January 2023, Volume 29, Number 1
Some 35,000 representatives from over 190 countries met in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022 at the Conference of the Parties or COP27 to discuss progress toward achieving climate goals. COP refers to the 197 nations that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.
Countries signed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to limit their carbon emissions in Paris in 2015, and promised to update and strengthen their NDC commitments every five years. The 2020 meeting was postponed due to covid, and in 2021 countries pledged to make new commitments to reduce carbon emissions by November 2022.
As COP27 delegates met, the UN Environment Program issued a Too Little, Too Slow report that concluded countries are not doing enough to reduce carbon emissions. The report predicted that global temperatures would increase by at least 2.1C by 2100, which is more than the 1.5C or 2.7F goal set in Paris in 2015. The world has warmed 1.1C above preindustrial times, and the report predicted that a warmer world would result in more intense flooding, wildfires, drought, heat waves and species extinction.
Compared to previous predictions of a 5C increase in global temperatures by 2100, the UN report voiced optimism that reduced consumption of coal, which now produces 30 percent of the world’s energy, falling prices for wind and solar power, and NDC commitments will help the world to avoid the worst climate outcomes.
Developing countries are less well prepared to cope with climate change. They want rich countries that emitted much of the carbon now in the atmosphere to create an international fund to pay claims of climate-change related loss and damage from storms, droughts and heat waves.
Rich countries promised $100 billion a year for climate adaptation by 2020, when they provided $30 billion, and promised $40 billion a year by 2025. Some fear that creating a Green Climate Fund could lead to court judgements finding them liable for damages in future suits. The Biden administration promised $11 billion to help developing countries deal with climate change; Congress appropriated $1 billion in the December 2022 omnibus funding bill.
At COP27, agreement was reached to establish a committee of 24 nations to work out the details of creating and administering a loss and damage fund. However, attributing specific weather events to climate change may prove difficult, which could make it hard, for instance, Pakistan to receive compensation for 2022 floods that were aggravated by settlement on flood plains and inadequate river management.
Carbon credits are already being bought and sold in private markets. Those aimed at compensating local residents to preserve rainforests in Brazil and Indonesia show that middlemen often absorb half or more of payments from businesses purchasing credits. The Ecosystem Marketplace says that the sale of carbon credits is $2 billion a year, but that less than a quarter of credit purchases go to the local people. Firms that rate the quality of carbon projects such as BeZero Carbon and Calyx Global find that many do little to absorb carbon.
Vanuatu, a Pacific Island of 300,000 people, has since 1991 tried to get richer countries to pay for climate change damage, and in Fall 2022 floated the idea of filing suit in the International Court of Justice in The Hague against countries that do not limit their greenhouse gas emissions. Vanuatu was ruled jointly by Britain and France for nearly a century before gaining independence in 1980, and is subject to cyclones between November and March.
China is a special case. China is the world’s largest manufacturer and user of solar panels and wind turbines, leads the world in producing energy from hydroelectric dams, and is building more nuclear power plants than any other country. China also burns more coal than any other country and is building more coal-fired power plants despite already emitting a third of the world’s greenhouse gases, more than the US and Europe combined. The question is whether China will build alternatives to coal fast enough so that its coal plants operate occasionally rather than continuously.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity convened in Montreal in December 2022 to discuss mechanisms to slow the loss of flora and fauna. Almost all of the 190 participating countries signed an agreement to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030 (30x30) to slow the loss of biodiversity; about 17 percent of the earth’s land, and eight percent of the oceans, are currently protected. Agriculture is the major obstacle to protecting more species on land, and overfishing and pollution are the major threats to biodiversity at sea. Developing countries will receive $30 million a year to help their conservation efforts.