Many readers welcomed, with surprise, the fact that the Conference of the Parties (COP) 27, this year’s most important climate change event was hosted by Egypt. Africa has been considered, for a long time, a minor player in international fora and meetings, therefore, the choice of Egypt has made many people think twice.
The previous COP was held in 2021 in Glasgow (Scotland) and the 2023 conference will be in Dubai. The COP is the global decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Every year, COP brings together 198 countries, which are United Nations member states, as well as the United Nations General Assembly observers like the State of Palestine and very few others to discuss progress and explore ways that can lead to better results. This year’s conference kicked off on 6 November 2022 and will end 18 November in Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town with sheltered sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs, filled with bars and restaurants. Is Egypt trying to sell her tourist attractions alongside hosting this important world event?
With climate impacts becoming increasingly widespread, more rapid and intense, the world is at a critical juncture to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as committed to in the Paris Agreement. The temperatures of pre-modern times were good for the environment and many scholars claim that the way out for the world is to reconsider the pre-industrial era and its practices. The Conference, therefore, takes into consideration the previous international decision and measures that were aimed at salvaging the environment and counteracting climate change. Those agreements include the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
In plain terms, the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that aims to manage and reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. We might need some environmental education here to explain these technical terms for the benefit and comprehension of the general readership. Greenhouse gas emissions are the emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere of various gases, especially carbon dioxide, that contribute to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in the earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat making the Earth much warmer. The greenhouse effect makes the Earth a comfortable place in which to live; it maintains the planet’s temperature at a level suitable for the development of life. The protocol was adopted at a conference in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and became international law on 16 February 2005. Those two environment-related decisions are central to the COP.
This event adopts the following format. World leaders, ministers and negotiators come together to agree on “how to jointly address climate change and its impacts”. Civil society, businesses, international organizations and the media are present for transparency (reporting to the whole world whatever is decided) and businesses certainly ensure the accountability component. It might help to recall that the agenda of this “Egypt Chapter” is to negotiate new goals for climate finance, to succeed in reaching the US$100 billion by 2026. That amount is a target or promise because in 2009, at the COP in Copenhagen, Parties committed, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilising, jointly, $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. The negotiations were set to be finalized in 2024, but developing countries argue that COP 27 should lead to an ‘early harvest’ – initial agreement on a set of basic elements to be included in the new target. The following points will drive the Conference: keeping the rise in global average temperature to well below 2 or, ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius; strengthen the ability to adapt to climate change and build resilience; and align finance flows with “a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development”.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly states that the world is now in extraordinarily “dangerous territory”, and, as such, every small delay to proportionate action on mitigation and adaptation is a move closer to irredeemable damage to the climate and its ability to meet human needs. Around half of the world’s population is highly vulnerable, and those in highly vulnerable areas are 15 times more likely to die due to flood, droughts, and storms. The UN Chief, Antonio Guterres, captured the severity of the phenomenon in his speech at the Conference, “the clock is ticking with the planet fast approaching tipping points that can make ‘climate chaos’ irreversible; we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. The dilemma remains whether humanity will ever abandon the pursuit of luxury, which is the first agent or producer of toxins that destroy the environment. How many people are ready to put their cars aside and ride in buses or on bicycles? Will the world ever agree that Africa should pay less because she is the smallest polluter, unlike the US and others who are then supposed to pay more, in the implementation of the polluter pays principle? NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) remains part of the fabric of developed nation. They approve these environmentally friendly measures and practices but refuse their implementation or application, since that reduces their comfort. Is COP addressing the real problem(s)?
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.