Attending a conference of the UN climate change negotiations is always an experience of cognitive dissonance. Sharm El Sheik, an Egyptian version of Las Vegas, purpose-built for cars and mass tourism, provides a stark illustration of the inherent contradiction plaguing the climate talks: changing everything while changing nothing. Our increasingly unstable economic, political and social system, based on the exploitation of resources and the myth of trickle-down economics, is failing people, planet and prosperity – in Sharm El Sheikh and everywhere else.
According to the latest United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ambition gap report, the world is failing to bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions at the necessary speed and depth. The sixth great extinction of species is also unfolding before our eyes. As Greta Thunberg said, one cannot negotiate with the laws of physics: Time is running out for retaining a liveable and peaceful planet with eight billion inhabitants. Without a drastic change in approach, those least responsible for climate change will be crippled with an ecological debt that will be measured in lives, cultures and territories that will be irremediably lost.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of negotiators and activists, there is still hope for meaningful progress at COP27 on critical files such as ‘Loss and Damage’ (provision of aid in compensation for loss and damage incurred in developing countries because of climate change) or on ‘Finance’ (provision of aid for supporting adaptation and mitigation in developing countries). But, as long as carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere and adequate funds are not reaching victims of climate-related disasters, what have we really achieved? World leaders must recognise that they have forced the mission impossible of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees on climate talks, while leaving economic orthodoxy untouched, as also power relations, global structures and vested interests.
Therefore, it is time for a new approach, based on a new global deal uniting humans, nations and nature, starting with the following actions:
- Embracing a new paradigm of egalitarian sufficiency, based on intergenerational equity and on equity between as well as inside countries. This is the only pathway able to guarantee a just and peaceful allocation of the remaining carbon and materials budget inside each country, between countries and generations while realising essential economic, social and political rights.
- Repairing the torn fabric of the world: polluting countries and companies must take political and legal responsibility for losses and damage everywhere, starting with the poorest and most affected populations and countries. The global community needs to end impunity by protecting environmental defenders and criminalising ecocide. Delivering a global finance and debt relief plan in the trillions, not billions as well as effective policies and programs to shield the most vulnerable from the effects of climate-related disasters is also key to rebuilding trust.
- Doing ‘whatever it takes’ to put an end to the fossil fuel economy. This means agreeing on a calendar for a phase-out of the production, trade, and consumption of fossil fuels and complementing the Paris agreement with tools borrowed from the global nuclear non-proliferation and land mine regimes and counterterrorism policies.
- Designing a ‘fit-for-future’ global governance architecture that can deliver such a transformation.
The history of humanity has shown that times of crisis are also times of rebirth. May the spirit that animated those who built a brand-new global governance system after WWII inspire world leaders to use the proposed UN 2024 Summit of the Future to strike the new global deal which humanity urgently needs.
Photo credits: Shutterstock/ rafapress