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Editorial: To address climate change, the world needs action, not just words

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
November 20, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 41

COP27—the 27th United Nations climate change conference—finished last week. After 2 weeks of negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, leaders from all over the world can now go home and get on with their business. Should they pat themselves on the back for a job well done? Far from it.

The conference agenda’s many topics included negotiations for climate finance. Low-income countries pushed for measures such as loss-and-damage funding, which would allow nations to seek compensation after climate disasters largely caused by industrialized nations’ emissions.

This marked the first time that this reparation provision has appeared in a COP agenda, and it puts wealthy countries on the spot. I don’t blame low-income nations for asking high-income countries to support the populations that bear the brunt of adverse climate impacts. A number of countries have agreed to chip in to a fund for loss and damages, which is a step in the right direction. This unfortunately is not new or additional money. Rather, it is money redirected from emission reduction and adaptation funding.

Climate justice and commitment to agreed-on emission goals and targets continue to be a bone of contention during these annual gatherings. In 2009, the world’s industrialized countries committed to collectively give $100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate adaptation and mitigation projects. Now, over a decade later, they have contributed only $83.3 billion. And of this number, the US has contributed less than $3 billion, according to the New York Times. This is a low number when you consider the US’s total emissions, population, and other factors.

Worse, it is abundantly clear that the $100 billion pledged is not enough. In addition to the reparations mentioned, low-income nations have been consistently calling for more funds to accelerate the development and implementation of their plans to adapt to climate change. These plans would allow countries to identify needs and develop strategies and programs to address them. Although the parties agreed at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, last November to double adaptation funding by 2025, they haven’t settled on a delivery plan for this money—a failure that continues to hamper global progress on climate change and diminishes the trustworthiness of richer countries.

And credibility is at an all-time low. The climate conferences have been criticized as nothing more than a forum for greenwashing—and the lack of financial commitment seems to support that charge. To make matters worse, COP27 risks becoming the conference where we lost the ability to meet the target of curtailing global average warming to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels by 2100, a goal set in 2015. Progress on cutting climate pollution has been slow, and recent reports suggest that the world will blow past a 1.5 °C increase by 2035.

The climate crisis is a global problem to be addressed at a global level. But are the yearly climate conferences the right way to go about it? I can’t think of a better approach, but we need more than words as an outcome. Action and real commitment by our governments are what we need. The leaders in attendance—not a very diverse bunch, it must be noted, with only 11 women among the 110 heads of state and governments attending—would do well to remember that the climate crisis is not a political game. They have been charged with leaving the world a better place, and they need to commit to that. Let’s start by doing what we say we are going to do.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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