforts to make this pact a reality.’
‘Humanity has a choice’ he ended, ‘Cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact or a Collective Suicide Pact.’
Joe Biden has appointed former Senator and presidential candidate John Kerry as Special Envoy to the Climate Conference. Kerry promptly announced a plan where developing countries can sell carbon credits to corporations to offset their own emissions.
The idea is not new and the criticism of this sort of plan has always been that rich countries or their corporations are paying for someone else to cut emissions, instead of reducing their own. Some attach the label ‘greenwashing’ to this kind of scheme.
Rich countries have already offered to provide some kind of assistance to poorer nations to cut emissions, and up to $11 billion has been pledged but the money has yet to materialize. The public and therefore legislators are loath to dole out more money to countries viewed as sinkholes — Trump’s definition was more vulgar.
There is some logic to the aid proposals, however, and developing states point to the fact that the earth’s problems caused by industrialization are due primarily to what the rich developed countries themselves did during the last century.
So let us join hands … in prayer … for the countries of the world are still far from any climate effective cooperative enterprise. In the meantime heralding the conference has been a tropical storm in Florida. For the first time in nearly 40 years, a Category 1 hurricane (dubbed Nicole) made landfall in the State as late in the season as November. Since 1900, Florida has suffered a November hit only twice before — in 1935 and 1985.
Perhaps a portent of what lies ahead if the world can’t get its act together. Unfortunately, the situation will have to become a lot worse before it does because we humans respond better to immediate emergencies — a roaring blaze rather than a smoldering fire threatening eventually to consume us all.