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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

A cop out at the COP

The 27th annual UN climate summit, or Conference of the Parties (COP), has wrapped up in Egypt. For anyone that’s attuned to the natural world in any capacity, myself included, this event brings (unfounded) hope and a (misguided) belief that substantial change will be made.

The results of COP 27 were disappointing, seeing as “Fossil fuel producers benefited from sympathetic treatment” and the negotiation results were more than kind to these planet-killing companies. The agreement featured extremely limited commitments to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, likely due to the host nation being a natural gas exporter and due to the energy crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine. For me, it raises the question of the viability of greenhouse gas regulation. Is it ever going to be possible to convince legislators to curb emissions? A Sisyphus project, for which all of earth’s inhabitants suffer.

In their report on the Conference, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) heralded the “announcement of [a] historic loss and damage fund.” This is, to the UNFCCC’s credit, a significant achievement. Developed nations will contribute to this loss and damage fund, and money will later be paid out to less developed nations when they experience effects of climate change “which communities and countries are unable to adapt [to].” This is a significant achievement and embodies the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that environmental policy strives for. This fund will offer crucial support to less developed nations ravaged by climate disasters they did not create. It is important to note that the size of the fund, which nations deposit into the fund, which nations will withdraw from the fund and other details are still being negotiated.

But, unfortunately, this was the only major achievement of the conference. The final text promotes “low emission energy,” but this includes natural gas. Given the results of the Emissions Gap Report 2022, which found no realistic pathway to limiting warming to 1.5°C or lower, negotiators failed. They could have and should have, done more to commit themselves to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Just because we’ll pass 1.5°C of warming doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prevent as much warming as possible. 1.8°C degrees is much safer than 2°C, but at this rate, those numbers will be in the rear-view mirror in no time.

There were other (small) victories in this conference: a satellite system to track and notify governments about methane leaks, a global peatland assessment to track carbon sequestration and … that’s really about it.

This agreement fell short on its most important goal: reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A loss and damage fund doesn’t matter if our planet is ablaze. And, if we don’t reduce emissions, the climate will keep warming and extreme weather events will become even more frequent. The negotiations at COP 27 failed to address the root cause of climate change: anthropogenic carbon emissions. Without addressing those emissions, the planet will keep warming.

Given how much the climate negotiators (who are meant to be among the most environmentally passionate citizens in the world) love fossil fuel corporations, I’m beginning to doubt the possibility of real progress. The Emissions Gap Report 2022 mentions that only an “urgent system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster.” With an uninspiring COP like this one, that seems to be impossible.

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