COP27: The Content Coms analysis
Whenever a vitally important conversation takes place, in whatever aspect of life, there is usually an elephant in the room.
For the sake of clarity, this metaphor references a major problem or controversial issue which is obviously present but is avoided as a subject for discussion.
Across human debate, these elephants are common. They crop up across relationships, marriages, business boards and within governments.
For the COP series of conferences, the elephant in the room has been and remains this. Fossil fuel use is the primary source of CO2 at the global scale.
Therefore, the most obvious and impactful change any COP meeting could achieve would phase out the ‘black gold’ that drove industrialisation and today drives climate change.
Without this, other consensus and agreement is by definition limited. You can’t stop the rot without targeting the core.
And on this metric, COP27 transparently and tragically failed.
Fossil fuel debacle
No one at Content Coms pretends any of the fossil fuel nexus is easy. We have no desire to denigrate the COP events.
Yet Carbon Tracker’s Global Registry of Fossil Fuels shows that producing and combusting the world’s existing stock of fossil fuel production and reserves would yield more than seven times the remaining carbon budget to keep us within 1.5C.
That’s irrefutable. One must ask; if COP can’t remove or ban fossils faster; is it any use?
COP27 didn’t produce any new text to definitively and comprehensively ban the root of the problem. Carbon Tracker quotes what the UN Secretary General Guterres says loud and clear: we cannot afford to carry on with business-as-usual expansion in oil, gas, and coal.
Be in no doubt; this rot hasn’t stopped. It is worsening. Reuters reports there are still plans for almost 300 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power capacity globally; with around two-thirds of this slated to be built in China.
The emissions from existing coal plants alone would tip the world across the 1.5°C limit with global coal demand stable near record highs for the past decade, the International Energy Agency says.
Nothing is changing in any meaningful, urgent way. Why?
Much has already been written about the fossil fuel lobby’s impacts on this latest COP. Quotes like these dominate the internet:
‘Indeed, the fossil fuel lobby, represented by countries such as Saudi Arabia boldly asserted that it continues to see a future where fossil fuels are needed, though the Kingdom specifically also attempted to balance out its presentation by announcing a vague plan to invest in emission-capturing technology.’
Mr Guterres reminded the world of what remain the priorities regarding climate action, including the ambition to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and keep alive the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius limit, and pull humanity back from the climate cliff.
“We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP did not address,” he lamented, saying that the world still needs to make a giant leap on climate ambition, and to end its addiction to fossil fuels by investing massively in renewables.
It is becoming increasingly difficult, against the most pressing metrics, to see how COP is actually working. Many global commentators are calling for a tougher approach.
This FT article is among those arguing COP is no longer fit for purpose. The analysis is packed with top level commentators saying the event needs a reboot, that certain elements have become obsolete and that COP must evolve.
What could change?
“COP is in an interesting spot,” comments Esther Griffin, Account Director at Content Coms. “The loss and damage fund that pays poorer countries for Western industrialisation was a positive illustration of new global continuity.
“It’s of real note that the COP process can still produce high level accords like this. But then again, there’s a big lack of detail on loss and damage in the final text.
“And when it comes to fossil fuels, there’s really been nothing of value to advance where we were a year ago, against a backdrop of diminishing time to tackle the challenges we face as a global community.”
Bill McGuire, Prof Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL, told The Guardian this candid tale: “There was no commitment to cutting the emissions accelerating this crisis, without which this agreement is nothing more – as one delegate commented – than a down-payment on disaster.
“No seasoned observers are of the opinion that the world is any nearer tackling the climate emergency. Indeed, the real legacy of COP27 could well be exposing the climate summit for what it has become, a bloated travelling circus that sets up once a year, and from which little but words ever emerge.”
It is plain that COP means well. Usually, something does come in terms of a new accord or at least a new element of positivity. But these are not tackling the core problem the world faces.
“It really does beggar belief, that in the course of 27 Cops, there has never been a formal agreement to reduce the world’s fossil fuel use,” says McGuire.
“It is no surprise, then, that from COP1 in Berlin in 1995, to Egypt this year, emissions have continued – barring a small downward blip at the height of the pandemic – to head remorselessly upwards.”
The truth, perhaps unpalatable, is that if the next COP in The United Arab Emirates also fails on fossils, there may be nowhere left for the series to travel.