Leaders from around the world are convening in Egypt for the COP 27 conference. The conference is meant to be a follow-up to the 2015 Paris agreement with the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. However, many are skeptical that any real progress will be made. Investments are lagging behind and heads of state are busy with other topics such as inflation, the war in Ukraine, and rising international tensions. It is a pity because the window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller and many climate change initiatives could limit international tensions.
What is COP 27?
COP stands for Conference of Parties. The COP is a yearly meeting of all countries that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was created in 1992. Its objective is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." In other words, they want to prevent global warming. The first COP was held in 1995 in Berlin, and since then, it has been held every year except for one. The most recent one before this year's was COP 26 which got postponed due to Covid-19 but finally took place in Glasgow.
What has been accomplished so far?
The Paris Agreement was reached at COP 21 in 2015 and it came into effect on November 4th, 2016. It includes commitments from 196 countries to work towards limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius. It contains Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which are plans that each country submits detailing what actions they will take to meet these goals as well as reporting requirements to measure progress.
There have been some successes such as an increase in renewable energy usage and electric vehicles but unfortunately, NDCs are not binding and there have been no consequences for not meeting them resulting in little overall progress being made.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere this year reached 421 parts per million, the highest in human history, and the planet just experienced one of its hottest summers on record. Unfortunately, only 24 of the 193 signatories of the Paris agreement have stepped up their plan since the last COP26.
What needs to be done?
There needs to be a lot more investment in renewable energy and efficiency measures as well as a decrease in fossil fuel production. According to the Climate Action Tracker, current pledges would lead to a temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 which would have devastating consequences such as mass extinctions, large-scale displacement of people, increased extreme weather events, etc. For there to be any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, there need to be much more ambitious NDCs submitted by countries as well as compliance mechanisms put into place so that countries actually meet their goals this time around.
The bottom line
The window of opportunity is closing quickly. UN boss warns that Earth is on a "highway to hell". Climate change initiatives could also help reduce international tensions by lowering dependency on oil-producing countries, taming inflation, and creating new green jobs. The IRA is a step in the right direction.