One big climate COP-out


Image: Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe reading a speech in 2021 delivered electronically at COP26. Source: Facebook/Ministry of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, Tuvalu Government

The United Nations Secretary-General set the tone for the 27th annual COP climate conference by saying the world was “on the highway to climate hell. Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg no doubt agreed, earlier describing the two-week climate conference in Egypt as an exercise in ‘green-washing’.

Fair to say the representatives of 198 nations who gathered in Glasgow last year for COP26 have not done as much about climate change mitigation as we’d all hoped.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the ABC he would not be attending the COP27 conference at Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh.

“This COP will be all about implementation,” he said, delegating the task to Climate Minister Chris Bowen and other representatives.

Team Albanese have made big strides in Australia’s climate policy since being elected six months ago. Albanese is banking on mending fences by backing his government’s turnaround of the Morrison administration’s poor climate record.

Unlike British PM Rishi Sunak, who has been forced by political pressure to reverse his decision to stay at home, Albanese justified his absence, saying “I can’t be in all places at once.”

“I have a very busy schedule of parliament, then the international conferences, then back to parliament again, making sure that our agenda gets through and that includes our agenda on clean energy and taking action on climate change.”

COP is a shorthand acronym for an alphabet soup of descriptors – the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Despite this being the 27th year this global talkfest has been held, there have been many promises and commitments, yet little has been done to slow the global ravages of climate change.

Despite Egypt’s police state reputation, climate activists are there and some have already said harsh things about COP27’s major sponsor, Coca-Cola.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said it was baffling for COP27 to choose the “world’s biggest plastic polluter” as a sponsor, given that “99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels”.

On what it cost to stage COP26 in Glasgow last year, this year’s conference in the Egyptian town of Sharm el-Sheikh will probably top $200 million. It is clearly now an annual ‘Expo” that wealthier countries want to host. It’s expensive to participate, with organisations being charged as much as $500,000 to hire a pavilion. More than 30,000 people registered to attend this year, representing governments, businesses, NGOs, and civil society groups.

Australia’s Climate Council, which has sent several delegates to Cop27, reminded us that Australia signed the Glasgow Pact in 2021.

The Pact called for countries to bring forward a 50% emissions reduction plan to COP27 and increase on that target during this decade.

Australia may be pressured to finally sign the Global Methane Pledge and other important deals it avoided under the Morrison Government.

Key issues which will emerge at COP27 include “loss and damage” financing. This refers to developing countries at the frontlines of the crisis who are suffering from the consequences of climate change. As one example, the low-lying Pacific island of Tuvalu, population 12,000, is suffering serious consequences from the CO2 emissions of others.

The Climate Council says countries like Australia, which have built considerable wealth off the back of fossil fuels, can and must do more to support climate action beyond their shores.

Back in 2009, developed countries committed to mobilise $100 billion per year in climate finance to developing countries, but have consistently fallen short. Australia would need to lift its annual contribution by 10 times to fulfil its share towards this global goal, the Climate Council said.

The UNFCCC Secretariat is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. There has been almost universal commitment to join, with 198 countries signed up. Until this year, Australia was seen as a laggard, to the extent that former PM Scott Morrison was initially not invited to attend COP26.

Heads of State and Government attended the Climate Implementation Summit at COP27 on November 7 and 8 with a high-level meeting for climate Ministers from 15-18 November.

The main aim of the UNFCCC is to uphold the 2015 Paris Agreement. As we all should know, this bare-minimum pledge was to keep the global average temperature rise this century as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Seven years on though, only 190 of the 195 signatories have ratified the agreement.

The ultimate objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The sticking point, I suspect, is the proviso that this is done in a time frame which “allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development”.

The Guardian’s pre-conference report posed some scenarios for the Australian delegation, led by climate and energy minister, Chris Bowen. The Guardian’s environment writer Adam Morton said Australia can expect questions about what it is prepared to support on finance and loss and damage. Questions could be asked about the Australian government’s exit (under the Morrison government) of the green climate fund. Morton expects Australia to be under close scrutiny due to its bid to host COP in 2026.

There will (or should be) an examination of Australia’s support for an expansion in fossil fuel exports, at odds with its green policies at home.

The UN secretary-general’s COP27 opening address, where he twisted the meaning of the famous AC/DC song, was not wildly inaccurate. He was no doubt reflecting on the ongoing effects of flooding in Pakistan.

Since mid-June, unprecedented floods in Pakistan have killed 1,717 people. The floods were caused by heavier than usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers; these events following a severe heat wave. All are linked to climate change, with poor urban planning playing a significant role.

In Australia, we might make pale comparisons with the inundated New South Wales town of Lismore, battered by one flood after another. There is talk of writing the town off and rebuilding it on higher ground. Many of those badly affected by the floods have not waited to find out, relocating to supposedly less flood -prone towns (like Warwick).

The agenda-setters for climate change mitigation may well be the world’s largest manufacturing industries. International vehicle manufacturer Volvo chose this week to announce it would stop making fossil fuel-driven cars in Australia by 2026. This is unlikely to stampede the manufacturers of cheaper, mass market vehicles. All the same, it is a line drawn in the sand. We must hope that rising tides do not wipe it away too soon.

As for Tuvalu’s social media post (above) which went viral last year, it is probably not much of an exaggeration. Climate change in Tuvalu is particularly threatening for the long-term habitability of the island state. The average height of the islands is less than 2m above sea level, which has been rising at 3mm per year, about twice the global average. On a per capita basis, its CO2 emissions are 0.9 metric tonnes, compared to between 15mt and 17mt for developed countries.

As Sunshine Coast songwriter Noel Gardner sarcastically comments, in a pithy song of the same name:

So it’s toodle loo to Tuvalu, it’s not that we don’t care

But I can’t support this warming crap, taxes and despair

We can’t reduce our standards, two houses, shares and land

So its Toodle loo to Tuva Lu, I hope you’ll understand.



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