Nov 23, 2022
Climate and COP27, more shadows than bright spots
Sandro Carniel, Member of One Ocean Foundation's Scientific Committee: The ocean recognised as protagonist, but time is running out. Too little and too late, in the theatre of an eternal 'decide not to decide'

The Conference of the Parties (COP), held annually, are the political moments when nations are supposed to translate into concrete actions the indications of scientists on the state of the Planet's climate. In Sharm El Sheik, COP number 27, which opened on 6 November, has just closed in the sign of concrete actions, after that the previous summit, COP26 of Glasgow in 2021, incardinated some fundamental concepts. What emerges, however, is a picture of great contradictions and little action.

On the adaptation front, i.e. that series of actions to be taken immediately to cushion the severe blows of the climate crisis borne by the most vulnerable countries, the Parties have taken stock of the commitments made at COP21 of Paris in 2015. In that occasion, the richest countries promised $100 billion by 2020, a figure that already seemed insufficient. Now, two years late, only 80 billion has been concretely committed. Promptly, the text elaborated in Sharm-el-Sheik raises the bar again, now asking for $200 billion, but it does so with outlines too blurred to be effective. With what credibility is this demand made? Is it non-repayable aid for extremely poor countries to achieve fair and equitable climate action, or is it loans that will then generate other, less virtuous, economic dependencies?  

Concerning mitigation, meaning the series of actions to be put in place to decrease the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or to limit their emissions, the situation is even worse. The final text reiterates that, in order to avoid disastrous and unmanageable situations, it is necessary not to exceed the threshold of +1.5 °C global warming by 2100, compared to 2000. But the necessary decisions to reach this goal have not been taken. This is like prescribing a sick person to be well by the end of the week, without indicating the treatment. In this specific case, the text does not address the issue of abandoning fossil fuels and it does not set 2025 as the year in which emissions must begin to fall. Again, it is decided to wait for the next COP, during which individual countries will present their revised (to the rise) commitments not to exceed a 1.5 °C increase by the end of the century.

Nevertheless, there are some aspects that can be regarded as a timid victory. Concerning the methane, another greenhouse gas (much more potent than carbon dioxide), 150 signatories have come together to sign a pact aiming at its drastic reduction, although China, India and Russia are still missing from this agreement.

Moreover, the final document contains significant words on the 'right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment', mentioning that between USD 4,000 and 6,000 billion will be needed to invest in renewable energies to achieve complete decarbonisation by 2050. These represents late acknowledgements that needed to be supported by concrete actions.

The only important success concerns the issue of 'loss and damage', i.e. the need to recognise to some countries the damage and losses that are suffered as a result of emissions that, in fact, were caused by other countries. This represents a significant step forward and the result of negotiations reached in extremis, which led to the establishment of a fund for the poorest and most vulnerable countries. It is a pity that it was decided to wait until the next COP, in 2023, to see the details of this economic action.

Despite the certainty that catastrophic impacts of the current climate situation can only be avoided by drastic and urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; despite the fact that this COP finally acknowledged an explicit reference to 'tipping points', and to the fact that the warming process may not occur gradually and linearly, but that there is a real risk of triggering feedback loops that will lead to rapidly increasing effects; despite the reaffirmation of the central role of the ocean in the climate issue, the proposed actions were once again conservative and inadequate.

COP27 closes with a series of considerations that are definitely important, but unfortunately seem to be 20 years overdue. There is the feeling of always watching shows that are out of time, that bring to the stage things that have been written and anticipated by the scientific community for many years. One of those films where the dubbing is out of sync, late, where the voices are heard now but the actual gestures and actions have already been performed before, in a perpetual and tragic out-of-time.

The final document includes themes that are undoubtedly useful in defining the situation in an official way, but on the whole it can be defined as 'too little, after all this time', a continuous 'deciding not to decide', entrusting the next Summit with much heavier actions than those that the Parties have not had the courage to take now. 

It is not with this step that we will change the course of a climate crisis that has already entered its prime.

Sandro Carniel, Member of One Ocean Foundation's Scientific Committee, Research Director at CNR Institute of Polar Sciences, Venice, Italy
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