Daydreams & nightmares after 50 years of fruitless climate change negotiations

Climate targets go in pieces after COP27 in City of Peace


January 9, 2023

/ By / Pune

Daydreams & nightmares after 50 years of fruitless climate change negotiations

Civil society's Demonstration of failed COPs

The latest round of climate change negotiations, during COP27, that was held at Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh last month, failed to make real advance in real terms, just like many other such conferences before it. Instead of delivering on promises made decades ago ,nations continue to make new promises.

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Exactly four decades ago, in 1982, the then President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak designated a desert city, Sharm El Sheikh, as The City of Peace in 1982. That was 10 years after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed upon by the world leaders in Rio Conference.

In December 2022, back in the  ‘city of peace’, during COP27, the world witnessed the negotiations on possible ceasefire to halt the horrific wars between nature and human society on one hand and haves and have-nots of the human society on the other.

The world saw the near death of the globally-agreed goals of Paris Climate Agreement, reached in 2015 of Limiting the rise of earth’s average temperature to 2°C while attempting to limit the same to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. After the fortnight-long conference, the city may as well build another mosque next to magnificent Al Musafa Mosque of Sharm El Sheikh to pray for saving the Earth, because mankind has failed to deliver so far. However, even though the climate goals may be meeting premature death, hopes must not.

‘What next for climate actions and ambitious targets?’ was the question one can see on the wary face of the 197 country-delegates tired of negotiations that extended to over 40 hours beyond the scheduled closure. The answer from one of the seasoned diplomats was simple, “COP28, what else?”

In many ways, COP27 was a turning point in all its sense. The mitigation efforts that focused on eliminating the very cause of Climate Change were side-lined. The world had helplessly resigned to life-saving adaptation efforts. It also prioritised the skill-building to make the world resilient to climate impacts. ‘‘If we cannot solve it, let us live with it and adapt to it’’ was the direction that the wind blowing across the desert of Sinai had taken. It was also the lesson learned from Covid-19 pandemic.

COP27 Egyptian Red Sea

Massive welcome . What about outcome?

UN and most media reported optimistically wrote about the headline outcome at the conclusion of COP27. ‘‘COP27 reaches breakthrough agreement on new Loss and Damage Fund for Vulnerable Countries’’ was the common tag line of one of the two ‘outcomes’ that COP27 could beat the drum about. Yet, the outcomes are simply another series of day dreaming that climate change meetings turn into.

If one assesses the miserable experience under the Kyoto Protocol and then Paris Climate Agreement so far there is irrefutable conclusion that financial assistance under Green Climate Fund to developing countries has been an utter failure. ‘Polluter to Pay’ principle, that has been deployed since Rio Conference in 1992, has failed to work, with one, sole exception of the Montreal Protocol that aimed to protect the ozone layer. Applied to climate change, the Polluter to Pay principle has led to a global Climate Emergency.

The exact title of the 11-page decision on Loss and Damage is, ‘Santiago network for averting and addressing loss and damage under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts’. While the subject was under discussion for last 30 years, it made significant appearance during COP19 in Warsaw, Poland and later a decision to establish network to initiate the discussion on the subject was taken during COP25 in Madrid, Spain, held under the Chilean Presidency, hence giving the name ‘ Santiago Network’.

The decision at COP27 contains pre-funding preparatory plans for establishment of secretariat and advisory body, guidelines on funding. However, key operational modalities including which countries would provide funding for disbursement and which countries would receive the funds are not agreed. The fund is expected to be for ‘particularly vulnerable countries’ and for emergency arising from extreme climate event emergency. Questions like what fundable loss and damage is, which developing countries get funding and would countries with emerging economy like China and India would benefit from the fund or contribute to it remain to be discussed.

Experience of funding for the developing countries agreed by the developed countries for mitigation (elimination of emissions of GHGs-Green House Gases) through Green Climate Fund (GCF) where the secretariat, executive body and guidelines, contributors and beneficiaries for the disbursement are all in place and well defined . But GCF has not delivered even 1 pc of the promised funding so far. As of Decemeber 2022, the total dues to developing countries by developed countries stand at about USD 1 trillion while only about USD 10 billion have been disbursed through Green Climate Fund till now. So, how is fund for loss and damage not yet another daydream? ( Ranvir, please check the sentence- idea is ask questions, is it not the daydream?)

The second daydream is about the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership ( FCLP) to halt the deforestation and degradation of the land by 2030 that was was launched at COP27. Forests offer multitude of benefits like being the largest carbon sink and perhaps the only one that may contribute to keeping global warming below 2°C or even 1.5°C, promoting biodiversity, reducing air pollution, enhancing the rain patterns, ensure food security and nutrition, eliminate poverty and even reducing  the risk of future pandemics as per latest report, State of World’s Forests 2022  by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, a body of the United Nations.

The FLCP aims  to unite action by governments of 140 countries, businesses and community leaders to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

That is the stated aim on paper. Now, let us look at the reality. The FAO estimates  that 10 million hectares of forests are erased to the ground each year for agriculture, urban expansion, timber and mining. Wildfires further add to deforestation and land degradation. It also risks the livelihood of 1.6 billion people who rely on forest as their lifeline. This daydream includes the pledge of fully halting the deforestation and land degradation by 2050 for which the state and non-state actors will be coming together for an ‘exemplary’ partnership.

The daydream of achieving the target of FLCP clearly bypasses the fact that since the end of the last great ice age, 10,000 years ago, the world has lost one-third of its 6 billion hectares of forests. In just over last 100 years of modern techno-savvy society, the world lost as much forest as it had in the previous 9,000 years. The political will and determination of the FLCP sounds hallow, considering that leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China, the BRIC nations representing more than 25 pc of the Earth’s forest and 40 pc of the world’s population, ere conspicuous by their absence in COP27.

While these two daydreams may have provided temporary respite from the pain of extreme climate events and  climate emergency, seven nightmares would ring the bells of future failure of the climate negotiations unless extraordinary and commitments are mainstreamed to transform  our lifestyle.

First, based on the updated Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, the Emission Gap Report released by UNEP just before COP27 stated that, the world is far off the track to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting the rise of temperature below  ambitious target of 1.5°C and the agreed target of 2°C. The warming has  already reached 1.2°C and the world is witnessing increased  intensity and frequency of extreme climate events.

Second, developed countries are far off in meeting the promised target of financial assistance to developing countries including African and Latin American nations, Brazil, India and China.

As per the agreed schedule in Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement the promise was USD 10 billion starting from 2010 and USD 100 billion per year from 2020. COP27 was resigned to this nightmare.

Third, the war between Ukraine and Russia has triggered trade sanctions. Europe, that imports 45 pc of its gas needed mainly to heat homes, is reeling under horrific pressure due to halt of gas supply from Russia.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany, which had pledged  to phase out coal from electricity production by 2038, was reopening coal-power plants that burn lignite, a low-rank coal as a result of disruption in gas supply from Russia. Germany is just one of the nations in the European Union to increase coal imports. COP27 saw the German enthusiasm on ambitious targets getting burned along with its low-grade coal.

Fourth, nuclear plants, mainly in France, considered as forerunners in solving climate challenge, have been forced to run at lower capacity due to reduced availability of water needed to cool the reactors. Additionally,  the heating of the reduced river-water due to return of the hot water from reactors to river is dangerous  for fish and aquatic life . France, for example, where 70 pc of electricity comes from nuclear plants, is debating the issue in Parliament on managing the electricity. The extraordinary high temperature in European summer has triggered the chain  reaction of climate change causing water scarcity that rules out clean energy solutions!

Fifth, hydraulic dams that are considered as major part of renewable energy globally, last summer had to run at lower capacity with low level of water in dams.  Lower water storage is due to unusually harsh summers which in turn are due to climate change. Water crises become energy crises, and then quickly morph into climate crises.

Many countries that are planning on a dramatic expansion of hydropower, are alarmed by the situation in Norway where the sector accounts for 90 pc of its electricity generation. Norwegian hydropower producers cut output in southern Norway last summer to save the dwindling stock of ‘water-fuel’, for the winter. Europe can no longer  afford to depend on Norwegian hydroelectricity in the winter. The situation in USA, Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, China and African countries like Zambia is not very different. With option for nuclear and hydro-electricity at risk and COP27 took place in such  hopeless backdrop.

Sixth nightmare is emerging issue of ‘Green Washing’ highlighted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on the eve of COP27. The greenwashing involves false claims of progress in the fight against global warming that can confuse common consumers, investors and even policymakers.  ‘‘Commitments to net zero are worth zero without the plans, policies and actions to back them up’’, stated a UN report released just before start of the COP27. That gave the jolt to the process of setting ambitious goals for mitigation of GHGs. Promises by countries, companies, banks, regions and cities to achieve net zero emissions would have no impact if the data disclosed is shady.

Article 6 of the Paris Climate agreement on voluntary market mechanisms like carbon trading and CDM are also entangled in the veracity of the data. One of the important side events organised by UNESCO in COP 27 revealed the 3-Dimensional strategy that disclosure, digitalisation and decarbonisation have to go together to avoid nightmare of misleading on the targets and goals.

The seventh nightmare is about the  lack of ‘teeth in the Paris Climate Agreement’. There are no punitive measures agreed for non-performance by the countries to reach to promised targets in given time.

But if we are to save the world, then climate justice based on ‘polluters to pay’ and extended-producers-responsibility must be delivered at any cost and within a rapidly shrinking timeframe.

It may now be the time to hold countries and businesses accountable to their promises or faced with punitive, even severe measures. It is time for climate justice and there is a crying need for setting up a new sort of international court, on the lines of International Court of Justice. The entity would be the International Court of Climate Justice.

Though the negotiators have not yet veered to this issue, pressure by civil society groups, environmental organisations and academicians can play important part in bringing this forum of justice to life quickly.

Till the daydreams continue, the world would to face endless nightmares and many more COPs would continue to fail the opportunities to bend the rising curve of emissions as matter of emergency.

It is time to deliver justice and one should not forget justice delayed is justice denied.

By Rajendra Shende, former Director UNEP,Founder Director Green TERRE Foundation,coordinating lead author,IPCC that won Nobel peace prize ,IIT Alumnus



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