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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  We’ll need binding promises for climate action to work
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We’ll need binding promises for climate action to work

CoP-27’s squishy agenda makes it look like a cop-out from the start and CoP-28 will have to make up for it

Photo: AFPPremium
Photo: AFP

While climate chaos gallops ahead, climate action is stalled," said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at a recent speech to mark the release of a report called Emissions Gap 2022 (EG-2022).

Climate chaos ran amok in 2022. Hurricane Ian in Florida, a summer of record temperatures in Europe, unprecedented floods in China and Pakistan, widespread floods in Central and West Africa, and a year-long drought in China have been only some of the main disasters. Climate disasters to date include 14 severe weather events, six floods, five droughts, three tropical cyclones and a windstorm. A report from the Centre for Science and Environment says that India clocked extreme-weather impacts on a startling 88% of the 273 days this year until the end of September.

The cost in terms of lives and property is mounting. At least 16,000 people died in the European heatwave and now over 2,000 have perished in Pakistan’s floods. An estimate of economic costs is difficult to make so soon, but it is likely to cross $500 billion this year when the final bills for Hurricane Ian are counted. Insurance costs, already skyrocketing due to high inflation, the pandemic and burdens of the Ukraine conflict, are poised to rise even further, with record reinsurance claims being presented. With reinsurance companies coming under such pressure, the very structure of the reinsurance industry may require governments to step in as insurers ‘of last resort’.

Since the UN Conference of Parties (CoP-26) last year, the hope of containing global warming to just a 1.5° Celsius rise since pre-industrial times has faded further. The EG-2022 report highlights four key points: 1) Commitments since CoP-26 have only crawled ahead by an additional 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e); 2) Countries are off track on achieving unconditional National Defined Contributions (NDCs) by three GtCO2e and conditional NDCs by six GtCO2e by the end of this decade (i.e. they are falling short of already insufficient targets); 3) The emissions gap in 2030 is 15 GtCO2e for a 2° Celsius pathway and 23 GtCO2e for a 1.5° Celsius pathway; 4) Current policies with no additional action are projected to result in global warming of 2.8° Celsius by the end of this century.

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions declined in 2020 as a consequence of pandemic responses, but have since rebounded in 2021 to 2019 levels. GHG emissions are likely to have a reached a new record in 2022 of over 53 GtCO2e. GHG emissions have continued to grow over the past 10 years, but the rate of growth has slowed to about 1.1% a year. GHG emissions are highly uneven across geography and households. The US and Russia are the highest per capita emitters of GHGs, with China third and India eighth. For a 66% chance of 2° Celsius or lower rise by the end of the century, the world will need to reduce GHG emissions to about 40 GtCO2e by 2030 and 20 GtCO2e by 2050. This target looks only remotely achievable, particularly since many countries have used inflation, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine as excuses to not only delay climate action but reverse many years of progress.

It is against this background that CoP-27 is being held this week in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt. While much will be said, CoP-27, like its immediate predecessor, is likely to disappoint. The failure of subsequent CoP meetings after the 2015 Paris Agreement (at CoP-21) is because of a birth defect in that original pact. Pledges, as enshrined in NDCs, do not hold governments to binding targets. Even the unambitious $100 billion a year climate finance promise made in Copenhagen (at CoP-15) by the Global North towards developing countries has not been met.

Since 2015, we have had progressively intense extreme weather events. These events, combined with a once in a century pandemic, global inflation unprecedented in 40 years and a war in continental Europe, have not forced an awakening. A crisis-led opportunity for a green future had beckoned. Instead, it seems to have triggered an economic regression.

Look for the term ‘climate adaptation’ to become a big part of CoP-27’s legacy. To mix metaphors, this is a cop-out. It rationalizes the failures of climate commitment, climate action and climate justice. Instead, it will divert attention to how the world adapts to the harm that is already done and which will continue to be done by errors of omission and commission. While some of it is undoubtedly necessary, it will probably have the effect of easing pressure on action even further. Every big nation is culpable in this farce, but the biggest share of culpability must belong to the US, EU and China.

It’s clear that CoP-27 is lost even before it begins. Hence, CoP-28 in the UAE must set a very ambitious agenda. It must codify NDC pledges into binding commitments. In a world where trust between the Global North and South, between the EU and Russia and between the US and China is at a very low ebb, the odds do not appear great.

But try, we must. Our collective future hangs in the balance. Every fraction of a degree counts for peak warming. Technologies for decarbonization, carbon sequestration and outright carbon removal are expected to make rapid progress. Despite that, massive reductions in GHG emissions are still required. The quicker we can do that, the more promising the future.

P.S.: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep..." wrote poet Robert Frost.

Narayan Ramachandran is chairman, InKlude Labs. Read Narayan’s Mint columns at 

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Published: 07 Nov 2022, 10:31 PM IST
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