COP 28 will be held at a time of increasing, perhaps overwhelming evidence that the targets set earlier to restrict global warming to 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels and to achieve reductions in GHG emissions in accordance this are being badly missed and so the world is at present on course to see higher levels of global warming, accompanied by several other catastrophic and possibly irreversible changes, sooner than it was anticipated earlier.
While this is what a lot of accumulating scientific evidence is telling us, an extremely important question is whether we can still find some hope, and if yes, where?
A more immediate question which several people are asking is whether COP 28 can contribute to giving new hope?
Well, on the basis of past record, unfortunately the more likely answer is to be in the negative. Still, keeping alive hope, one should instead ask whether COP 28 can at least be honest in explaining the undoubted big failures so far and identifying the real causes for this.
One of the more selfless things COP 28 can still do is to admit not just its own failures, but also admit that the narrow paradigm within which it functions and the severe limitations of its processes and agenda make it unlikely that COPs by themselves can become the main vehicle for achieving significant success on this front.
In addition to the narrow vision of COPs, the COP processes have also been adversely impacted, perhaps one should say corrupted, by big business interests. If big fossil fuel interests are allowed to have a big influence on COP processes and agenda, this is like assuming that those who cause problems will find effective solutions for them ignoring their self-interests. In the food and farm sector as well as in some other crucial sectors, big corporate interests are trying to take the world in the opposite direction of what is needed. Unfortunately, such corporate interests are also increasingly influencing and even funding several UN agencies, further reducing their credibility and that of COPs as well.
In the middle of these failures and setbacks, can we still find some hope? Yes, we can, but only as a part of much broader efforts to create a world based on justice, peace and environment protection.
Several serious environmental problems led by climate change (but certainly not confined to climate change) have combined together to create conditions which can disrupt the life-nurturing conditions of our planet. We have to develop a holistic vision to be able to check these problems effectively.
In addition there is also the very important threat of the never-ending wars and the relentless arms race. This makes it very difficult to secure the international peace, cooperation and mobilization that are needed to protect life-nurturing conditions of planet. This threat is manifested in its most extreme form in the accumulation of various weapons of mass destruction (including over 12,000 nuclear weapons, the use of just 10% of which is enough to destroy the entire world).
When the risks and stakes involved are so high, the patchy, incremental and uncertain agendas put forward at COPs are unlikely to achieve the bigger, time-bound results that are needed.
Hence we need a much broader agenda in which integrated solutions for some of the biggest problems can be found together. It is not very helpful if even in the best possible scenario humanity succeeds with great efforts made over 2 decades to achieve some protection of life-nurturing conditions, only for everything to be ruined within 2 hours of nuclear war.
Hence it makes much more sense to link up efforts to resolve the environmental (including climate change) crisis with the efforts for peace and disarmament. In a no-wars world, it becomes much more possible to reduce militarization and weapons-race (itself a big cause of GHG emissions) while also creating those conditions of international cooperation in which the various global efforts for checking climate change (including reformed COPs) and the wider environmental crisis have a much higher chance of success. Massive support of people including farmers and workers for this agenda of peace and environment protection can be obtained by linking this agenda closely with justice concerns. Once people’s livelihood interests and fulfilment of basic needs are linked closely with this agenda then their enthusiastic participation in afforestation, agro-ecology, green cities, soil and water-conservation etc. can be secured, and this can be the real game-changer.
Another important aspect of justice is to give much higher importance to adaptation aspects of climate change with special emphasis on protection from disasters, better help in disaster situations, much better protection for the most vulnerable people ( for example workers toiling in open space conditions or in conditions of thermal stress). Needs of the most vulnerable regions such as islands and coastal areas must get the highest priority.
Once it is realized that there are limits not just to resources but also to carbon space, then the production patterns have to be changed to meet basic needs of all on a priority basis, and this too can be assured by emphasizing justice and equality aspects. Hence a closely integrated agenda of justice, peace and environment protection is needed at world level within which it may be still possible to effectively check climate change and other most serious problems to a considerable extent.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.