Tag Archives: Green issues

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: COP needs to be reformed

The COP climate talks, held every year since 1995, is the only international event where a concerted effort is made by almost every government in the world to reach consensus on reducing the emission of gases, namely carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, that are the cause of global warming. Given the mistrust, animosity, competition and real sense of historical grievance felt by many of these countries towards each other the fact that COP exists, and is well attended year after year, is a tangible success.

That said, it is apparent from COP27, recently held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, needs to be radically reformed. At COP27 there were 636 participants with links to the fossil fuel industries. A size that outnumbered the combined representation from Indigenous communities and the ten countries most affected by climate breakdown including low-lying island states whose whole way of life will likely be erased by the ravages of climate breakdown.

The intention of the representatives from the fossil fuel industries and most of the major oil and gas producing countries was transparent, which was to lobby hard against any meaningful agreement to reduce the world’s consumption of fossil fuels. They succeeded.

An item of contention was the commitment of the host country to the aims of COP. Egypt is not only a dictatorship that prohibits dissent as its 6,000 political prisoners bear witness but it is also a close ally of Saudi Arabia. At the conference Saudi Arabia along with Russia fought hard to have the 1.5C ceiling abolished, which thankfully they failed to do. They did, however, manage to get the aim of phasing out the use of fossil fuels left out of the final text while the proposal to accelerate the development of “low-emission” energy systems, a euphemism for upscaling the use of natural gas, was added.

It was perceived by many in attendance that Egypt managed the proceedings in a way that hampered the realization of the positive outcomes that many countries hoped for. The disappointment of these delegates was perhaps best expressed by Alok Sharma, UK president of COP26, who said in his closing remarks.

Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text. Clear follow-through to phrase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text, weakened, in the final minutes. Unfortunately, it remains on life support.”

COP28 will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a major oil and gas producing country. Given that 30 per cent of its GNP comes directly from oil and gas and its tourist industry is oil and gas dependent through reliance on aviation, air-conditioning and desalination plants can the world expect it to fervently work towards phasing out fossil fuels? This is as implausible as a tobacco company hosting a conference to persuade the participating tobacco companies to agree to cease to do business. Likewise with COP29 which is likely to be held in Australia, a major exporter of coal.

There is widespread agreement that one of the few positives that came out of COP27 is the setting up of a loss and damage fund that will help those countries most adversely affected by climate breakdown. A committee composed of representatives from 24 countries will in the coming year work on deciding exactly what form the fund should take, which countries should contribute and how the money should be spent. It is envisaged that aviation, shipping and the fossil fuel companies will be asked to make significant contributions. This is not unreasonable as they on average have earned a $1 trillion a year, ever year for the past 50 years.*

A number of European countries have collectively pledged $300 million to the fund. This might seem a sizable amount but it is insignificant in comparison to the hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of damage per year that the most vulnerable countries suffer as a result of climate breakdown. In late August 2022, for example, flooding in Pakistan displaced 33 million people, killed 1,500 and caused at least $30 billion worth of damage. Like many poor countries its large international debts prevent it doing very much to make good its losses.

Sceptics will point out that it is easier to agree to contribute to the fund than actually contribute. Here one is reminded of Greta Thunberg’s comments about COP26 in Glasgow:

Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah.”

The point is that in 2009 the wealthy countries, including the EU and the United States, agreed to make $100 billion a year available by 2020 to help poor, vulnerable countries prepare for the effects of extreme weather events as well as put renewable energy projects in place. Little of the money materialized. In the case of the United States, it is highly unlikely that Congress, which will be in the control of the Republican party, will approve donating money to the loss and damage fund. Without the lead of the largest economy in the world pledging money, many other countries are unlikely to.

In a nutshell the outlook for the health of the planet is not good. This is something we can’t divorce ourselves from as the life of each one of us eight billion humans, rich and poor, is directly dependent on having a healthy biosphere. A major ecological meltdown could erupt in multiple wars, from which even the wealthiest would not escape harm. This is demonstrated by Putin’s war in Ukraine where nuclear power stations are viewed as military assets, and therefore can be bombed. This is perhaps no different from the UK and the USA carpet-bombing Dresden in Germany during the Second World War. The factories, railway network and communication facilities were considered legitimate targets as were the people who worked in them.

With regard to future COPs, Simon Stiell, the UN climate chief, will scrutinize the COP process to ensure transparency, their smooth running and that they are less susceptible to the interests of the fossil fuel industries. On the basis that the fossil fuel industries peddle what the world urgently needs to wean itself off they should be banned from attending future ones.

COPs should also have strict guidelines about who their sponsors are. In the case of COP27 it was Coca-Cola, which produces more than 100 billion plastic bottles a year. Much of this plastic, which is made from oil, ends up discarded causing serious ecological problems. Such sponsors undermine the integrity of COP.

* Kevin O’Sullivan, Burning of fossil fuels relegated to side issue, The Irish Times, 21 November 2022.

Eco-Awareness: Holistic decision making

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Outside of the two World Wars it is difficult to think of a time when so many in this country have been facing such a direct threat to the way they live.

– Presenter of World at One, BBC Radio 4, 25th August 2022

The presenter quoted above is referring to the steady rise in the rate of inflation in the UK and in particular the unprecedented rise in the price of oil, gas and food as a consequence of the war in Ukraine.

A rise in energy prices leads to a rise in the cost of goods and services across the economy and the scale of the present and predicted rises will make it next to impossible for millions of people to keep themselves warm this winter without forgoing meals and accumulating unmanageable debt. The public media has not failed to communicate the seriousness of the situation with the regular use of such words and terms as awful, catastrophic, devastating, exceptional, extremely serious, grave, terrible, misery, fearful, out of control, eye-watering prices and lives will be lost.

If these forecasts turn out to be true for people living in high-income countries what will the impact of the steep rise in the cost of energy and food be for the billions of people whose everyday experience has long been one one of toil, stress and fret in their effort to provide for themselves and their family?

The global community is not only experiencing hyper-inflation but an out-of-kilter climate which this year, as in previous ones, has caused devastating forest fires in Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa and South America as well as drought and floods across many parts of the world. Most recently floods in Pakistani left 60% of the country under water, affected 33 million people, made one million homeless and since June caused the death of over a 1,000 people. China is in the midst of a record-breaking drought which has caused some of its major rivers, including the Yangtze to dry up. In Europe the Loire, the Rhine and the Po dried up, which, as in China, affected farming, hydropower and shipping. The impact of the climate on these countries alone will add to the economic woes caused by President Putin’s war including an increase in the shortage of food leading in turn to a rise in its price.

The effects of climate breakdown and Putin’s war serve to remind us just how interconnected our world is. We are not, as the growing number of libertarians like to think, neutral agents with an almost absolute right to behave however we like. As with individuals, national sovereignty has its limits. Britain is an island nation but its regular outpouring of sewage into the seas around its coast concerns people in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland who fear the sewage will affect their fishing and coastlines.

Hyper-inflation, climate breakdown as well as the catastrophic loss of biodiversity can in large part be attributed to the ultra-nationalism of world leaders who fail to work from the premise that the world is ecologically and economically interconnected and ignore the counsel of Indigenous People not to borrow the future from our children.

More than the need for ecologically sustainable technologies, which are widely seen as a miracle cure to climate breakdown allowing us to continue to live our materially extravagant lifestyle, is the need for a collectivist’s mindset. In the same way as it is necessary for the various departments of a business to work towards a single goal, the success of the business, it is likewise necessary for world leaders to work in unison towards resolving our global ecological and economic problems.

Besides this we voters need to waken up and closely question candidates running for public office about the impact their policies will have on the biosphere, the poor in their own constituency as well as in the wider world. What will the legacy of their policies be for future generations?

Although the following suggestion might well come from Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) it is worth putting it forward. In the manner that new employees are given an induction by their employer into the culture, policies and practices of the body they are newly working for, as well as put on probation, it should by mandated that public officials and representatives of every rank should undertake likewise. In this case the body is the biosphere inclusive of humankind. The culture is comprised of a sense of compassion, connectedness and fairness and the policies and practices based on the Hippocratic oath of the medical profession which is “do no harm”.

A course for new public decision makers on the wisdom of basing decisions on a holistic, eco-centric, non-tribal and non-nationalist basis would not be suffice to ensure long-term compliance. The courses would need to be supported by regular forums, such as Citizen’s Assemblies, in which experts in the field and concerned members of the public, share their knowledge and experience in regard to the pros and cons of various options which are considered from the perspective of the local and the global, the short and the long term. During the assemblies, face to face interaction would take place between the parties most directly affected by decisions enabling humanism to dilute stone-faced tribal, class and national interests, and compassion for the welfare of nonhuman species to melt the idea of economic gain for the few.

Such an on-going educational program for our elected and appointed decision makers should result in a significant reduction in decisions made on the basis of Donald Trump’s sentiment “America First” or the pre-Brexit wish “to take back control”. In the long term there are no firsts in our interconnected world, and as the present cost of living crisis shows, when it comes to the price of fuel and food national sovereignty can do little to change things.