The climate emergency requires more ambition and courage than shown at COP 27

Por Fernando Valladares

Fernando Valladares, cientifico del CSIC.

The previous climate summit, COP 26 held in 2021 in Glasgow, left many issues unresolved. Its promises put us on the path of between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming, well above the safe limits for humanity. In addition, rich countries failed to meet their commitment to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance to support the most vulnerable countries. For this reason and more, the 27th summit being held in November 2022 in Egypt has a lot of work to do. The effects of the climate crisis are devastating: a third of Pakistan under water, Europe's hottest summer in 500 years, more than a million people displaced by the worst floods Nigeria has suffered, historic droughts in Europe and the Horn of Africa, catastrophic wildfires in California. Just to name a few examples. The need for decisive climate action has never been greater.

However, despite the very strong pressures of society and many activist groups, the prospects are not good. Egypt had a political situation that was very unfavourable to social dialogue, struggles for human rights were violently repressed and, moreover, it was not very inclined to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. This is in addition to the current global geopolitical, energy and economic scenario, and the scarce representation of key Heads of State. Not only Russia was absent, for obvious reasons. For example, the new president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, was invited, but the president is still, in practice, the denialist Jair Bolsonaro.

The four aspects that can be seen to be urgent following the previous COP are: 

1) The ambiguity about the inescapable and indispensable elimination of government subsidies for fossil fuels.

2) Aid to poor and vulnerable countries,  an aid estimated at 100 billion dollars per year and that has not yet become a reality.

3) The reform of article 6, related to the emissions market and which we have seen how the US proposed to maintain with an offer that countries such as the US could continue to buy emission rights from third countries, something that has really not managed to convince anyone since it does not effectively solve the problem of climate change and conditions the development of the poorest countries.

4) Develop a mechanism that achieves a "general mitigation of global emissions" and not only NDCs (nationally determined contributions).

“The need for decisive climate action has never been greater”.

What no one seems to be talking about these days is the elephant in the room. In order to reduce emissions fast enough to meet the Paris targets, and to reverse other ecological pressures, high-income economies will have to drastically reduce their use of energy and material resources. This reduction in the use of resources is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that, contrary to national and international agreements and strategists, do not stop growing. This is very difficult to achieve if countries continue to pursue economic growth and increasing levels of industrial production as their main objectives.

Scientists increasingly recognise the need to explore alternative growth routes, something that is known as postgrowth and involving inescapable degrowth. Recent calls for a post-growth transition have been discussed in the main reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN panel on biodiversity (IPBES) and the European Environment Agency. There are four key aspects that help in this transition that is as inescapable as it is urgent: circular economy, energy efficiency, renewable energies and general electrification of key processes such as transport. But these four aspects are insufficient to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and to keep us even in the minimum climate security zone of 2ºC, now that the 1.5 target seems unattainable. These four aspects are not objective, as many argue, but are means to facilitate another end, that of the significant reduction of both demand and energy production. To speak in indicative figures, we must consider one, much higher than that 50% in the global north and much lower in the global south, in the developing countries.

“There are four key aspects that help in this transition that is as inescapable as it is urgent: Circular economy, energy efficiency, renewable energies and electrification”.

Scenarios limiting global warming to 1.5°C describe major transformations in energy supply and increasing energy demand. The final global energy demand in 2050 is due, mathematically, to reducing current energy demand to 40%. The challenge is to achieve this despite the increase in population, income and activity. An integrated assessment modelling exercise shows that changes in the quantity and type of energy services drive structural change in the intermediate and upstream supply sectors (energy and land use). Reducing the size of the global energy system dramatically improves the feasibility of a low-carbon supply-side transformation. This exercise meets the climate target of 1.5°C, as well as many sustainable development goals, without relying on negative emissions technologies. But humanity is not following this course. The most detailed study to date on the global carbon balance reveals that we are moving a little further away from the goals of the Paris Agreement every day. The study makes it very clear: emissions continue to rise.  For the majority of scientists, we have already missed the chance to reach the 1.5°C target. And COP 27 does not talk about this, or at least not in these terms.

The new agreements must ensure that we do not now exceed the red line of 2°C, a final limit beyond which climate tipping points would lead us to a chaotic and certainly dangerous climate. Will we lay the groundwork so that this dramatic limit is not exceeded? Will real and meaningful aid be given to the most vulnerable countries so that while we solve the global climate problem they can adapt to those climate change impacts that are already here? Courage and ambition are not present at COP27, at least not in large doses. But they say hope should be the last thing we lose.

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