The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has again issued an Emissions Gap Report that underscores the fact that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the linchpin of the Paris agreement is not leading away from the climate precipice but is rather increasing the speed to a catastrophic plunge. While nations offer to do what is convenient, the world has experienced the hottest dark, weeks, months, and years in history. In simple terms, the world is breaking the global heating record daily. The UNEP report shows that if nations do what they offer in their NDCs the World is a reading to temperature increase of 2.5 or 3.0 C. The alarm has been sounding over the years and now we are staring a temperature increase that would be 100% above the sexy 1.5C target by set the Paris Agreement.
COP28 seems set to be a hollow ritual of climate action avoidance while nations hoist scarecrows that are mere totems to indolence. This prognosis may seem harsh, but from the vocations weather events recorded in recent months, increased water stress, desertification, floods and droughts, there is no way to sugar coat the climate vinegar we are serving ourselves.
It is sad that we are forced to attribute agency to all humans when we see climate change as a marker of an anthropogenic age. We should be fair to the millions that are vulnerable to climate impacts but have contributed nothing to the crisis. It has been argued that the climate harming actions were not taken by a majority of humans and placing the blame on everyone is unfair. It can be said that the basic justice principle of the UNFCCC, the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) attempted to address the fact that everyone is not equally responsible for wrecking the planet. The “common” underscores the fact that there is a causative commonality because no matter how minuscule the contribution may be, every living human exhale carbon dioxide and that most likely ascends into the atmosphere if it is not trapped by the trees, soils, or ocean. Adopting or accepting the principle demands that those who contributed the most to the crisis should also take responsibility for the consequences. To underscore this, the Emissions Gap report sums up that “emissions remain unequally distributed within and between countries, reflecting global patterns of inequality”.
The Emissions Gap report, one of the most appropriately titled reports, shows the chasm between emissions cut pledges and climate outcome prospects. The latest report shows that several points of no return will be reached if temperature increases climb as projected. Some of these changes would include the rapid melting of the ice sheets and the drying out of the Amazon forests. This would mean that, for humans, large parts of the world will be uninhabitable.
COP28 marks the halfway between 2021 and 2030 when the world’s governments should have done enough to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C (or well below 2C) above pre-industrial levels. The COP will thus be a moment for taking inventory of what has been done, not done, or must be done. This inventory is termed a stocktake. A Land Gap Report by scientists from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Climate Resource examined updated NDC pledges and found that high emitting, high-income countries heavily rely on land use to offset their emissions. Australia, Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, account for about 75% of the total land required for this mathematical carbon offsetting. These land use carbon offsetting would require about 1 billion hectares of land mostly for tree planting to implement their mitigation pledges. Pledges of this sort ignore scientific and ecological principles and compounds the multiple crises the world is mired in by the encouragement of land grabbing, displacement of indigenous people, threats to food security as well as livelihoods, and ecosystems disruption.
The agenda for this catastrophe was set by the voluntary approach to emissions reduction adopted by both the Copenhagen Accord and the Paris Agreement. The adoption of a voluntary emissions reduction pathway is a direct subversion of both climate science and justice. The logic of science has been used to show the carbon budget as well as the temperature rise trajectory. However, the illogic of geopolitics has seen powerful nations backtracking from serious commitments and actions. This has expectedly driven the gap between equity and fair share wider by the day. Can COP28 afford to ignore the fact that we are hurtling to the precipice or to the canyon, as framed by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres? It will be foolhardy to ignore the call by the Secretary-General that leaders recognize the fact that “We are off the road” and “must reverse course” from coal, oil, and gas.
What does a reversing of course mean? Obviously, the COPs have been bogged down in the rut and reversing the course away from fossil fuels has been made to appear as “mission impossible”. Humans appear to have imaginations that are difficult to change once firmly imprinted on the plates of our minds. Imagination, ease, and greed appear to be three weights firmly placed on the neck of the Mother Earth to ensure that her discomfort is muffled, and our consciences are thus freed to fly over the edges of the climate canyon. To reverse course means turning our backs on coal, oil, and fossil gas. Our affinity to carbon makes this divorce difficult to comprehend or effect. If you do not see that tie, it means that you have forgotten that we are made largely of carbon.
The Emissions Gap report reveals that temperatures already topped 1.5C for 86 days this year. The report also warns that the chance of keeping to 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement is a slim 14 percent and will require deep emissions cuts by the big polluters. With this prognosis, it appears that COP28 will be a flaming COP. It may also be an avenue for a ritualistic elegy for a planet whose inhabitants fiddle while the flames leap to the rafters.