COP27 Fiddling as World Warms

By Adnan A Hezri, an environmental policy analyst, Fellow of the Academy of Sciences, Malaysia, and  author of The Sustainability Shift: Reshaping Malaysia’s Future and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development. Originally published at Jomo’s website

The latest annual climate conference has begun in the face of a worsening climate crisis and further retreats by rich nations following the energy crisis induced by NATO sanctions after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Copping Out Again

The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is now meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November 2022.

COP27 takes place amidst worsening poverty, hunger and war, and higher prices, exacerbating many interlinked climate, environmental and socio-economic crises.

The looming world economic recession is likely to be deeper than in 2008. The likely spiral into stagflation will make addressing the climate crisis even more difficult.

Invoking the Ukraine war as pretext, governments and corporations are rushing to increase fossil fuel production to offset the deepening energy crisis.

Resources which should be deployed for climate adaptation and mitigation have been diverted for war, fossil fuel extraction and use, including resumption of shale gas ‘fracking’ as well as coal mining and burning.

War causes huge social and economic damage to people, society and the environment. The wars in Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere impose high costs on all, disrupting energy and food supplies, and raising prices sharply.

Russia’s Ukraine incursion has provided a convenient smokescreen for a hasty return to fossil fuels, as military-industrial processes alone account for 6% of all greenhouse gases.

The Future Is Already Here

All these have worsened crises facing the world’s environment and economy. The most optimistic Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenario expects the 1.5°C rise above pre-industrial levels threshold for climate catastrophe to be breached by 2040.

Crossing it, the world faces risks of far more severe climate change effects on people and ecosystems, especially in the tropics and sub-tropical zone.

But the future is already upon us. Accelerating warming is already causing worse extreme weather events, ravaging economies, communities and ecosystems.

Recent floods in Pakistan displaced 33 million people. Wildfires, extreme heat, ice melt, drought, and extreme weather phenomena are already evident on many continents, causing disasters worldwide.

In 2021, the sea level rose to a record high, and is expected to continue rising. UN reports estimate women and children are 14 times more likely than adult men to die during climate disasters.

Popular sentiment is shifting, even in the US, where ‘climate scepticism’ is strongest. Devastation threatened by Hurricane Ida in 2021 not only revived painful memories of Katrina in 2005, but also heightened awareness of warming-related extreme weather events.

Stronger Climate Action Needed

In international negotiations, rich nations have evaded historical responsibility for ‘climate debt’ by only focusing on current emissions. Hence, there is no recognition of a duty to compensate those most adversely impacted in the global South.

Last year’s COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact was hailed for its call to ‘phase-out’ coal. This has now been quickly abandoned by Europe with the war. And for developing countries, Glasgow failed to deliver any significant progress on climate finance.

At COP27, the Egyptian presidency has proposed an additional ‘loss and damage’ finance facility to compensate for irreparable damage due to climate impacts.

After failing to even meet its modest climate finance promises of 2009, the rich North is dithering, pleading for further talks until 2024 to work out financing details.

Meanwhile, the G7 has muddied the waters by counter-offering its Global Shield Against Climate Risks – a disaster insurance scheme.

Get Priorities Right

What the world needs, instead, are rapidly promoted and implemented measures as part of a more rapid, just, internationally funded transition for the global South. This should:

• replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, including by subsidizing renewable energy generation for energy-deficient poor populations.
• promote energy-saving and efficiency measures to reduce its use and greenhouse gas emissions by at least 70% (from 1990) by 2030.
• implement a massive global public works programme, creating ‘green jobs’ to replace employment in ‘unsustainable’ industries.
• develop needed sustainable technologies, e.g., to replace corporate agricultural practices with ‘agroecological’ farming methods, investment and technology.

Another World Is Possible

Another world is possible. A massive social and political transformation is needed. But the relentless pursuit of private profit has always been at the expense of people and nature.

Greed cannot be expected to become the basis for a just solution to climate change, let alone environmental degradation, world poverty, hunger and gross inequalities.

The COP27 conference is now taking place in Sharm-al-Sheikh, an isolated, heavily policed tourist resort. Only one major road goes in and out, as if designed to keep out civil society and drown out voices from the global South.

The luxury hotels there are charging rates that have put COP27 beyond the means of many, especially climate justice activists from poorer countries. The rich and powerful arrived in over 400 private jets, making a mockery of decarbonization rhetoric.

Thus, the COP process is increasingly seen as exclusive. Without making real progress on the most important issues, it is increasingly seen as slow, irrelevant and ineffective.

Generating inadequate agreements at best, the illusion of progress thus created is dangerously misleading at worst.

By generating great expectations and false hopes, but actually delivering little, it is failing the world, even when it painstakingly achieves difficult compromises which fall short of what is needed.

Multilateralism at Risk

Multilateral platforms, such as the UNFCCC, have long been expected to engage governments to cooperate in developing, implementing and enforcing solutions. With the erosion of multilateralism since the end of the Cold War, these are increasingly being bypassed.

Instead, self-appointed private interests, with means, pretend to speak for world civil society. Strapped for resources, multilateral platforms and other organizations are under pressure to forge partnerships and other forms of collaboration with them.

Thus, inadequate ostensible private solutions increasingly dominate policy discourses. Widespread fiscal deficits have generated interest in them due to the illusory prospect of private funding.

Private interests have thus gained considerable influence. Thus, the new spinmeisters of Davos and others have gained influence, offering seductively attractive, but ultimately false, often misleading and typically biased solutions.

Meanwhile, global warming has gone from bad to worse. UN Member States must stiffen the backs of multilateral organizations to do what is right and urgently needed, rather than simply going with the flow, typically of cash.

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    1. juno mas

      Well, I’m on a college campus alot. Let’s not have her message be lost on her appearance. First, she is 20 years old. Climate change is going impact her whole life! As for her wardrobe, this is what female students wear to class (everyday, believe it or not.) She is not being a ‘fashionista’ (showing leg and midriff is a derigeur for all body types at her age).

      Her message to the Conference is shown in the ‘tweets’. Read it.

      1. flora

        Maybe. If I’ve learned anything from watching the Elizabeth Holmes, SBF, and Gretta sagas it’s this: I shouldn’t fall for attractive young things presuming to instruct their elders in some urgently needed new thing that they claim to understand so much better with the genius of youth, and trade on their youth and looks and connections to convince. In fact, at this point, I don’t believe any of them. James Hanson I believe. The “childrens’ crusaders” I don’t believe anymore. My 2 cents.

        1. digi_owl

          Greta is particularly interesting.

          Not only did her wardrobe etc make her seem 5 years younger than she is, but she has parents with quite a bit of pull in the Swedish media world.

          And frankly the last decade or two has shown media take on a weird new life, though one struggle to nail a proper description to.

          1. albrt

            The other difference is that the kids can beat the oldsters in a physical fight. But not in a political fight by the oldsters’ rules.

            When the kids start showing a willingness to physically fight for their survival I will start listening to them. By necessity.

        2. BeliTsari

          I’m 70, with 34yrs as QA/ NDE Lead, on the gas/oil transmission pipelines/ infrastructure so frequently discussed, here. What she’s saying is JUST as astute, pertinent & consensus reality (commonly accepted by my most MAGA coworker) as it was in 1965, when API’s Frank Ikard gave his ‘Time is Running Out’ speech. Only objection is to how it’s INVARIABLY an affluent white kid, from a G7 country!

      2. urdsama

        But that’s the point, isn’t it?

        If she is so serious about her message, she should also realize appearance is important.

        Talk about an own goal…

      3. Bart Hansen

        Not a twitter user, so I could not access her talk, but I agree that her manner of dress should not evoke ad hominem attacks.

        Actually, she may be speaking mainly to her cohort, having given up on the rest of us.

        1. flora

          I remember when a younger Gloria Steinem was the face of the second wave of feminism. Always perfectly dressed in the latest young trends with long fabulous hair. Then later it came out she worked for the CIA. Things and people are not always what they seem. I’ve grown skeptical about many things.

      4. The Rev Kev

        Sorry but she is not going to an college class here but to an international conference with some pretty powerful people. She had to up her game in her wardrobe to be taken more seriously but she didn’t. Some people may get away with dressing like a dag – Zelelnsky and his endless t-shirts come to mind here – but usually the first impression that you make counts the most. And college wear just does not cut it. Right or wrong, it’s just the way that it is.

        1. Earthling

          Thank you. If you go to a major world event for a meaningful and urgent cause, and you don’t want to be slagged off as a sideshow bimbo, don’t dress like a bimbo.

    2. Rip Van Winkle

      Caught Garland Nixon segment on the George Galloway MOATS today. Great stuff! Love George’s delivery.

    3. Karl

      Seeing that attractive woman makes me think of today’s news that the planet has crossed the 8 billion population thresh hold, which means humans continue to have way too much procreative sex. Perhaps COP27 should consider bans on midrifs and short skirts in their scenario planning?

      …it is a hard grind

      That’s a good way of characterizing the whole fight in this climate crisis we’re in. It’s like the Ukraine war of attrition. There will be up days, and down days, but one side has overwhelming dominance. Nature has overwhelming dominance. The planet will warm, sea levels will rise, floods and droughts will increase. The only question is when humans realize it and negotiate terms of surrender. The longer we postpone the inevitable (by deferring the necessary asset write-downs, new investments, and other sacrifices), the more punitive the surrender terms will be, alas.

  1. Trout Creek

    It’s just physics, no model needed. Paleoclimatology with multiple lines of inquiry has lead us to this understanding.
    There’s already 1 trillion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere so climate change is guaranteed. Because of thermal inertia, we have not begun to feel its full effects. We do know however, the last time the planet had CO2 levels of 415 PPM was about 4 million years ago.
    The sea levels were 15 to 85 feet higher, the temperatures were 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher and trees were growing above the Arctic circle.
    In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, we should prepare for the harsh impact of a much warmer planet. We are already out of time.

    1. semper loquitur

      I listened to her speech. She demands that the senior attendees stop lying. They are not going to stop lying, however.

      She is angry and deservedly so. But that’s not going to change anything. Were her and her cohort to take to the streets she would find that the fossil fuel energy industries and their stooges in politics will club them to the ground.

      I’d like to see some kind of mass strike, for climate and a bunch of other stuff, I think that that’s probably the only thing that will get heads turned. But only to pick up the phone and unleash the dogs.

      We, as a species, should start preparing for the new world that is coming. It’s too late to stop that, as you say, the catastrophe is “baked in”. But we probably won’t even do that. Rather, the greedy, short-sighted apes who are in charge will build bunkers and maybe space stations and such.

      1. Paleobotanist

        I fear our only hope is something like The Ministry for the Future drone attacks. The powerful will never give up power, it must be taken. Spoken as a minor paleoclimatologist whose work has been cited by the IPCC.

        1. thousand points of green

          If power is too powerful to be taken by frontal assaults, can power be atttritted by undermining it from the sides and from below, such that power eventually topples over sideways?

          You can bring a ten ton elephant to the Washington Monument and have it push on the Washington Monument until forever and it will never fall over. Or you can bring ten tons of moles and gophers to the Washington Monument and give them all the time they need to dig all the soil out from under one side of the Washington Monument until it falls over. In the fullness of time, ten tons of moles and gophers will make it fall over.

          Or you can bring ten tons of protesters to the Washington Monument, marching around it while screaming and shaking their little signs at it. It will never respond to them. It can’t hear them. It don’t gots no ears, you dig?

  2. John

    In the short term mitigation might begin, if allowed to. In the medium to long term a combination of nuclear and renewables might “bend the curve” a bit, but overall the chance of humans to slow or reverse climate change was a vain hope sacrificed on the altar of economic growth and, in the developed world, convenience, in the form of unnecessary ‘toys.’

  3. Alice X

    blah, blah, blah…

    Greta Thunberg

    And so it goes. I fully expect the world to blow through some critical tipping points.

  4. Vodkatom

    The mood of the commenters on this post seems grim. I can’t disagree. This last month I had the epiphany that we (at the least the people currently holding power) are not going to do anything meaningful to address climate change, in any reasonable time frame.

    I’ve always assumed the “adults” would take over at the last minute, or the weight of many small policy changes (emission standards, and the like) would change the tide. Being a NC reader for many years should have disabused me of the notion that the solution would be easy. The solution being de-growth. Intellectual it’s easy to understand. But hearing a Russian official quoted in some post explaining how self destructive the Germans were to give up cheap Russian energy, made the problem click. The official clearly had an understanding that cheap/available energy(fossil energy) is the basis of our industrial economy and society. IMO we just aren’t capable of planning the transition using our current energy to a lower energy input society.

    So it will be decided for us by nature. I hope younger generations will have a clearer vision of how to clean up the mess.

  5. thousand points of green

    At what point does hope become false hope and then mere hopium?

    On the other hand, at what point does despair become false despair and then mere despairium?

    And is despairium any less of a drug than hopium?

    Certainly the situation seems hopeless and desperate. What if the endless Climate Conferences are designed on purpose to inspire total despair and hopelessness in the onlooking masses, in order to keep us out of the Rich Peoples’ hair? What if the Rich and the Elites have already decided that they, the Proud and the Haughty , shall be the sole survivors who live to Inherit the New Earth of their conscious deliberate design?

    If all we are to be left with on the way down is a mental addiction to either despairium or hopium, is each equally bad? Might one be worse that the other? And if we choose hopium over despairium, can a clear eyed analysis lead us from hopium back to hope? A hope in enough millions of masses doing enough millions of genuinely effective things to dig enough soil out from under the Washington Monument to make it fall over? Perhaps, to paraphrase Gandhi, we must become the moles and gophers we want to see in the world.

    The elites work every day in every way to make us give up hope. It puts me in mind of something by William S. Burroughs which I remember having read several decades ago. It was about the supposed reply of a paregoric addict in an “end-of-the-line” skid row hotel to some well-intended person’s advice to give up paregoric. The closest I can come to his quoted reply was . . . ” You want me to give up paregoric? I gave up my wife for paregoric. I gave up my children for paregoric. I gave up my house for paregoric. I gave up my job for paregoric. And you want me to give up paregoric? Now where would I be if I give that up too? ” ( )

    I remember President Elder Bush’s speech about a ” thousand points of light”. He even started a thing called the Points of Light Award. Individual persons doing a little thing to bring a little light to their own little corner of a dark world. Granted, Bush offered a “thousand points of light” as a diversionary decoy to focus peoples’ attention away from governmental and public policies which could be designed and applied to light up the darkness in general. And a “thousand points of little green light” are offered as a diversionary decoy to people in the same spirit of decoy and diversion. Still, what if a thousand points-of-light people were to see eachother, and see the all-surrounding darkness, and see that a thousand points of light leave the darkness still mostly dark; and decide to try pooling their thousand little points of light and power into an effort to force into existence public and government policies designed to light up the darkness in general?

    What if a thousand points of little green light never do lead the light-shiners to find eachother and force a collective lighting-up on the greater situation? Perhaps they are still getting right with Nature and Earth.
    And perhaps when they approach the Ivy Gates, Saint Peter will let them into that Great Garden in the Sky instead of casting them into the Lake of Eternal Roundup.

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