World falters in containing climate crisis as negotiators head to Egypt for UN summit

  • Key reports published ahead of the United Nations summit on climate change at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on November 6-18 reveal the planet is close to irreversible climate breakdown.
  • Issues around mobilising finance to combat the climate emergency are expected to dominate talks at the 27th edition of the Conference of Parties (COP27) even as pledges by national governments continue to fall short.
  • Rich nations and developing countries like India likely to be at loggerheads over setting up a facility to address loss and damage due to global warming amid worsening geopolitical situation due to the Ukraine conflict and subsequent energy crisis.

Deep in the dense, old-growth forest of Hasdeo Arand in central India’s Chhattisgarh, the Gond tribals protesting a coal mining project do not know that the world under the aegis of the United Nations has been negotiating for 26 years to arrest the rise of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.

They are unaware that in 2015 in Paris, nations across the planet agreed to keep global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times and make efforts to contain the increase to 1.5 degrees. What they do know for certain is that if a coal mine comes up in the area, it will destroy their way of life lived through millennia in their pristine jungle habitat.

The Gond are not alone in their fears. Millions of poor and marginalised people, particularly in developing countries like India, are already experiencing the adverse impacts of the unfolding climate change that is disrupting their already precarious existence.

Even as world leaders and diplomats head to the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on the Red Sea coast to negotiate strategies and plans to contain runaway climate change at the UN global summit that is the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), memories are still fresh in the countries of South Asia of a series of climate disasters that affected to lives of millions and damaged billions worth of crop and property.

Devastating floods in Pakistan due to accelerating glacier melt and unseasonal heatwaves even before the summer season in large northern India this year have devastated standing crops. In Bangladesh, Cyclone Sitrang has rendered a large number of people homeless.

There has been opposition against coal mining in the Hasdeo Arand region. Photo from Alok Shukla of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.

The situation is no different in other parts of the world, as Hurricane Ian in Florida in the U.S., drought and heatwaves in Europe, simultaneous flooding and drought in China, Hurricane Fiona in the Caribbean, and severe flooding in South Africa, among other weather disasters, have resulted in tragic loss of lives and huge property damage.

Global natural disaster events till the end of September have caused economic losses of at least $227 billion, of which just $99 billion was covered by public and private insurers, according to a catastrophe report by Aon, an insurance broker. Insured losses due to natural calamities are set to breach $100 billion for the third year in a row, the insurance giant said.

Glaring gaps in climate action

Despite the continuing crisis staring humanity in its face, the world is simply not doing enough to contain the rise in global temperatures, according to a slew of reports released in the past couple of weeks ahead of COP27.

There is “no credible pathway to 1.5 degree Celsius” till now, the UN Environment Programme said in its Emissions Gap Report 2022 released on October 27. The 13th edition of the annual report revealed that updated national pledges since COP26, which was held in 2021 in Glasgow, UK, will make a negligible difference to predicted 2030 emissions.

“We are far from the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees,” the report said. “Policies currently in place point to a 2.8 degrees temperature rise by the end of the century. Implementation of the current pledges will only reduce this to a 2.4-2.6 degrees temperature rise by the end of the century.”

Only a systemic transformation can deliver the massive cuts needed to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which translates into additional 45% reduction compared with projections based on policies currently in place, the UN environment agency said. Only a handful of nations, which include India, have further strengthened their plans in the past one year, despite promising to do so at the Cop26 summit held in Glasgow in November last year.

Although countries are slowly bending the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions, the efforts are woefully insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, according to the 2022 NDC Synthesis Report published on October 26 by UN Climate Change, the agency that hosts the climate summit. Only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP 26, it said.

“We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track towards a 1.5 degrees Celsius world,” said Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UN Climate Change. “To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years.”

The lethargic progress has unsurprisingly led to atmospheric levels of all three major greenhouse gases breaking new records, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin published on October 26. The increase in carbon dioxide levels from 2020 to 2021 was larger than the average annual growth rate over the last decade despite a slowdown in economic activity due to the covid pandemic, the WMO found.

The findings have “underlined, once again, the enormous challenge – and the vital necessity – of urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures rising even further in the future,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary general at the UN weather agency. “The continuing rise in concentrations of the main heat-trapping gases, including the record acceleration in methane levels, shows that we are heading in the wrong direction.”

Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which led to the signing of the Paris Agreement. Photo by Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana/Wikimedia Commons.

Health and food security

Extreme weather events due to climate change is causing devastation in every continent, adding pressure to health services already grappling with the impacts of the Covid pandemic, said the 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change released on October 25.

In India alone, one-year-old infants experienced an average of 72 million additional person days of heatwaves per year between 2012 and 2021, compared to 1985-2005, the report said. From 2000-04 to 2017-21, heat-related deaths increased by 55% in India, it said.

This has serious implications food security as well. It was seen in the reduced wheat harvest in India due to severe heatwaves in March just ahead of the spring harvest, leading to reduced output for the first time in years. The duration of the growth season for maize has decreased by 2% compared to the 1981-2010 baseline, whereas rice and wheat have each decreased by 1 percent, the Lancet Countdown said.

The only silver lining amid the grim global reports was on energy transition. Carbon emission from burning fossil fuels is expected to peak by 2025 in a “historic turning point” towards and cleaner and more secure future, according to the World Energy Outlook 2022 released by the International Energy Agency on October 27.

The Ukraine War prompted an energy crisis around the world this year and global oil and gas prices surged, leading to high inflation across the world and making conditions favorable for an economic recession in the western countries.

The human toll of climate change due to extreme weather events is increasing in India. Photo by EU/ECHO Samuel Marie-Fanon.

Despite the global headwinds, investment in low-carbon and renewable energy such as solar, wind and nuclear power will rise to $2 trillion a year by 2030, an increase of more than 50% at present, the IEA said in its annual energy report.

“Even with today’s policy settings, the energy world is shifting dramatically before our eyes,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said. “Government responses around the world promise to make this a historic and definitive turning point towards a cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy system.”

Where’s the money to fight climate change?

Given the wider backdrop and accelerating crisis, it is expected that issues around finance will dominate discussions at COP27. In 2009, wealthy countries promised to mobilise $100 billion a year from 2020-25 to support climate action in developing countries. At COP26, it was clear that developed countries failed to meet that goal in 2020. They will continue to be on the dock over this.

Another topic that countries such as India are expected to insist on is loss and damage due to climate change. At the Glasgow summit last year, loss and damage featured prominently for the first time due to loud declamations by the developing world that is bearing the brunt of a rapidly changing weather.

Expectations are high that substantive progress will be made in this contentious subject this year. “Egypt is hosting an African COP, so there is going to be lots of attention, and rightly so, on finance, and loss and damage,” Antony Froggatt, deputy director of Chatham House’s Environment and Society Programme, told a news portal. “This is very clearly a time in which we can make progress in these areas.”

Talks at COP27 are also likely to focus on solutions for climate adaptation, including strategies for managing climate risks and building resilience. The COP27 presidency, which is chaired by Egypt this year, expects countries to capture and assess their progress toward enhancing resilience and helping the most vulnerable communities.

This will have to translate into nations making more detailed and ambitious commitments in the adaptation components of their national climate plans. It remains to be seen whether there would be specific outcomes on these and the other issues hinged on mobilising finances.


Banner image: A man walks along the Ramayapatnam coast at Ganjam in Odisha. Several houses here along the coast are at the verge of collapse due to increased coastal erosion. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

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