COP27: Kicking the can down the road
Another annual UN ritual to coordinate global response to climate change, the two-week COP27 summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, exposed our collective inability to look beyond our noses
Another annual UN ritual to coordinate global response to climate change, the two-week COP27 summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, exposed our collective inability to look beyond our noses. It was at best ‘a symbolic victory’ for the developing world, but from a more zoomed-out perspective, another lost opportunity to agree on meaningful change.
At COP26 in Glasgow, where both decibel levels were higher, Sharm el-Sheikh was projected optimistically as an ‘Implementation COP’ (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). The world was expected to take decisive steps to reduce emissions and global warming, move away from fossil fuels and adapt economies and lifestyles for a greener future. It was also expected to firm up plans and funding by rich nations, historically responsible for much of the global warming, to mitigate the losses, including loss of livelihood and biodiversity, suffered due to climate change by poor and vulnerable nations. The expectations from COP27 were also higher because of the series of natural disasters in the run-up to this edition of the summit—such as the devastating floods in Pakistan or the severe drought in Kenya—which should have encouraged a more united approach. But all that the talkathon managed to achieve was an agreement to set up a ‘Loss and Damage’ Fund to mitigate losses to the poorest and most vulnerable nations. High on rhetoric and thin on detail, the most important ‘who/when/how’ questions were left to a transitional team to thrash out and present to COP28 next year. Is that really “a step forward”, as the summit apologists would have you think? The idea of reparation has been in circulation for the past three decades and the developed nations had committed themselves to a fund at the Paris conference seven years ago. The Paris summit (COP21, 2015) had resolved to create a corpus with annual contributions from rich nations amounting to $100 billion and to make the fund operative by 2020. COP27 agreed, in principle, to create a corpus of $500 billion, with annual increments of $200 billion, and details to be presented next year when the UAE hosts COP28. If that isn’t kicking the can down the road…
India is unlikely to be a recipient of such largesse because of its large and growing economy. Indeed, there was pressure at COP27 from rich nations to make large emitters like China and India donors instead. While funds are needed no doubt to compensate poor nations for losses caused by climate change, it is not enough by itself. The world needs a broader consensus— and far more real action—on economic, technological, infrastructural and lifestyle choices to reduce carbon footprints and check global warming. Some ironies are stark: of private jets arriving at Sharm el-Sheikh; of contingents of delegates growing ever larger; of fossil fuel producers sponsoring sessions at a climate-change summit… Meanwhile, we don’t seem to have a way to end a highly polluting war (yes, that too!) in Ukraine or the arms race between nations. Global trade continues to drive manufacturing to poorer countries with cheap labour and weak regulation. The rich are getting richer, consuming more than ever, and not just in the western world but also in avowedly communist countries like China and stillaspiring ones like India. Don’t be surprised to hear, yet again, from any or all summit eminences that “there is enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” We have heard that before, and you didn’t have to travel to the summit to declaim one more time.