Summit fails to address key climate concerns

Berl Falbaum

It was the 27th time they met. It was the 27th time they decided to do basically nothing.

I am referring to the international summits on the environment (known as the Conference of Partners, COP for short), which ended a most-recent two-week meeting, under the auspices of the United Nations, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Despite the fact that the world’s very existence is at stake -- a judgment not disputed by the roughly 200 countries which attend these meetings -- they could not overcome the politics, economics or adopt the sacrifices which need to be made to give the Earth a chance at survival.

In the two weeks, the delegates at COP27 agreed on two major issues: To work toward keeping the Earth’s temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to compensate poor countries who are suffering severe environmental consequences because of the inaction of richer ones like the United States which, behind China, the No. 1 culprit, emits the most CO2 gases.

On the first point, the attendees at COP 27 decided to continue to pursue the goal of keeping temperatures from increasing no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial age levels which is generally defined as the mid-1800s.

What does this mean?  It means that we are in for disastrous consequences, the likes of which we have never seen.

I’ll explain. Presently, we have experienced an increase of a little more than 1 degree Celsius. That has brought us devastating wildfires, stronger and more frequent hurricanes, incalculable threats to wildlife, seas level rises that have drowned highly populated islands and countries (For Instance, 30 percent of Pakistan is under water). 

One does not have to be a climate scientist to understand what another 0.4-degree Celsius increase will mean to the Earth.

Here is how The New York Times described even incremental increases: “With each fraction of a degree of warming tens of millions more people worldwide will be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water scarcity, and coastal flooding and millions more mammals, insects, birds and plants would disappear.”

Tragically, the summit received very little media coverage. Worse, when the media discuss the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, they don’t explain what it means.  They just cite it as a target; thus, the public may conclude that it is really a desirable objective. Of course, simple logic dictates we should be aiming to reduce the increase below 1 degree Celsius.

But that’s not all. Since COP 26 last year only 30 countries have any plans to cut greenhouse emissions. Those are plans, not programs. To keep temperatures below a 1.5-degree Celsius increase we would have to reduce emissions 43 percent by 2030. The evidence, according to many scientists, suggests we will eliminate only 1 percent by then. One more point: Many experts doubt that we will be able to keep temperatures to a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase, predicting a 2-degree increase or even higher.

If the above were not enough, the summit never has addressed a few other “minor” issues which are destroying the planet. These include: The scarcity of clean water, water pollution, air pollution, nuclear waste, the destruction of rainforests, melting glaciers, the menace posed by plastics and, most important, population growth.

On the second issue, the countries agreed to create a financial fund in the coming year to pay for the damage done to poor countries because of emissions from larger, more developed nations.

The so-called “loss and damage” fund was enacted after years of criticism of large developed countries for pushing up temperatures that created calamities in poor countries which bore no responsibility for climate change.

Climate change in Pakistan, cited earlier, has caused at least 1,227 deaths and affected some 33 million people, including 16 million children. In Kenya, the lack of rain has left 3.5 million people in crisis due to food shortages. Thousands of animals which have died from thirst and hunger dot the landscape.

Given the summits’ achievements, if I were an official of a poor country that qualifies for this assistance, I would not budget the ”promised” money yet.

While not surprising, overall, COP27 was a huge disappointment -- just like all the other summits.

Alok Sharma, president of COP26, said it best at the end of this year’s conference:

“We joined with many parties to propose a number of measures that would have contributed to…emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary. [ It is] not in this text. Clear follow through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text...I said in Glasgow [COP26] that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support.”

I doubt that we can expect better results from a COP28.  I don’t even see the need for one.

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Berl Falbaum is a veteran political columnist and author of 12 books, including “Code Red! Code Red!: How Destruction of the Environment Poses Lethal Threats to Life on Earth.”


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