COP27: Progress or COP out?
So the COP27 meeting in Egypt has concluded and despite, as is the usual tradition, of there being some frantic last minute discussion, VetSalus is left wondering what has been achieved?
Prior to the meeting there were serious concerns about the 1.5 degrees C target, which the 2015 Paris COP21 meeting had clung onto. For example, New Scientist reported on 22nd October 2022, quoting the most recent Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme, that 2.6 degrees C was the anticipated rise by the end of the century, given the recent promises and obligations of attendees. Glasgow created an expectation that countries would recognise this growing gap and revisit their commitments. In reality, it appears that fierce lobbying from the oil and coal lobbies, accompanied by weak diplomacy from the host nation, has if anything weakened the level of commitment. Surely, after this meeting, limiting the rise to 1.5 degrees C looks all but impossible?
The background information on rising greenhouse gases has been available to all, long before the meeting. For example the WMO (World Meteorological Organisation) has published data since 2006. It’s 2021 report shows (1):
“ …carbon dioxide, responsible for about 66 per cent of global warming since 1750, increased on average by 2.5 parts per million to 415.5 parts per million in 2021. Nitrous oxide, responsible for about 7 per cent of warming, increased by 1.3 parts per billion to 334.5 parts per billion. These increases were slightly higher than the average year-to-year increase over the previous decade. Methane, responsible for about 16 per cent of warming, saw the largest single-year increase since researchers started keeping records 40 years ago. Between 2020 and 2021, atmospheric methane increased by 18 parts per billion to reach 1908 parts per billion, more than two and half times pre-industrial levels.”
Science is still debating the exact sources of rising methane, with strong suspicion falling on tropical wetlands, but there is no doubt about the major contributor to rising carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide: the burning of fossil fuels. The final summary document which emerged from COP27 is clear that: “rapid, deep and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” will be required by 2030. And yet the stance on fossil fuels has weakened at COP27, with moves to reduce the emphasis on natural gas, in particular, which is now being labelled a ‘transitional energy source’ (2).
The cynic might wonder if the host nation, Egypt, is not a little too politically aligned with Middle Eastern oil and gas producers? If this is so, what hope is there for next year's Conference which is being held in the United Arab Emirates!
Was there any progress at all at COP27?
The discussions on loss and damage funds previously promised by richer countries, who have historically generated most of the greenhouse gases, to compensate the poorer, more at risk nations, made it onto the agenda. This alone was hailed as progress as its discussion had previously been blocked by many richer countries. A last gasp initiative by the European Union saw a commitment to the establishment of a new fund but this remains a rather vague concept. There is a lot more detail to be thrashed out and it is likely that several more years will elapse before any cash gets distributed. Funds have been committed before, $100 billion per year was pledged at Paris but little of this has been paid. It is difficult to be optimistic about this latest commitment.
Agriculture day concluded, almost unnoticed by the media. There were discussions on innovative technology at the Food Systems Pavillion but it remains to be seen whether this was a useful forum or another posturing stage for the interests of intensive agriculture. Other discussions on the role of subsidies in supporting inefficient, carbon hungry agriculture were highlighted but once again, complex issues like these cannot be changed by discussions alone.
The conflict in Ukraine, the COVID hangover and the international economic environment provided a dismal background to this meeting. It is to some degree understandable that radical solutions were lacking. But the environmental clock is ticking and an inability to seize the obvious opportunities in being proactive about the challenges of a changing climate, mean that the alternative will need to eventually be faced; the increasing cost, be they economic, social or environmental.
At VetSalus, we are retaining a watching brief and are clear that our role, as scientists and animal health experts, is to work steadily towards maintaining food productivity while reducing the impact on the environment. In an ideal world, decisions at COP meetings would be left to expert scientists, not uncommitted politicians. More pragmatically, there is little to be gained by veterinarians becoming overly concerned with the current outputs from COP meetings; there is much to be achieved by personal and professional efforts to reduce carbon footprints.
1. As reported in New Scientist https://www.newscientist.com/article/2344245-greenhouse-gas-levels-have-hit-yet-another-record-heres-why/