The big lesson of the Cop27? These climate conferences just don’t work | Bill McGuire

IIn the end, the recent shenanigans at the Cop27 meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh have at least ended up making modest progress on loss and damage: nations with high emissions agreeing to pay countries bearing the brunt of the climate chaos with which they had little to do with provoking.

But, again, there was no commitment to cut emissions accelerating this crisis, without which this deal is nothing more – as one delegate noted – than a “disaster down payment” . No seasoned observer thinks the world is any closer to tackling the climate emergency. Indeed, the real legacy of COP27 may well be to expose the climate summit for what it has become, a bloated traveling circus that takes place once a year, and from which only words.

It truly boggles the mind that in 27 Cops there has never been a formal agreement to reduce the global use of fossil fuels. Not only has the elephant been in the room this whole time, but over the past quarter century it has grown to gargantuan proportions – and its presence remains unheard of. It’s no surprise, then, that from Cop1 in Berlin in 1995 to Egypt this year, shows have continued – barring a small dip at the height of the pandemic – to rise unapologetically.

COP27 Summit in Sharm el-SheikhSwedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson writes his contact details for Rishi Sunak during the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.
COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson writes his contact details for Rishi Sunak during Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Photograph: Reuters

Expectations have never been particularly high in the 12 months since Cop26 in Glasgow. Even so, COP27 must be a new low – held in a country bullied by a malevolent dictatorship, the world’s biggest plastic polluter on board as a sponsor, and welcoming over 600 fossil fuel representatives and many more who are there to prevent, rather than to promote progress and action. Some old timers have called it the worst COP ever, and I doubt many will say that.

I will never question the sincerity of those who work within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in 1992, nor those who are part of the Climate Cop apparatus, who I know, are desperately looking for a solution to our predicament. However, I seriously wonder if an annual extravaganza in the global media spotlight is the way to achieve this. In all honesty, it’s getting harder and harder to think of these events as anything more than photo opportunities for presidents and prime ministers who just show up to make the world think they care. The reality is that, in most cases, they have no idea how bad the climate is, and little interest in finding out. In that regard, Sunak’s 24-hour flight to the Red Sea resort, to see and be seen, speaks volumes.

And there is also another huge and growing problem. The global nature of the annual Climate Cop conference provides a huge open focus for fossil fuel representatives; an unprecedented opportunity for ministers and heads of state from all corners of the planet, but especially the majority world, to bully them into returning their intact fossil fuel reserves to exploitation. At COP27, the sharks were circling African nations, desperate to persuade them of the urgent need for a “dash for gas” and seeking a very big slice of the action.

In retrospect, it does seem like the whole idea of ​​annual climate carnivals was probably not the best way to promote serious action on global warming, but their hijacking by the fossil fuel sector and failing year after year. , doing the job they were set up to do, surely means Cop is no longer fit for purpose. The whole apparatus is simply too moribund to come up with measures that are effective enough and influential enough to bring about the changes needed to avert climate chaos.

I do not claim to be an expert in negotiation policy and procedure. I can, however, spot when something is clearly not working and needs a serious reboot. But if the COP’s annual climate conferences disappear, what will replace them?

What’s needed is a device that’s less bulky and more maneuverable – something lighter and meaner that focuses on the most critical aspects of the climate crisis, that does its job largely under cover of media gazes and which presents a less obvious honeypot aspect to the working bees of the fossil fuel sector. A way forward could therefore be to create a number of smaller bodies, each addressing one of the key issues – including energy, agriculture, deforestation, transport, loss and damage, and perhaps to be others.

These bodies would operate full-time, liaising with each other and meeting perhaps a few times a year. Ideally, they would be made up of representatives from developed and majority countries. In direct contact with representatives of national governments, part of their mandate would be to negotiate agreements that are workable, legally binding and that actually get the job done – whether reversing deforestation, reducing methane emissions or reduce the use of coal. As all terms and conditions are agreed, these could be validated and signed by world leaders as a matter of course and without needing the fuss of a world conference.

In the 1970s, early economist and environmentalist EF Schumacher wrote that when it comes to economics, small is beautiful. It’s a phrase that today could just as easily be applied to our international negotiation efforts to bring global warming to a halt. After the dismal failure of the Cop27 it’s definitely worth a try.

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