After what was probably the hottest July in 120,000 years, the latest international measurements put us at 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial times. Indeed, for two days in November the world registered a staggering 2 degrees above.
In the Arctic a 580 square mile iceberg broke into the Weddell Sea; a flood in Libya killed over 11,300 people; in a single day Storm Daniel unleashed more that 250 times more rain than usually falls in the whole of September; fires burned record areas of Canada and Europe and the US broke its record of ‘billion dollar disasters’ with twenty-three $1,000,000,000 disasters by August. Meanwhile, closer to home where the effects of the climate crisis are more modest, storm Henk resulted in over 300 flood warnings on 5th January, with countless homes and livelihoods damaged.
What is it about human nature that most of us are so passive as humanity continues its path to self-destruction?
Issues came to ahead at the COP 28 conference in Dubai, chaired by Dr Sultan Al Jaber. It got off to an appalling start when the Sultan was discourteous in his exchanges with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN Commissioner for Human Rights. He revealed the allegiances that would determine his leadership of the conference. He said, “There is no science that says phasing out fossil fuels would limit warming to 1.5C.” He then told her to show him a pathway to phase out fossil fuels that “does not send the entire world back to living in caves.”
He urged her to show him her solutions, telling her that, “She would never solve the climate problem by pointing fingers at the fossil fuel industry.” (RTE 17 Dec 23)
In the end COP 28 signalled that this is the end of the fossil fuel era, but fell short of committing to a fossil fuel phase out. There was no time scale and it allowed unlimited of scope for continued profits to be made.
From an environmentalist’s point of view, it was probably doomed to failure. There were an estimated 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists at the conference. Four times more than the 636 present at COP 27 and they outnumbered the Indigenous peoples’ delegates, who are suffering the worst effects of climate change, by seven to one.
It is clear that the self-interest of those profiting from fossil fuels will continue to have an overwhelming influence on the future of mankind.
Former NASA scientist James Hansen and now director of the Climate Programme at Columbia University, warns that we are close to a “new climate frontier.
“When our children and grandchildren look back at the history of man-make climate change, this year and next will be seen as the turning point at which the futility of governments dealing with climate change was finally exposed.
“Not only did governments fail to stem global warming; the rate of global warming actually accelerated.”
But there is a spark of hope. It is just possible that 2023 will be the year in which we peaked our fossil fuel emissions. For many, this is long awaited flexion point was needed years ago, but I passionately hope we have finally reached it. We must now reduce emissions at a swiftly accelerating rate with faster and deeper reductions to stay within safely limits. There is no room for complacency.
The International Energy Agency Report this year found that wind and solar power are on track to displace fossil fuels on a global scale. China’s development of wind and solar power has been faster than expected and could be the key factor in making 2023 the tipping point.
The technology is there but the political will does not seem to be. Even Labour is rowing back.
A positive result for the Green Party in 2024 has never been more important.
Sources: Guardian 30/12/23 Jillian Ambrose and Jonathan Watts, RTE 17/12/23, Guardian 5/12/23 Nin Lakhani