On a highway to climate hell

By Artchil B. Fernandez

COP27 summit began this week in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt.  COP or the Conference of Parties is convened by the United Nations (UN) annually (unless parties decide otherwise) to review the implementation of the agreements and other legal instruments that COP adopted and make decisions for the enactment of what had been agreed on climate change. The COP is the supreme decision-making body of the parties.  Over 200 countries are participating in COP27.

The climate crisis moved to the center of global agenda since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that global warming is real and constitutes the gravest threat to humanity’s survival today. Current climate change is human induced and is mainly driven by the use of fossil fuels the IPCC found. Carbon dioxide emissions are the principal driver of human-induced climate change.

Impact of climate change is now being felt by mankind. This is evidenced by stronger typhoons, severe flooding and draughts, heat waves, and erratic weather. Rising sea levels, melting of polar ice caps as well as warming of oceans and increased level of their acidity are the other effects of climate change. Hundreds of millions of people are suffering from the dangerous and harsh blows of the changing climate.

Climate crisis is real and countries must find ways to avert climate catastrophe before it’s too late. On December 12, 2015, 196 countries crafted a legally binding international treaty on climate change at COP21, the Paris Agreement. It entered into force on November 4, 2016.

The ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial level. The base-line average temperature is at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-to-the-late 19th century.

“If global warming reaches up to 1.5 degrees, the hottest of the hot temperatures will increase and many (more) places will get dangerously hot,” warned the IPCC.

IPCC projects that once global warming reaches 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius there will dire consequences. Among these are:  1.7 billion more people will experience severe heat waves at least once every five years; seas rise – on average – another 10 centimeters (almost 4 inches); up to several hundred million more people become exposed to climate-related risks and poverty; the coral reefs that support marine environments around the world could decline as much as 99 percent; and global fishery catches could decline by another 1.5 million tons.

To prevent global warming from crossing the 1.5 degrees threshold and achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement, the IPCC report in 2018 said that there must be a drastic reduction of carbon emissions. By 2030, carbon emission must decline by 45 percent (relative to the 2010 levels), and reach net-zero by 2050. If this target is not reached, humanity is facing a dark and grim future.

It is only eight years away from 2030 and 2050 is twenty-eight years from now. The window is closing and it is more urgent than ever for countries to act now to prevent the inevitable.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres told world leaders at the opening ceremony of COP27 that the global community faces a stark choice. “Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish.”

Guterres painted a bleak scenario at present. “Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

The challenge before the world at present is how to drastically cut carbon emissions by ending investments in fossil fuels. The problem is the huge disconnect between words and deeds especially by financial institutions that only pay lip service to efforts designed to avert climate catastrophe.

Multilateral lending institutions like the World Bank (WB) for example pledged to align its policies with the Paris Agreement yet continue to funnel money to fossil fuels. From 2018-2021, WB provided US $15 billion direct loans for fossil fuel projects. The World Bank is pouring US $379 billion in new gas infrastructure, according to Trend Asia. Planned gas investments in Asia include $189 billion of gas-fired power plants, $54 billion of gas pipelines, and $136 billion of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) import and export terminals. If built and run at full capacity, they would push the world way beyond 1.5°C of warming.

Many countries and companies are also promoting false solutions to climate crisis by pushing LNG, hydrogen and ammonia as transition fuels. These transition fuels are also emitting greenhouse gases which worsen global warming.

The only way for the world to get out of the highway to climate hell is to repudiate fossil fuels and move to swift, just, and equitable transition to renewable energy. Renewable energy (RE) is an energy that is produced from natural processes and continuously replenished.  RE is a source of clean, inexhaustible energy. It is pollution-free as it does not produce any greenhouse gas and polluting emissions which are otherwise produced in the case of non-renewable sources.

Time of empty talk is over. Now is the time for action. If the world will not act now to prevent global temperature from rising to 1.5 degrees (the temperature rise is now 1.2 degrees) there will be no future to speak of. Something must be done to prevent the collective suicide of the human race. The planet must be saved now.