What? Isn’t that what this whole traveling circus is about? The
climate is getting hotter because we’re burning fossil fuels for energy, soon
people will be dying in large numbers, in twenty or thirty years entire
countries will become uninhabitable, so stop! Alternative energy sources are
available! Act now, or global disaster will happen!
what it’s about, and every year tens of thousands of politicians, experts,
campaigners, and lobbyists trek to a different location – Glasgow last year,
Sharm-al-Sheikh this year, the United Arab Emirates next year – to debate and
decide how to deal with this literally existential threat.
And in all
those 27 years they haven’t even managed to mention the name of the threat? No,
they haven’t. Last year, for the first time, they actually inserted the word
‘coal’ into the final report – we will eventually ‘phase it down’ (not ‘out’),
they said – but the words ‘gas’ and ‘oil’ are still taboo.
what you get when a global institution is ruled by consensus. Everybody has a
veto, including the coal-, gas- and oil-dependent countries – and the
short-term interests of some (money and rapid fossil-fuelled economic growth) clash
with everybody’s long-term interest in not experiencing a huge population
die-back and civilisational collapse.
This is the price you pay for belonging to a species still emerging from a long
tribal past that has developed a high-tech, high-energy civilisation before it
was culturally equipped to manage it. Do the best you can, and hope that it
will be enough.
So much for
the philosophy. What actually happened at Sharm-al-Sheikh?
inevitable all-night negotiations (two all-nighters, in fact), they managed to
agree on a new fund that will recompense poor countries that suffer ‘loss and
damage’ from extreme climate events. The money will come from the developed
countries whose historic and current emissions are the reason for the damage.
catastrophic floods made it this year’s poster boy. Prime Minister Shehbaz
Sharif told the conference: “Despite seven times the average of extreme rain in
the south, we struggled on as raging torrents ripped out 8,000 km. of [paved]
roads, damaged over 3,000 km. of railway track, and washed away standing crops
on four million acres.
a victim of something with which we had nothing to do, and of course it was a
man-made disaster....How on Earth can one expect from us that we will undertake
this gigantic task on our own?”
damage’ is not charity; it’s climate justice,” said Pakistan’s climate envoy
Nabeel Munir, and this time the message got through. That’s about par for the
course: if you bring up the same obvious injustice at the climate summits every
year for a decade or so, eventually those who did the harm and should pay the
price will admit that you have a case.
now take only two or three more years to set up the new ‘loss and damage ‘agency and agree on the rules for who pays how much into it each year, and
exactly what qualifies as climate-related damage eligible for compensation.
remaining question by far is what about China? It is still classed as a
developing country and therefore automatically a victim, but actually it is a
middle -income country and the world’s single biggest emitter of carbon
dioxide. It’s bigger than all the rest of the developed countries together, and
almost three times bigger than the United States.
be paying into the ‘loss and damage ‘fund, rather than claiming money from it?
And how about India? It’s only third in total emissions now, after the United
States, but it will also probably overtake America in the next ten years.
titanic struggle over who pays for the climate-linked loss and damage inflicted
on the poorest countries will continue, but at least the next climate summit
can also focus on other things. Just as well, because stopping at the
‘aspirational’ target of no more than a 1.5°C rise in average global
temperature is probably a lost cause by now.
‘never-exceed’ hard target is no more than +2.0°C, because after that we lose
control. The heating we have already caused will trigger warming ‘feedbacks’ in
the system that we cannot turn off, and away we go into the nightmare
good to see them getting a little more reasonable each year at these summits.
There’s still a very long way to go, but at least we’re moving in the right
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.