Written by Adnan Aiziri, Environmental Policy Analyst, Fellow of the Academy of Sciences, Malaysia, and author of Transforming Sustainability: Reshaping Malaysia’s Future, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development. Originally published on the Jomo website
The latest annual climate conference began in the face of a deepening climate crisis and further pushbacks by rich countries in the wake of the energy crisis stemming from NATO sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is now convening in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6-18 November 2022.
COP27 is being held amid worsening poverty, hunger, war, and soaring prices, exacerbating several interrelated climate, environmental, and socioeconomic crises.
The looming global economic recession is likely to be deeper than it was in 2008. A possible downward spiral into stagflation will make it even more difficult to address the climate crisis.
Invoking the Ukraine war as a pretext, governments and companies are scrambling to ramp up fossil fuel production to offset the deepening energy crisis.
Resources that need to be deployed to climate adaptation and mitigation have been diverted to war, fossil fuel extraction and use, including the resumption of shale gas ‘fracking’ as well as coal mining and burning.
War causes severe social and economic damage to people, society and the environment. The wars in Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere impose huge costs on everyone, disrupt energy and food supplies, and drive up prices sharply.
The Russian incursion into Ukraine provided convenient smokescreen for the rapid return of fossil fuels, where military industrial operations alone account for 6% of all greenhouse gases.
The future is already here
All of this exacerbated the crises facing the environment and the economy in the world. The IPCC’s most optimistic scenario expects a rise of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial threshold for climate catastrophe to be breached by 2040.
By crossing it, the world faces the risks of more severe climate change impacts on people and ecosystems, especially in the tropics and subtropics.
But the future is already upon us. Accelerating global warming is already causing the worst extreme weather events, destroying economies, societies and ecosystems.
Recent floods in Pakistan have displaced 33 million people. Wildfires, extreme heat, melting snow, droughts, and extreme weather events are already evident on many continents, causing disasters all over the world.
In 2021, the sea level has risen to a record high, and it is expected to continue to rise. The United Nations reports that women and children are 14 times more likely than adult men to die during climate disasters.
Popular sentiment is shifting, even in the United States, where “climate skepticism” is strongest. The devastation threatened by Hurricane Ida in 2021 not only revived painful memories of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but also raised awareness of extreme weather events associated with warming.
Stronger climate action is needed
In international negotiations, rich countries have evaded historical responsibility for the “climate debt” by focusing only on current emissions. Hence, there is no recognition of the duty to compensate the most affected in the global south.
The COP26 climate agreement was welcomed in Glasgow last year for its call to “phase out” coal. And Europe soon gave up on this with war. And for developing countries, Glasgow has failed to make any significant progress on climate finance.
At COP 27, the Egyptian presidency proposed additional “loss and damage” financing facilities to compensate for irreparable damages due to climate impacts.
After failing to deliver even on its modest 2009 climate funding promises, the rich North is dithering, calling for more talks until 2024 to work out the financing details.
Meanwhile, the G7 has muddied the waters by introducing a global shield against climate risk – a disaster insurance scheme.
Get the priorities right
What the world needs, instead, is for its measures to be rapidly strengthened and implemented as part of a swift, just, and internationally funded transition to the Global South. This should:
• Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, including by subsidizing renewable energy generation for poor populations suffering from energy shortages.
• Promote energy saving and efficiency measures to reduce its use and greenhouse gas emissions by at least 70% (from 1990) by 2030.
• Implement a massive global program of public works, creating “green jobs” to replace employment in “unsustainable” industries.
• Develop the sustainable technologies required, for example, to replace common agricultural practices with “agroecological” farming methods, investment and technology.
Another possible world
Another possible world. A massive social and political transformation is needed. But the relentless pursuit of private profit has always been at the expense of people and nature.
Greed cannot be expected to become the basis for a just solution to climate change, let alone environmental degradation, global poverty, hunger and gross inequality.
COP27 is now being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, a secluded, tightly controlled tourist resort. Only one major thoroughfare in and out, as if designed to shut out civil society and drown out voices from the Global South.
The luxury hotels there command prices that put COP27 beyond the means of many, especially climate justice activists from poor countries. The rich and powerful arrived in more than 400 private jets, making decarbonization rhetoric a mockery.
Thus, the COP process is increasingly seen as exclusive. Without making real progress on the most important issues, it is increasingly seen as slow, irrelevant, and ineffective.
Creating insufficient agreements at best, the illusion of progress thus created is dangerously misguided at worst.
By generating high expectations and false hopes, but actually offering little, they are letting the world down, even as they painstakingly achieve hard-won concessions that fall short of what is needed.
Multilateralism is at risk
Multilateral platforms such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have long been expected to engage governments to collaborate in developing, implementing and enforcing solutions. With the erosion of multilateralism since the end of the Cold War, these are increasingly bypassed.
Instead, self-appointed special interests pretend, by means, to speak for global civil society. Struggling with a lack of resources, multilateral platforms and other organizations are under pressure to establish partnerships and other forms of collaboration with them.
Thus, inappropriate virtual private solutions increasingly dominate political discourses. The wide fiscal deficit generated interest in it because of the illusory prospect of private financing.
Thus, special interests gained great influence. Thus, the new spinners at Davos and others gained influence, offering solutions that were seductively attractive, but ultimately wrong, often misleading and usually biased.
Meanwhile, global warming has gone from bad to worse. UN member states should strengthen the visibility of multilateral organizations to do what is right and urgently needed, rather than just dealing with cash flow, usually.