António Guterres, UN secretary general, offered world leaders the starkest of choices at the opening of the Cop27 climate negotiations in Egypt two weeks ago: “co-operate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact – or a collective suicide pact.”
This was not hyperbole. The evidence that our activity is pushing the world over a climate cliff has been compelling for a decade. Awareness that this crisis does not reside in some nebulous future, but is already upon us, has surged with the recent rapid succession of extreme weather disasters across the world.
On Sunday morning an exceptionally fractious conference, which had almost collapsed as it ran 36 hours beyond its deadline, concluded with a remarkable, if long overdue, advance in solidarity. But in terms of actually averting climate collapse, we remain frightening close to disaster.
The good news was undoubtedly the last-minute consensus on a “loss and damage” fund. This promises aid from developed states to developing countries, when they are devastated by climate-related disasters such as drought, floods, and fire. The deal tacitly acknowledges the historical responsibility of the industrialised world for the climate crisis, the severest impacts of which are so far felt where greenhouse gas emissions have been lowest.
This fund is rooted in the concept of climate justice, for which former president Mary Robinson has been such an early and visionary advocate.
Significant credit for the deal is due to Climate Minister Eamon Ryan, at the cutting edge of negotiations for the EU, building consensus for an idea long resisted by many in Brussels, and persuading developing countries to accept less than their ideal version.
Irish credibility, built on decades of quiet climate mitigation work by Irish Aid with poor and vulnerable countries, was skilfully deployed in Egypt by the Irish team. Would that we were as successful at climate action advocacy at home.
But as Ryan said, the real work, making this fund operational, remains ahead. The ongoing failure by developed countries to honour their 2009 commitment to contribute $100 billion annually to help the developing world transition to clean energy does not augur well.
It is also very troubling that targets from last year’s Glasgow COP26, including the vital commitment to keep emissions from rising more than 1.5 degrees, were very nearly unpicked at this conference. Avoiding backsliding is hardly progress.
Indeed, the shameful failure of key countries to enhance emissions reductions this year, as promised at Glasgow, leaves us on track to exceed the long-term target of restricting temperature growth to 1.5 degrees in just nine years. As Mary Robinson said, nothing at this conference “changes the fact that the world remains on the brink of a climate catastrophe.”