The question floating around the world now- is whether we have achieved too little in terms of collective action and is it too late?
Recently some environmentalists have drawn attention to a report prepared by a group of scientists entitled ``The Limits to Growth” in 1972. This report apparently used integrated computer modeling to investigate twelve planetary scenarios of economic growth and their long-term consequences for the environment and natural resources. This report also emphasized the effect climate change could ostensibly have- on population in different regions of the world, on food production, industrialization, pollution and prospective renewable resources- till 2100. The 1972 study was however not accepted by a large number of climatologists as being a neo-Malthusian prophecy of doom, underestimating the potential for human adaptation through technological progress.
This report also received particular attention in 1992 when the UNCED Earth Summit was convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 to evaluate the forthcoming effects of environmental degradation emerging out of human activity. It was underlined by all participating nations that failure to pursue the right path associated with mitigation and adaptation could lead to major resource threats that could cast shadows resulting in less food and energy supplies, more pollution, and lower living standards. It was also underlined that the world needs to find common denominators associated with radical transformation related to accelerating resource depletion. Some countries also reiterated the need for identifying a sustainable state of global equilibrium through a positive socioeconomic dynamics. Others drew attention to the need for some developed nations to avoid environmental crises that could result from unacceptable technological and environmental transformations only directed towards wealth accumulation and profit-prioritizing systems. In this context we need to remember that over the past decade the nuances of technologies have changed further through resource efficiency innovation.
Analyst Adnan and Sundaram’s comments have assumed particular significance at a time when the world has been monitoring carefully what and how COP 27 intends to tackle this difficult scenario through “realistic transformations” within the planet’s resource boundaries.
Such an evolving scenario has attracted the attention of those participating in the COP 27 meeting this month, November, 2022, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. They have also shared views on the scenario drawn through – the Club of Rome’s Transformational Economics Commission’s 2022 report – Earth for All which not only emphasizes the climate variability threat’s urgency, scale and scope but also assures that ensuring the wellbeing of all is still possible, through urgent fundamental changes.
In this regard it has been emphasized that such a positive development will need common efforts towards eradication of poverty, reduction of inequality, empowerment of women, and transformation of food and energy systems. To succeed, affected countries will also need specific strategies related to significant investments, including much public spending and curbing wasteful consumption.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not been able to attend the COP27 meeting in Egypt but has conveyed her concerns on 10 November from Dhaka by pointing out that the rich countries responsible for global warming have not been keeping their promises made earlier to help developing nations deal with the consequences of climate change and variability through financial assistance. She has also reminded the world that despite this lack of financing mitigation and adaptation measures Bangladesh on its own has taken positive measures linked with renewable energy and also through the conservation of nature and the environment by planting trees throughout the country. This has been done because Bangladesh believes that renewables help combat climate variability and also provides required security.
For Bangladesh, climate finance has been one of the major topics that were broached by their delegates at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27). The Bangladesh delegation through their efforts tried to convince the developed countries to deliver on the US Dollar 100 billion financial support per annum support that they had promised to provide to the countries hit by climate change earlier. They recalled in this regard the guideline that had been agreed upon during the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 and was also subsequently approved at COP26 in Scotland's Glasgow last year. They also noted that over the last one year the developed countries had been long on promises but woefully short on deliveries.
Climate change has been severely compromising development prospects. Consequently, failure to act effectively could considerably reduce the size of the world economy by mid-century despite continuing population growth. COP 27 has reiterated that addressing climate change will be costly, but not as costly as inaction. We need to remember that recent climate events- cyclones, floods and forest fires- indicate that we appear to have waited too long to take serious action, and the delay - the slow pace at which carbon-based energy is being replaced by renewable energy — is beginning to demonstrate that it has been costly in terms of comparative adverse impacts.
Such a scenario is revealing that to address climate change, the international community needs to make simultaneous progress on inclusive sustainable development and climate change. This is the only ethically defensible and politically feasible approach.
In the short term, participants in the COP 27 meeting have underlined once again that for low carbon development and for developing countries to meet their people’s basic energy needs, renewable energy generation will need to be subsidized by the developed world at large. Effectively addressing climate change and development will require a big investment push, particularly for renewable energy, with a strong public sector role, supported by international financial and technology transfers. Analysts have also remarked that public investments and technology support need to be “front-loaded” to shape vulnerable and developing countries’ long-term energy infrastructure and development- if possible through public-private partnership. A case in point is China which has been trying to not only implement domestic policies to slow emissions growth in the coming years, but also has been investing heavily in renewable energy and other low-carbon energy sources.
Within the overall paradigm of discussion, also participated actively by some other developing countries, including India, rich countries were urged to agree to a new global climate finance target -- new collective quantified goal on climate finance (NCQG) -- which they said should be in trillions as the costs of addressing and adapting to climate change have grown. This proposed initiative was however carefully monitored by more than 600 lobbyists from some of the world's biggest polluters, up 25 percent from last year. In a high-level ministerial dialogue on NCQG at COP27 on 9 November it was highlighted that climate actions to meet the Nationally Determined Contributions' (NDC) targets require financial, technological, and capacity-building support from developed countries.
It was also underlined that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had already observed that rich countries were the major contributors to the carbon stock in the atmosphere, clearly underlying the importance of the core principles of the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement -- equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC).
Now, it is clear that there needs to be substantive enhancement in climate finance from the floor of US Dollar 100 billion per year. This mobilization of the resources also needs to be led by the developed countries and should be long-term, concessional, and climate-specific with equitable allocation between adaptation and mitigation projects.
Climatologists attending the COP 27 have however suggested that there has been a very modest tally so far this year in terms of financial support for adaptation and mitigation projects. In fact, since Glasgow there appears to have been a serious lack of responsibility and climate financing has been nowhere near the hundreds of billions of Dollars that experts predicted would be needed each year by 2030 to help communities repair and rebuild when disasters hit.
The modest commitments have been reflected in the symbolic pledges made so far according to the media. This includes- Scotland, offering another loss and damage funding of 2 million Pounds after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged 5 million Pounds at last year's UN climate summit in November. Denmark has committed 100 million Danish crowns in September directed towards helping the Sahel region in Africa. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has remarked that Germany would provide 170 million Euros for a "Global Shield" initiative launched by the Group of Seven rich countries and finance ministers from the Climate Vulnerable Forum group of 58 developing countries on the frontline of climate impacts. Austria has indicated that they will provide about 50 million Euros to tackle loss and damage over the next four years. It is understood that Ireland and Belgium have also underlined during their participation that Ireland would make contributions of 10 million Euros to the "Global Shield" initiative for 2023 and that Belgium would contribute 2.5 million Euros as part of a 25-million-Euro package of climate-related support for African country of Mozambique from 2023 to 2028.
President Joe Biden has also vowed at COP 27 that the United States was on track to slash its carbon emissions, urging all nations to ramp up their own efforts to avert catastrophic global warming. In this context he observed that "the climate crisis is about human security, economic security, environmental security, national security and the very life of the planet." Biden has also indicated that the United States "will meet" its goal of cutting emissions 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 by stepping up efforts to cut methane emissions -- a major contributor to global warming -- by plugging fossil fuel leaks and requiring companies to act on leaks reported by credible third parties.
However new research has shown that it will be hard to meet the ambitious goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels as this will require slashing emissions nearly by half by 2030. This leads one to conclude by agreeing with the UN Secretary General’s observation that “We are on a highway to climate hell and our foot continues to press on the accelerator”.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance