Yet another Conference of Parties (COP) Climate Summit has concluded, this time in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This in itself was controversial, as the UAE itself is an oil-producing country. This was perceived to be a conflict of interest, as the very aim of COP28 was to set in motion a process to get rid of fossil fuels within the next two or three decades.
Finally, after much deliberation and a misstep or two (COP28 Chairman Sultan Al Jaber, an oil executive, was caught saying that “we have to go back into caves” if oil is phased out), the Dubai agreement extracted a promise from nearly 200 countries to transition away from fossil fuels.
This is a major victory for a world that is still highly dependent on petroleum and coal. There should be no new exploitation of oil reserves, even though this might affect the fortunes of certain Global South countries which are believed to have undiscovered oil deposits.
Nevertheless, it leaves many questions unanswered with regard to keeping global average temperatures from warming by more than 1.5°C. The world is rapidly running out of time to limit temperatures to this level —a critical threshold for many communities living in low-lying Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and delicate ecosystems such as coral reefs.
The general consensus is that this might not be possible at the current levels of fossil fuel consumption and methane emissions from livestock farming and so on. The slow pace of the adoption of emission mitigating technologies such as Carbon Capture, Electric Mobility, Renewable Energy, Green and Blue Hydrogen and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is another cause for concern.
In fact, last year was the hottest on record since the 1800s, not to mention catastrophic floods in Libya, extreme heat in South East Asia, Europe, China and the US, and droughts across Africa which were all caused as a result of Climate Change. The many freak weather events here in Sri Lanka also bear ample testimony to this phenomenon.
Further studies are thus urgently needed to study the effects of Climate Change and Global Warming. In this context, President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposal to COP28 countries to contribute funds and expertise to the establishment of an International Climate Change University (ICCU) in Sri Lanka is worth pursuing. This will bring researchers and students from all corners of the globe to study this existential threat to humankind and evolve solutions that will help us survive a possible apocalypse perhaps by the turn of the century.
President Wickremesinghe’s other initiative on the Climate Justice Forum (CJF) is also worth considering. Global South countries will need trillions of dollars over the next few decades, if not years, to mitigate the effects of Climate Change. Sri Lanka is likely to need well over US$ 100 billion.
Indeed, a key sticking point for developing countries across the negotiations process in Dubai was securing enough funds from developed countries – the largest historical emitters and the biggest culprits of the Climate Crisis – to actually implement the necessary actions.
Developed countries have failed to deliver the US$ 50 billion per year promised as part of a doubling of money for adaptation agreed in 2021. This is part of the overall Climate Financing target of US$ 100 billion a year—agreed for both cutting emissions and adaptation in 2009. The latest United Nations Report on Climate Adaptation showed that only US$ 21 billion was delivered in 2021, while financial needs are 10–18 times higher than that amount. The future is downright scary if enough money is not injected to address Global Warming – Between 800 million and 3 billion people will not have enough drinking water at a 2°C temperature rise and up to 4 billion at 4°C. This is an unthinkable situation by any yardstick.
One need not wait for high-tech solutions to address Climate Change and adapt to it. Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to grow food due to changes in rainfall can adapt with improved forms of irrigation and new crop varieties to maintain a similar level of productivity. Coastal communities can build rudimentary seawalls to protect them from storm surges or plant mangrove forests to prevent the land eroding swiftly. Bangladesh has developed early warning systems using its own funds and invested in cyclone shelters. But at the other end of the scale, it is only through large-scale removal of atmospheric carbon, or through negative emissions, that temperatures can be brought back down by the end of the present century.
It is also vital to educate the younger generation on the possible effects of Climate Change. And they can start with small steps. Even a simple act like turning off an unwanted light bulb can save energy and hence Planet Earth. Yes, there are plenty of steps that we can take at a personal level to curb emissions, such as taking public transport as much as possible instead of using private cars. Every little bit helps in the battle to save our Planet Earth.