COP-27 (the 27th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) has ended as expected on a note more or less of status quo. True, the long pending demand of countries worst affected by climate change for a loss and damage fund has been accepted, an important gain in itself, but any celebrations over this will be pre-mature just now. We only have to look at the fate of the promises for a climate change fund made 13 years ago to realize that we should wait for more specific commitments to emerge before we can say that something promising and effective has actually emerged.
As several hundred thousand people are in danger of starvation and even starvation death in 19 hunger hot-spots in world just now, as warned by UN agencies, and climate change has been identified as one of the important causes of this, and as the relief effort here is substantially under-funded at present, can the newly set up loss and damage fund immediately arrange at least 5 billion dollars within the next two weeks for this? This will be a test of the sincerity of this new fund, which at present is just an empty bucket, to respond to any great emergency with any semblance of adequacy.
COP-27 at the luxury resort of Sharm El-Sheikh was full of ironies. Private jets flew in here and in Cairo in big numbers, bringing many of the delegates for climate summit. The biggest plastic polluter Coca Cola was a leading sponsor of these climate change talks. Much increased number of delegates–around 636 or so—were representatives of fossil fuel industries, and they now had more official recognition than ever before at such talks. Meanwhile all voices to secure the release of at least a few of the exceptionally high number of political prisoners held captive by a highly repressive dictatorship in Egypt fell on deaf ears.
Greta Thunberg stayed away, dismissing the summit as “an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention amid many different kinds of green-washing”. Indeed, green-washing was found to be peaking at and before the summit despite UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declaring that “we must have zero tolerance for net zero green-washing.” When green-washing is allowed to make it possible for polluters and polluting technologies to emerge as saviors of climate change, not much hope and trust is left in the ongoing proceedings.
Success? Questions relating to the success of COP-27 must be preceded by asking, at a more basic level, whether the entire framework of such summits allows or gives adequate importance to what is most needed.
Just when COP-27 was about to start, Thomas Piketty wrote an important note in which he stated very clearly—“It is impossible to seriously fight global warming without a profound redistribution of wealth, both within countries and internationally. Those who claim otherwise are lying to the world.” Such lies could be seen aplenty at COP-27 ( as at previous COPs) as the agenda of justice has never been been properly integrated with the agenda of checking climate change within the UN framework which has been promoted over the last 3 decades or so as the center-piece of the world’s climate change response.
Hence the fact that economic inequalities have been peaking has not been heeded at various COPs. The shocking reality is that, as informed by the latest World Inequality Report, the bottom 50% of the world’s population has only 2% of its wealth, while the top 0.1% has 19% of the wealth and the top 10% has 77% of the world’s wealth.
Piketty has provided an outline for integrating justice/equality with checking climate change—“Everyone will naturally have to change their lifestyle profoundly, but the fact is that it is possible to compensate the working and middle classes for these changes, both financially and by giving access to goods and services that are less energy-consuming and more compatible with the survival of the planet (education, health, housing, transport etc.). This requires a drastic reduction in the level of wealth and income of the richest, and this is the only way to build political majorities to save the planet.”
This writer has been arguing in some of his recent books that the targets of reduction of GHG emissions need to be integrated with the targets of fulfillment of basic needs of all people. This necessarily requires much higher levels of equality of wealth and income, lower production/consumption of luxury and ‘sin’ goods and in addition the need for more elaborate and careful planning has increased more than ever before (while unfortunately it is in this phase that the NDA government in India has abolished the Planning Commission which had played an important role for over six decades in India).
Also missing at COP-27 was any big initiative to integrate peace and disarmament with the agenda of checking climate change, even though war-mongering has peaked in recent times and it has become clearer than ever before that war, weapons, militarization and arms-race have emerged as the biggest polluter.
Instead the pretext of the Ukraine conflict has been used in the reverse direction to promote a wide range of new fossil fuel projects which could not have been justified otherwise, at the same time as one of the most important channels for sending already available supplies of gas (Nord Stream) has been sabotaged, without so much as the known culprits being named, also emitting vast amounts of the most potent GHG methane. COP-27 ignored not only such critical concerns but even the call from within the UN system for wider change, for example the UNEP Emissions Gap Report which gave “a call for rapid transformation of societies”. Meanwhile 450 organizations associated with environment protection and justice concerns supported a call for a UN Accountability Framework to prevent such talks and summits from being captured by big polluters and to avoid partnerships or sponsorships involving big polluters, while at the same time placing people-centered actions based on their lived experiences in the forefront.
At a time when we and our planet are in the middle of nothing less than a survival crisis, let the world at the very least recognize the very glaring inadequacy of efforts like COPs and the framework provided by them, so that alternative paths can be explored before it is too late.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now with its SED Demand (demand for declaring the next decade as the decade for protecting earth). His recent books include Planet in Peril—People’s Response Only Way Forward, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth Without Borders and One Decade to Protect Life.