Saro Thiruppathy laments the lack of progress by COP in terms of broken promises and rising global temperatures since the 2015 Paris Agreement

Much of the world breathed a sigh of relief when the international community rallied round the devastating issue of global warming and adopted the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015. This historic international treaty seeks to address the planet threatening issue of climate change through mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Climate finance is a critical component of this process because it will enable the most vulnerable countries in the developing world to prepare mitigation strategies against rising sea levels, droughts, floods and so on.

THE DREAM The Paris Agreement was negotiated by 196 UN member states at the United Nations Climate Change Conference; and the Conference of the Parties (COP) have met annually to discuss developments, and make recommendations for limiting global warming and climate change.

Due to the unbridled use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, global temperature was expected to reach 3.5°C above preindustrial levels by 2100. This would have resulted in the mass extinction of species, rising sea levels due to melting glaciers and permafrost, and unimaginable heat for those who are alive at the time.

The main goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep mean global temperature well below 2°C above preindustrial levels – although the preferred limit is 1.5°C. COP hoped that this would help reduce the impact of climate change on the planet substantially and even reach ‘net zero’ by the halfway mark of the 21st century.

To achieve this lofty goal however, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would need to be reduced by about 50 percent by 2030. This was thought to have been possible through the unenforceable nationally determined contributions (NDC) of member states.

THE REALITY As time ticked by, humanity’s hopes of the Paris Agreement coming to fruition began dissolving faster than the ice shelf in the Antarctic – because extreme weather events are occurring regularly and global temperatures continue to rise.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) believes that although country commitments to reduce carbon footprints have helped reduce the rate of heating on the planet, Earth is still on course to endure temperature rises between 2.5°C and 2.9°C by the end of the 21st century.

So what on earth has COP achieved besides meeting in luxurious venues, travelling on private jets that pollute the planet even more, releasing plenty of hot air and not reaching a consensus on anything substantive other than making pledges, which few take seriously anymore?

In 2021, COP26 in Glasgow failed to agree on two critical issues: the renewal of targets for 2030 that would have helped achieve the 1.5°C Paris goal; and phase out coal. Though the intention was to phase out coal, India protested and the final document was watered down to read “phasing down” rather than “phasing out.”

When the UK’s Prime Minister Liz Truss was appointed in 2022, she promptly lifted the ban on fracking, which had been imposed in 2019. She then asked King Charles III not to attend the COP27 summit in Egypt.

In 2022, COP27 agreed to provide loss and damage funding for vulnerable countries that are affected by extreme weather events. But this came into effect only at COP28.

FUNDING Though developed nations had pledged to contribute US$ 100 billion in climate mitigation financing annually from 2020 onwards, their promises have not materialised. Analysts now believe that by 2030, more than 2.4 trillion dollars will be needed by developing countries every year to handle their climate related devastation.

COP28 saw ambitious pledges for climate mitigation projects by the UAE, which hosted the summit, and multi­laterals such as the World Bank. If the past is anything to go by however, there really isn’t much room for hope.

Even after eight years, COP hasn’t established an accountability mechanism for climate financing to help developing nations and this may be a reason for the lowly inflow of funds.

DENIAL But the most telling part was when the President of COP28 Sultan Al Jaber claimed that there’s “no science” – indicating that a phase out of fossil fuels will help prevent global temperature rising by 1.5°C.

This is despite the fact that in 2023, the global temperature was 1.46°C above preindustrial levels.

He added: “Unless you want to take the world back into caves,” a phase-out of fossil fuels wouldn’t sustain develop­ment.

The worst part isn’t that his position verges on climate denial – but rather, COP members felt it was acceptable for a country that produces an average of 3.2 million barrels of petroleum and related liquids a day to host the summit in 2023.

Perhaps COP members need to undergo a refresher course on the causes of global warming and climate change before deciding on their next venue. It would be even better if they stopped meeting for a while… and simply honoured the pledges they have made and failed to fulfil so far.

Perhaps COP members need to undergo a refresher course on the causes of global warming and climate change before deciding on their next venue