10 May 2021 – Personal Opinion Piece
Rome is Burning Ahead of COP26
In 2005, 189 nations signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement, which was heralded as the framework that would save the world from cataclysmic climate change. Countries would step up their commitments, developing nations would receive funding for carbon reduction and removal, and we would unite as a planet to decisively say no to the death and destruction associated with breaching the 2 degrees of warming limit scientists had set.
In the intervening years, reality has not been so rosy. The US, one of the world’s largest emitters, announced its withdrawal (since revoked, but not a good sign) under then-president Donald Trump. People began to ask if the framework was falling apart after the COP25 meeting in Madrid concluded without any real progress. Carbon trading markets remain beset by questionable offsets. The construction of coal-fired powerplants in the developing world has increased rather than tapered off, with China leading the charge to become the world’s largest emitter in 2021. Not to be outdone, the U.S. coal industry has resorted to suing states unwilling to buy their product. According to the latest scientific consensus, we are already “locked in” to see massive ice shelve collapses in the Antarctic and well on track to witnessing an open water Arctic in the next couple of decades. And that 2-degree goalpost? It turns out that we should be aiming for 1.5 degrees of warming, an even steeper target.
Once in the air, carbon persists for thousands of years. CO2 from the burning of Rome in 64 CE is still in the atmosphere today. With the recent rapid rise in emissions since the Industrial Revolution, we have already guaranteed 1.1 degrees of warming. Like Emperor Nero, the collective world appears to be off playing a fiddle.
So what do we do? Hiding under the bed will only get us so far. Carbon capture or sequestration is laughable- we cannot turn a quarter of the arable world into forest plantations, grind up enough calcium, or afford enough high-tech direct capture gizmos. If we don’t have the collective political will to avoid spewing out greenhouse gases, why should we assume we’ll have the backbone for expensive, highly disruptive, and currently theoretical carbon capture? The idea defies logic.
Now is the time to recapture the energy of that grand event five years ago in Paris! We must cut emissions rapidly and drastically. Countries must be pushed to set far bigger nationally determined contributions. Carbon markets must be reformed or scrapped in favor of a system that actually works. Industrialized nations must massively fund projects in the Global South. And the developing world must take a greater stand itself and stop using developed nations’ historical emissions to avoid environmentally sustainable development. At this year’s delayed COP26, governments must put down their fiddles and accept that business as usual is just an agreement to die a little slower than before. For all of the progress made so far, we are still on track to warm by…