COP27: 1.5 °C is Dead, Long Live Every Fraction of a Degree Counts

Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s representative at the 2015 talks in Paris, has called the much-celebrated Paris Climate Agreement a “path to failure,” The main reason he expressed his pessimism was that the deal was not legally binding. It was more of a political agreement rather than a scientific one. Time has vindicated him as his prophecies have come to pass.

In 2015, world leaders and global experts met in Paris under the aegis of COP21 to discuss climate change. They reached a non-binding but ambitious climate change agreement and committed to limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius. This target was overpromising but many scientists and climate modelers were quite skeptical.

Seven years later, the UN secretary-general announced the unfortunate death of the target set under the Paris climate change agreement in a gathering attended by world leaders in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh. In the coming days, world leaders and global experts will eulogize the unfortunate but expected death of our dear COP21 targets— limiting the rise of temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius. They will talk about why we failed to rescue our beloved COP21 target. Hindsight is obviously 20/20.

Our dear 1.5 degrees Celsius target will be missed by many but those that will be affected most by her untimely demise are the innocent people in the Global South that didn’t contribute to her death.

When the mourning is over, the congregation in Sham El-Sheikh will convene on 18th November 2022 to bid farewell to our departed 1.5 degrees Celsius. The leaders from Global North and the main polluters of our atmosphere will promise to take care of the vulnerable nations affected most by the death of our dear 1.5 degrees Celsius target. This support— Loss and damage finance— will come inform of investment to compensate for the losses caused by our inability to take care of our ailing climate.

Climate investment promises don’t work for a couple of reasons. First, the rich nations often don’t keep their promises and contribute their fair shares of the funds; for instance, under the Paris agreement, the climate change fund target was $100b per year, but that target was never achieved. Second, the little raised is never accessible to the most affected countries.

So, what do we expect from the leaders and global experts who are helplessly mourning the death of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target? There are four possible outcomes.

The leaders and experts will set a new target though it will not be a definitive one like the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The declaration of a new mantra in the name of “Every fraction counts” is the home stretch. These new mantras will replace a delusional mantra that everyone has been skeptical about since its inception. The future of planet Earth remains uncertain but we cannot afford to give up.

World leaders will promote climate change adaptation. They will push for the formulation of policies that aim to promote sustainable development growth and integration of climate change adaptation mechanisms.

Climate change-related loss and damage will be on the menu. This entails compensation for the losses due to climate change. The leaders from the Global South whose countries are the victims of the climate change crisis will push for settlement from the perennial polluters. Some funds will be set aside for compensation.

Some countries, particularly the United States, are promoting carbon offsets. This mechanism has been introduced previously in the climate change business. The problem with carbon offset mechanisms is that it has a poor track record of overpromising and underdelivering, thus exacerbating the climate crisis. It remains to be seen how it will function and what changes will be made to ensure that it serves its intended purpose.

It is worth noting that any agreement reached in the future will be meaningless if it is not legally binding and its fate is known.

Now that we have paid our final respects to the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, what will happen to our dear planet earth? We are going to experience extreme weather events. The frequency of these extreme events will increase. The glaciers will continue to melt at an unprecedented rate and the sea levels will continue to rise, submerging the low-lying coastal areas. Recurrent droughts will become the order of the day and the low-lying cities and riverine towns will be perpetually inundated.

Nations in the Global South must seek climate justice as they have nothing to do with the climate crisis that has affected their lives and livelihoods. But Alas! How can you get Justice when the judge and jury are complicit in a crime against our planet earth?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect Horn Dispatch editorial stand.