Indranil Banerjie | COP28 and wages of greed: Planet is at breaking point

Another global summit on climate change has concluded last week in Dubai. This was the COP28 summit (the 28th edition of the Conference of the Parties), which made news all over the world. At the summit’s close, it was proclaimed that a huge breakthrough had been achieved. It claimed that all the world’s nations had signalled the end of fossil fuels.

The truth, however, is very different: there was no agreement on ending fossil fuels. Instead, there was a vague commitment to “transition” away from fossil fuels. In other words, there was no real or binding agreement, and absolutely no commitment on who was going to pay for the means to end burning fossil fuels or finance poorer nations to transition away from coal and oil.

If the “deal” concluded in Dubai was hailed as “historic” and a “breakthrough”, it was merely because all the participating nations, for the first time, admitted that fossil fuels were a problem and a major contributor to global greenhouse gases which were pushing the planet’s temperature limits off the charts.

UN Climate Change executive secretary Simon Stiell, in his closing speech at the COP28, qualified the summit’s success: “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end. Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes without delay.”

The urgency of action on climate control has been reiterated endlessly in recent times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pointed out that the world is already 1.2°C hotter on an average than what it was during pre-industrial times. According to the IPCC, global mean temperatures will surpass the 1.5°C limit by 2030 and 2°C by 2050 given that the current commitments by governments to reduce carbon emissions are insufficient.

Did COP28 change all this? Will governments, who now agree on moving away from fossil fuels, actually make the transition voluntarily? Regrettably, the summit itself left these fundamental questions unanswered.

Before the summit, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said climate-damaging carbon emissions needed to fall between 25 per cent and 50 per cent by 2030 but the pledges so far would only lead to a “meagre” 11 per cent cut. She said: “The number one priority for this COP is to recognise that business as usual has to be dropped.” But the COP28 summit concluded by signalling that it was going to be business as usual after all.

The summit declaration admitted “with concern that the adaptation finance gap is widening, and that the current levels of climate finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building for adaptation remain insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing countries”.

Mr Steill said that some countries had pledged more money (a few million and not even one billion) for helping the Global South meet some of its emission goals, but added that these “financial pledges are far short of the trillions eventually needed to support developing countries with clean energy transitions, implementing their national climate plans and adaptation efforts”.

It has been estimated the world will need at least $200 trillion and not just billions of dollars to make the transition away from fossil fuels by the end of 2050. As a beginning, the richer nations were expected to pitch in the most. Fourteen years ago, at a similar summit (COP15 in Copenhagen), rich nations responsible for the greatest share of emissions had pledged $100 billion every year to help the Global South to adapt. That pledge was never fulfilled. Not even one billion dollars has flowed from the rich to the poor countries. Mohamed Adow, director of a Kenyan advocacy group, was spot on when he tweeted: “Finance is where the whole energy transition plan will stand or fall.”
One problem with current approaches to curb emissions has been on promises, cash and extremely expensive alternate energy sources. There is no focus on addressing the underlying causes of the rapid and huge rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

The most basic cause behind the rising emissions is the humungous rise of the world’s population in the post-industrial era and a concomitant increase in energy usage. In fact, the most notable and perhaps the defining aspect of modern times is the exponential rise in energy consumption, most of which has come from fossil fuels.

The whole world is devouring increasing amounts of coal, oil and gas as aspiring billions in nations claw up the consumption chain. It is the consumption patterns in both the rich and developing worlds that is soaking up all energy, which is now based primarily on hydrocarbons.

The OPEC+ nations blocked attempts at COP28 to script a timetable on the ending of fossil fuels. They were criticised for doing so, but why blame them alone? Every nation and economic grouping is trying to ensure that climate change goals do not conflict with their national priorities. India and China, for instance, continue to oppose any attempt to prevent the construction of coal-based power stations.

Faced with a massive hike in electricity demand and a politically assertive population, India is adding 17 gigawatts of coal-based power generation capacity. It already depends on coal for 73 per cent of its energy needs. There is no way developing countries such as India are going to junk their fossil fuel emitting power plants.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in current climate change negotiations is the exclusive focus on fossil fuels, which is only one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Equally damaging are deforestation, the rampant extension of cultivated areas, animal farming, military activities, fertiliser usage, fluorinated gases and so on.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that excessive meat consumption is a major cause of emissions. It said animal agriculture accounted for a fifth of planet-warming emissions and this is only expected to grow -- by an alarming 50 per cent by 2050.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 president, patted the participants on their back at the end of the summit by declaring: “We have worked very hard to secure a better future for our people and our planet. We should be proud of our historic achievement.” Really?

Our planet’s capacity to sustain our greed is finite, already strained to the breaking point. Perhaps it would be more prudent to first curb our avarice, population growth and extreme inequality. If these pre-requisites are met, the control of greenhouse gases will follow naturally.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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