The climate summit COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has produced a historic accord on funding to help vulnerable countries cope with the devastating impacts of global warming. This positive outcome was not arrived at easily. The negotiations dragged on for two weeks, appearing at times to be teetering on the brink of a collapse, with the last two days seeing round-the-clock efforts.
The major breakthrough is on setting up a fund for “loss and damage”, which Pakistan has been advocating for three decades. Pakistan has hailed the outcome as the UN conference responding to the “voices of the damaged”. However, all was not sweetness and honey despite this breakthrough as there was anger at the failure to push further on cutting emissions, believed to be the main culprit fuelling global warming and climate change.
Credit must go to Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Climate Minister Sherry Rahman for the success of the effort. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres must also be lauded for his support to the climate talks, although he too bemoaned the lack of consensus on the urgent carbon cutting needed to tackle global warming. “Our planet is still in the emergency room,” is how he characterised the threat facing the whole world.
So while we celebrate the setting up of the loss and damage fund, we should note that the world is still far from the desirable commitment to reducing, and finally phasing out, fossil fuels that are the main culprits upsetting the delicate ecological balance of our living planet. At best COP27 held to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
Scientists say global warming is at 1.2 degrees Celsius so far, and even at this level the world has been afflicted by a cascade of climate-driven extremes that threaten developing countries with escalating disasters, energy and food prices crises, and ballooning debt. Imagine if their forecast of the world heading for 2.5 degrees Celsius at present comes true.
The loss and damage fund will be geared towards developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Examples of such countries are island and coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels because of the melting of the polar ice caps and other disturbances in weather patterns. Pakistan has this year suffered devastating floods brought on by enhanced melting of mountain glaciers and above normal monsoon rains that have drowned one-third of the country and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of 33 million people.
Pakistan, with a struggling economy even before the natural catastrophe, fought hard at COP27 for help to mitigate the effects of the disaster. Some 134 countries are expected to benefit from the fund. However, many thorny questions still remain unanswered, which will be dealt with by a transitional committee, expected to report to next year’s climate meeting in Dubai to get the funding operational.
Inevitably, these unanswered questions include who will contribute how much, what is the desired size of the fund, what will be the criteria to disburse funds in what priority to the most stricken countries? That indicates there may still be many a slip between the cup and the lip. Interestingly, the ‘resistance’ of developed countries to any notion of liability and compensation was acceded to.
The fact is that the unbridled exploitation of natural resources and fossil fuels for capitalist industrialisation and its unlimited appetite for maximising profit even at the expense of the world’s natural habitats for the last three centuries has rendered the globe ecologically disturbed. And because developed countries too share the same planetary home, they have not been spared extreme climate change and accompanying natural catastrophes. Were that not the case, perhaps the developed world would not have acceded to the worldwide demand for help to vulnerable developing countries like Pakistan.
The issue of emissions cutting, which is at the heart of the effort to rescue the planet from the adverse effects of three centuries of unbridled fossil fuel burning, deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats that has rendered many species extinct or threatened with extinction, is a tough nut to crack because it involves the switchover from fossil fuels to non-polluting renewable energy sources.
Although the technology to bring this about now exists, the costs of the switchover, possible disruptions to economies and other roadblocks make the target not easy to accomplish. First, there has to be a global agreement or plan how this will be carried out, in what timeframe, who will pay (or share) the costs involved. It seems logical that the greatest resistance and attempts to slow down and delay the phases of this process will come from the developed world and their corporate sector.
However, the globe can no longer be left to the ‘tender’ mercies of global corporate capitalism, not only but also because the people of the entire world, including the developed world, now lie in the path of the destruction already caused, and that will continue till a final change in the way industry and commerce functions, how it obtains its energy, etc., are sorted out.
This promises a fairly lengthy process of international conferences, negotiations, hard bargaining and, hopefully, in the end, agreement in the interests of all peoples of the world. Anything short of this spells doom-laden scenarios of incrementally catastrophic natural disasters and their concomitant human and material cost.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022