Alok Sharma – appointed president of COP26 – made sure to turn last year’s conference into the event of the year. For months, all my social circles from work to friends to family simply could not stop talking about the week of events in Glasgow.
People that I had never seen show any actual interest in climate change or the environment were suddenly trying to make sure they would be attending COP26. After all, these events end up being an opportunity for the networking masses to satisfy their handshaking and business card-swapping needs.
However, somewhat denting the post-event mood, climate activist Greta Thunberg declared COP26 a “failure” and a “PR event”. I could not agree more.
Scientists have been warning about the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s. In addition, scientists actually demonstrated the greenhouse effect in the mid-19th century.
Since then, not nearly enough has been done to prevent the disastrous consequences of global warming, maybe with the exception of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985, which led to a regeneration of the layer. This proves that change is possible, but the very fact that we have to go way back to the mid-1980s to unearth any sort of environmental success story on a global scale means that it is hard to feel hopeful. Maybe I am this pessimistic because I had not even been born back then. It feels as if nothing but a ramping climate crisis has happened in my lifetime.
A few years later, in 1994, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change entered into force, which the Convention of Parties (COP) is in charge of monitoring. The first-ever COP conference took place in 1995 in Berlin.
Fast-forward to 2022 and the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of "holding warming well below 2 degrees Celsius [°C], and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius”, does not deem the efforts of any of the 85 countries it tracks as 'sufficient'. Each of these 85 countries, which together account for 75% of emissions, score badly, with ratings going from 'almost sufficient' to 'critically insufficient'.
COP27: Yet another opportunity that will probably go amiss
With grim realities such as these, it is easy to feel defeatist regarding the lack of action to halt climate change, particularly given the populist, short-term nature of political rhetoric in many countries in 2022.
Politicians tend to enact policies that will reap benefits for them in the short term – actions and measures that voters will remember next time they go to the polls. In so-called developed countries, any effects climate change might have seemed too far into the future to be bothered by. Any attempts to fix them would have no immediate benefits at the ballot box.
Meanwhile, COP27 is scheduled for November and it will be held in Egypt, in the palm tree-lined resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Global leaders will convene once again, shake hands, smile for the cameras and promise to strengthen their pledges to stop global warming from increasing by 2.4°C by the end of the century. The idea is to push countries to commit to more ambitious emission-reduction targets by 2030.
This year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine looms over the event, alongside the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a cost of living crisis also spreading through developed economies. In countries such as the UK, people are struggling to pay their electricity bills, while energy companies – major contributors to climate change, such as Shell and Centrica – are seeing profits soar. Simultaneously, Europe has also gotten a taste of global warming this summer, with suffocating record-high temperatures.
Meanwhile, developing economies have been suffering the worst impacts of climate change. Who knows, maybe now that the likes of the UK, France and Germany are getting a taste of extreme temperatures, maybe, just maybe, COP27 will bring about actual change and not just empty promises. I won't hold my breath.
COP27 must not turn out to be yet another meeting that could have been an email.