Friends told me that they had stopped reading national newspapers and watching the news on television or on their phones. Too depressing. I agree on the depressing part, but I haven’t been able to let go of the news yet, especially the news related to the climate crisis. Fair warning, this is going to be a really depressing column. Stop now if you are looking for good news.
Page 1 of the October 26 New York Times included an article titled “Climate promises crumble as havoc looms for world: UN grim report, nations’ lack of progress risks rapid warming; The summit is approaching.
Starting with the last track, “Summit Nears”. This refers to the Conference of the Parties, aka COP 27, the next in a long line of meetings of countries that have signed a treaty to take the climate crisis seriously. Each country is supposed to set targets for reducing greenhouse gases. The conference assesses progress, or lack thereof. Members promise to make adjustments if they do not achieve the promised reductions. They will meet between November 6 and 18 in Egypt.
The Times article breaks down a UN report anticipating this big todo that basically answers the question, “so how are we doing?” I quote the Times article extensively, but most of it has been picked up in several forums.
“Countries around the world are failing to meet their commitments to fight climate change, steering the Earth towards a future of more intense flooding, wildfires, drought, heat waves and species extinction. Only 26 of the 193 countries that agreed last year to step up their climate actions have followed up with more ambitious plans.
“Without drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the report says, the planet is on track to warm by an average of 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius (3.8 to 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit) , compared to pre-industrial levels, by 2100. That’s far higher than the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) target set by the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, and it crosses the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic climate impacts increases dramatically.
“With every fraction of a degree of warming, tens of millions more people around the world would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water scarcity and coastal flooding, while millions of mammals , insects, birds and additional plants would disappear.
“China, currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is one of the main holdouts to new commitments…China has said its CO2 emissions will continue to grow, reaching a peak of by 2030, but it has not set targets for reducing other greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane, which it emits in quantities large enough to equal the total emissions of small countries.
“The United States, by passing the Cut Inflation Act, which contains hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for cleaner technologies, has leapt forward in its ability to reduce emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade.But the new law will still only get the United States about 80% of the way to its current commitment to reduce emissions.
“An analysis by the World Resource Institute found that current pledges by nations would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by about 7% from 2019 levels, even if six times that, or a 43% reduction, would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. C (2.7 degrees F).”
One of the main topics of discussion at COP27 will be equity; create a fund for resource-poor countries that bear minimal responsibility for historic emissions to chart a development path for their people that is not dependent on fossil fuels. Incredibly, although there have been discussions about this in previous meetings, this will be the first time this has been on the official agenda. The article states that “wealthy countries”, including the United States, have “opposed the creation of such a fund, in part because they fear being held legally responsible for the spiraling costs disasters”. It seems they better start worrying about legal and moral responsibility for the increasing disasters our inaction is creating.
Stop for a moment and consider: what we are talking about, regardless of the number, is to increase the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is a global problem. We humans play with the air we all breathe, not to mention the animals and plants that have evolved to our current conditions.
The article highlights the report’s concern about inaction, the repeated failure to take this crisis seriously enough to avoid what goes far beyond unpleasant consequences. He acknowledges the “distractions” that distract from serious cooperation between nations to solve the problem. And he acknowledges the tough decisions leaders face, like the coming winter in a resource-starved Europe to keep people alive and economies functioning.
But, really, it’s really hard not to be depressed when it seems like we’re cooking up failure.
Yet we are doing what we can, and one easy but important action we can take is to vote in our November 8 election for candidates who will deliver on our promises.
— John Mott-Smith is an often discouraged resident of Davis. This column appears on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send your comments to [email protected]. Positive news accepted with gratitude.