What's needed, what's not
COP28 in Dubai is the make-or-break moment for the world to prevent the looming climate catastrophe
About 70,000 participants including political leaders, diplomats, business managers, academicians and researchers are participating in the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) from Nov 30 to Dec 12 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
The choice of human development has now caused nearly irreversible damage to the nature. Nature is reacting with droughts, floods, landslides and wildfires.
As per a report released by the United Nations this year, extreme weather events have caused the deaths of 2 million people and $4.3 trillion in economic damage over the past 50 years. The most vulnerable to these weather events are poor people of the world and they are rising in numbers. The richest 1 percent of the global population are responsible for the same amount of carbon emissions as the world's poorest two-thirds, or 5 billion people, according to the research results released in November 2023. And rich people continue to invest their money in polluting industries.
The planet is caught in a vicious circle of chaos in which even the rich will perish. We do not know when but perish they will. Because the rich depend on the market consisting of these very 5 billion people to make their money. As the market starts suffering, the rich will suffer too. As the doomsday scenario says, the "sixth planetary extinction" is on the way. The fifth extinction was 65 million years ago when dinosaurs and ecosystems vanished.
No one will be left behind by nature during its climate onslaught. Nature has shown it is nondiscriminatory in its destruction of human habitats. But let us avoid making a mistake. This larger war is also the result of the battles between factions. These factions include the Global South and the Global North, developed and developing countries. The list of factions also includes small-island-developing-countries, least-developed countries, indigenous groups, powerful fossil fuel businesses, farmers, and so on.
What happens at COP28 in Dubai in the first half of December may not result in bloodshed but the consequences could be drenched in bloodshed, mass migration and starvation. COP after COP, the pledges and promises made by 198 countries that are party to climate conventions have not been met. What's more, the commitments made by the developed countries to provide $100 billion to the developing countries for reducing the emissions have not been fulfilled.
The highest increase in greenhouse gas emissions in history has been in the period from 2010 to 2019. The past four months of 2023 have been the hottest on the record. The past 11 months have caused the highest economic losses due to extreme climate events. The window to limit warming to 1.5 C, the target set by world leaders in the Paris Climate Agreement, is rapidly closing and the gap between where emissions should be and where they are, is widening fast as the recently released UNEP Emission Gap Report makes clear.
Experts have stated over the past year the requirements for COP28: strong action-oriented negotiations, making mitigation and adaptation finance available to developing countries as a matter of emergency, operationalizing the loss and damage fund, focusing on non-CO2 GHGs such as methane, community-based and sub-national climate actions, undertaking out-of-box technologies including carbon dioxide removal, space reflected solar electricity and so on.
But let us also highlight what is not required from COP28.
First, the world does not need unverified claims by countries, particularly by world leaders at COP28. Such greenwashing misleads the public to believe that realistic action is being taken to achieve the net-zero target. There is more risk from greenwashing than the climate crisis itself, as stated by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Second, the world does not need the vital issues of mitigation, adaptation and finance to be sidelined or distorted by clamoring diplomacy. Recently, we have witnessed commotions such as denouncing the UAE's COP presidency as an oil-nation's presidency, prioritizing the action on mitigating fugitive methane by ignoring the reduction of emissions of CO2, inclusion of private finance in meeting the governmental public finance pledge of $100 billion annually from 2020, asking China to contribute to the finances provided to developing countries, prioritizing carbon-offsetting, changing the definition of a developing country to that of a least developed country, uncertain schemes such as carbon-trading and carbon removal by overlooking the mitigation through lifestyle change.
Third, the world does not need speeches by world leaders with deceptive declarations, diplomacy-coated promises that will fail to be delivered.
Fourth, the world does not need the issue of climate justice to be discussed without historical context. The UN report has suggested that carbon emissions during colonial rules be assigned to the countries that were the colonial rulers after these countries' industrial revolutions. Punitive measures could range from exposing the countries by "naming and shaming" to more serious "climate-sanctions".
Can COP28 succeed in putting the world on the right path to a sustainable future? Let us wait and see. By the end of the conference, it will be clear if the world can do what is needed.
The author is former head of the Paris-based Ozon Action Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme, coordinating lead author of IPCC 2007 that won the Nobel Peace Prize and the founder director of Green TERRE Foundation. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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