Extreme Temperature Diary- Wednesday December 20th, 2023/Main Topic: Dr. Peter Kalmus’ Big Beef with COP28

COP Out: Wrapping Up a Useless Climate Summit That Should Fool Nobody | Opinion (newsweek.com)

COP Out: Wrapping Up a Useless Climate Summit That Should Fool Nobody | Opinion

COP28, the climate summit that ended last week, delivered nonbinding words. What humanity and the Earth need is determined, coordinated action to end fossil fuels, and the useless words from COP28 will only serve to delay that action.

Let’s review what just happened. Some wealthy humans flew on private jets to the United Arab Emirates, a petrostate, for a two-week meeting. Many of these humans work for the fossil fuel industry. The petrostate leveraged its host status for dirty side deals to expand fossil fuels. There was a session on sustainable megayacht ownership. The presiding official was a fossil fuel CEO, Sultan al-Jaber, who, days earlier, had said some anti-science, denialist garbage-words. Two days after the meeting ended, he promised that his oil corporation will continue investing in oil and expanding fossil fuels. OPEC, in a joint statement with the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, congratulated the UAE on the “positive outcome” for the fossil fuel industry.

Nice “climate summit.”

We are all in grave danger from global heating, which appears to be accelerating, is irreversible, and is driving all the flooding and heat and fires. It’s caused almost entirely by the fossil fuel industry, with industrial animal agriculture in second place. If we allow these industries to continue, Earth will get hotter and hotter; and more and more systems (food, water, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, geopolitics) will break all over the world. The longer these industries exist, the more we will lose.

The wealthy fossil-fuel-industry-influenced humans at COP28 produced 21 pages called the “global stocktake.” The stocktake mentions “fossil fuels” once, on page 4. People who wish to argue that COP28 wasn’t a complete failure have been calling this “historic.” And technically it is, because fossil fuels have never been mentioned in a COP decision text.

However, this is shameful. Thirty years? To simply mention the dead-obvious cause of this global heating nightmare? Specifically, the stocktake “calls on” nations to contribute to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” These words are nonbinding, stop short of calling for phasing out fossil fuels, and limit the transition to “energy systems.” I’m surprised the rich folks mentioned “equitable”; perhaps they are beginning to feel pressure from the climate movement. Indeed, any fossil fuel phase out will need to be equitable—even apart from the obvious moral imperative—or its policies and treaties will unduly burden non-rich people and nations, become massively unpopular, and fail (this dynamic was colorfully demonstrated by the Yellow Vests movement in France in 2018). However, the rich seem unlikely to voluntarily relinquish their wealth. If they don’t, the transition will take a revolution.


The stocktake also included words encouraging expansion of “transitional fuels,” which means fossil gas (what the industry calls “natural gas”); words cheerleading acceleration of carbon capture and storage, which is a fossil fuel industry techno-fantasy that will never happen at scale; and words calling for “phase-down of unabated coal power,” which means phase-down of coal power with carbon capture (abated coal power) isn’t on the table. The use of unabated in this context makes it clear that, in the worldview of COP28 and the fossil fuel industry, “carbon capture” are merely words that mean “we can keep burning fossil fuels.” The stocktake also fails to mention industrial animal agriculture at all.

The other thing people who want to argue it wasn’t a complete failure mention are loss and damage pledges from rich nations. However, these pledges amount to $700 million. This may sound like a lot of money, but it’s estimated to be just 0.2 percent of what’s needed (and I would guess this is still a gross underestimate). The United States pledged less than $20 million, which is an insultingly small amount—roughly the budget of an average high school, and a tiny fraction of a single fossil fuel CEO’s annual salary.

Words like these—weaselly, unbinding, unquantitative, insincere—serve to distract society from ending fossil fuels. For 30 years, fossil-fuel-industry-influenced rich people have distracted everyone so effectively that they didn’t even need to bother mentioning fossil fuels. And fossil-fueled business as usual has continued and expanded exponentially all the while. As a society, we so far seem incapable of imagining it ending.

The problem is power. Over the last few hundred years of extractive colonialist capitalism, rich people (and their corporations, mechanisms of more-than-human perpetuation and accumulation) have enclosed capital, and that capital has accrued more capital, and that exponentially growing capital purchases laws and judges and media and disinformation. And all this influence has determined how we can collectively imagine, and how we collectively imagine has determined the direction we take as a society. The rich benefit from this status quo, at least until everything collapses (and insulated, they are unable to see that they are driving the system toward collapse). Therefore, they strongly resist changing it. This resistance to change is the hallmark of the COP process, and we saw it in spectacular fashion last week at COP28.

Where do we go from here?

We need to start by agreeing that COP28, like other COPs, was a complete failure. Claiming that it was somehow not a failure, clinging to bits of false hope, generates a powerful illusion that business as usual can continue. We’ve been doing this for 30 years now. The possibility of keeping heating to under 1.5 degrees C has been squandered. If we cling to false hope that it’s working, we will keep doing it, year after year, making no progress. This is what the fossil fuel industry wants; this is how we lose a planet.

We then need to establish an international summit and fossil fuel treaty system that isn’t broken under the weight of fossil fuel industry corruption. To do this, we need to ban the fossil fuel industry from the negotiations, and doing this will require a stronger climate movement. Every single one of us can work, in our own way, to make the movement stronger. Be a climate activist: join with other climate activists—we’re not hard to find—and take risks. It’s up to us.

Dr. Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA studying future extreme heat impacts on human health and ecosystems, speaking on his own behalf. He is also a climate activist and the author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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