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Climate change post COP 28

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Climate change post COP 28

16th February 2024

By: Saliem Fakir

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One must have felt a bit of a daze as a result of the cacophony of announcements at the twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – or COP 28 – which was hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai from November 28 to December 3. Every COP has these self-congratulating moments.

The Lost and Damage Fund may have reached $700-milllion as starter cash but everyone knows this amount is meagre in relation to the scale of what is needed. Since COP 28 was held in an oil-producing country, you can see the irony of the $700-million against the fact that the Big Five oil companies made profits of $200-billion in the last year and the profit of Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, was a whopping $162-billion. I don’t know the figure for the UAE as a country.

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We should not expect that things will move fast. That is unlikely, despite the fact that Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, hailed the outcomes of COP 28 as representing progress. He described the outcomes as one more arrow in the quiver of those fighting against fossil fuels. At least the world is transitioning away from fossils fuels, and even though this is not in an orderly manner, he hailed as important three milestones he sketched out in the evolution of the global climate treaty. The first is the scientific link between greenhouse gases and global warming, the second, enshrined in the Paris Agreement, is the global goal of 1.5 ºC, and now the text on transitioning from fossil fuels.

Words may mean success but McKibben is as worried as any other commentator that fossil fuel investment and subsidies continue to exceed the rate of investments in non- fossil-fuel alternatives.

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The position of the more radical Rupert Read, the founder of Extinction Rebellion, who co-edited a book with Jem Bendell on Deep Adaptation as a counter to all the promises and hopes from climate conference texts, is premised on the notion that the continued use of fossil fuels will speed up the sixth extinction – effectively, the planet will be uninhabitable.

Read and his co-author argue: “In pursuit of a conceptual map of ‘deep adaptation’, we can conceive of resilience of human societies as the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances so as to survive with valued norms and behaviours.”

The response to such a conclusion is a form of activism that has to be extreme – hence, Extinction Rebellion. In the view of the Extinction Rebellion movement, scientists have a professional and instinctive tendency to downplay the seriousness of the climate crisis – it is career wrecking to look alarmist. “Society has been relying on scientists to blow the whistle on climate collapse. Mostly, scientists haven’t yet done so.” They further note: “It is incumbent upon scientists to seek to stop being incongruent.” Scientists have been complicit, through their ‘quietism’, in maintaining the hegemony of passive change rather than active change.

The Extinction Rebellion approach requires self-sacrifice for the common good. Movements will have to work hard at this inclination. Extinction Rebellion, guided by theories of civilisational collapse, see radicalism as a way to change from passive change to active change.

Read is not waiting for the transition but is calling for another type of transition – transforming the very way civilisation works and adapting to what he would regard as living with the frequency of a changing climate and the possibility of a catastrophe. Read is even more scathing and questioning with regard to whether COPs are of any use these days. For Read, they are increasingly becoming captured spaces. He speaks to the challenge confronting us – we are in a 2º or more world, depending on where on the planet you live. The frequency of extreme weather events is too much to ignore.

As part of this radical transformation agenda, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative, a scientific platform that studies extreme weather, seeks to establish close causal relations between greenhouse-gas emissions, global warming and extreme weather. The WWA’s agenda is attribution and to provide a lending hand for legal action. It is preparing the science for climate lawfare.

Deep Adaptation’s philosophy is governed by four guiding principles: holding on to values that we will need to cope with disruptive change, relinquishing things that cause us to become attached to things and beliefs, restoration of values that hinge on kindness and care, and the concept of reconciliation with others and with what we have done to nature.

With regard to giving up things, perhaps the answer lies in Ingrid Robyn’s idea of limitrarianism – the idea of society setting an upper limit on the possession of valuable goods – meaning the amount of money and property one should own. As she notes: “The beneficial effects of this shift could be various, including contributing to meeting the urgent needs of others, addressing collective action problems such as the funding of effective action for climate change, or protecting democratic values.” These debates also touch on what seems like a new revival of degrowth models for the future.

We should also be wary of the disguising of other interests under the cover of adaptation support and counting these as primarily climate objectives. The Pacific island of Tuvalu is already sinking. About 14 000 inhabitants will incrementally receive special residence permission in Australia under the Falepili Union Treaty. This treaty is not only a climate deal but also a defence and security pact to block or limit China’s rapid encroachment in the Pacific Forum region. Once geopolitical interests increasingly creep into climate action, self-interest dominates the reasons for collective action.

So, interpreting both McKibben and Read takes a two-step approach: the first is to kill fossil fuels and the other is to adapt. Read would prioritise adaptation, given that promises are hollow and every word coming out of COP he says is a delaying tactic that gives the illusion of progress.

We are between the goodness of human nature and the worst of human nature ala Thomas Hobbes’s suspicion that a good person is rare: human nature is intrinsically dark – callous, warring and brutal.

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