Good COP, bad COP... Climate conference such a mixed bag

You could despair that the globally community is moving excruciatingly slowly, busy making promises that are never acted upon, says Kathriona Devereux
Good COP, bad COP... Climate conference such a mixed bag

A demonstrator holds a sign at the COP27 UN Climate Summit in Wein Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

“IF you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

The universe served up this proverb to me three times during the week, listening to a radio interview about racism, in a documentary about water, and in book about the end of capitalism.

Despite all the criticisms of COP27, that proverb is a fitting reminder why nations assemble at the annual COP climate summit.

Collectively, we can achieve more than working individually, particularly when dealing with a problem like climate change that is blind to borders.

Most of the global population is in agreement that climate change is happening and is a major threat. Around the planet, examples of climate breakdown and extreme weather events pile up. OK, Mother Nature, we got it.

Scientists are in agreement that rapid decarbonization of energy is non-negotiable if we are to avert catastrophic global heating, however this overall consensus of the global population and scientific community is at odds with the stalling, prevaricating and delaying that happens at the annual COP climate summit.

Disagreement about the best and fairest way of getting off fossil fuels has plagued climate negotiations for decades. Emissions have risen by 54% in the 32 years since the IPCC’s first climate report.

Consensus takes a great deal of effort. We all know how hard it is sometimes to get agreement on an issue between family members who know and love each other.

Getting consensus from 192 countries with all the complexities of their cultures, histories and economic circumstances is tricky. International law making is hard.

The circus of the COP 27 conference at Sharm El Sheikh ended at the weekend and the past two weeks have been a tale of good COP and bad COP.

Bad COP

Coke - The announcement of the biggest plastic polluter in the world, Coca Cola, as a sponsor of the event was met with dismay by many.

That host Egypt would even think it was acceptable to have a partner that produces the equivalent of 200,000 (fossil fuel derived) plastic bottles every minute filled with nutritionally deficient liquid sugar at an event that is trying to save the world’s resources would make you want to bang your head off a wall.

And that was before the 800 private jets flew in.

Egypt

Egypt attempted to clean up its image on the international stage with the hosting of COP27, but the new roads and solar panels couldn’t hide the estimated 60,000 political prisoners in Egyptian jails.

The oppressive regime does not tolerate dissenting voices and is a brutal violator of human rights.

The most famous Egyptian political prisoner is Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has been jailed for almost nine years for allegedly spreading fake news.

He and the hashtag #FreeAlaa are associated with Egypt’s pro-democracy movement and the international press that flew to Sharm el-Sheikh to cover COP couldn’t but mention Egypt’s attempt to jail people like Alaa and greenwash its repressive reputation.

Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

Climate campaign Global Witness revealed that there were 636 people linked to fossil fuels at the talks in Egypt.

Inviting tobacco companies to a conference about curing lung cancer would be considered preposterous, yet the attendance of fossil fuel lobbyists at a conference to save the planet probably goes a long way to explain why all countries couldn’t agree to a phase down of all fossil fuels in the final agreement from COP27, an omission considered a massive failure.

Good COP

Loss and Damage - For decades, vulnerable countries have been calling for a “loss & damage” fund to financially support communities affected by climate change and COP 27 finally delivered the promise of one.

Ireland can take some pride in this development as Irish civil servants, as part of the EU delegation, were central in negotiating this new historic provision.

At the moment, the fund is just an empty bucket and the mechanism of how it will be financed is to be ironed out, but oil and gas companies will make €3.9 trillion this year so some of that should help fill the bucket.

Brazil

“Brazil is back”, so said newly elected Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

A champion of the Amazon, deforestation fell to record lows during his previous presidency.

Environmentalists are hoping his new administration can crack down on the destruction of the Amazon and his presence at the summit was greeted with chants of “olé olé ola Lula” and a feeling of optimism.

New Pledges

There were a number of novel promises included in the final agreement that offer hope for better climate action in the future, including a commitment to the transformation of the financial system and its processes, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as well as a recognition of the importance of ocean-based action and nature-based solutions.

Cynically, you can look at the final agreement of COP as just words on a page, words that can, and are often, ignored.

You could despair that the globally community is moving excruciatingly slowly, busy making promises that are never acted upon.

The COP process is flawed but we don’t need treaties or conferences to wait to take climate action.

While the global community moves slowly together, we can make big strides individually and nationally to save the planet right here in Ireland.

By moving fast, we can be an example to our global family what can be achieved, so that we can all go far together.

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