Last year was the hottest on record. Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned that the safe limit for 1.5 degrees of warming will be passed this year, with 2 degrees likely by the late 2030s.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that serious action is urgently needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, 2023’s UN climate summit COP28 provided nothing in the way of solutions.
Held in Dubai over two weeks in November and December, the conference was attended by more than 80,000 participants. A record 2456 representatives of the oil and gas industries attended, outnumbering Indigenous representatives by seven to one.
Before the conference, a “Global Stocktake” was conducted to assess the progress made by governments towards their commitments under the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 with the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing a limit of 1.5C of warming.
Unsurprisingly, they are not on track to meet those commitments. Germany’s climate envoy and former executive director of Greenpeace, Jennifer Morgan, told a press conference in Dubai that the current trajectory means we will see “a temperature rise of 2.5C to 2.9C”.
The proven failure of governments to take these climate thresholds seriously threatens irreversible damage to the planet and poses a catastrophic threat to billions around the world.
The deal signed by more than 200 countries at COP28 has been hailed as historic. But the reality should give no cause for optimism.
The final agreement was a compromise with petro-states like the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) which hosted the conference. Pacific island states refused to vote for it and said they were kept out of the conference hall until after it went through.
Those who celebrated the deal argued that because, for the first time, it calls for “transitioning away” from fossil fuels it provides a pathway that could keep warming to 1.5C. But the conference rejected calls for a complete phase-out of fossil fuels.
Worse the agreement promoted “abatement” technologies like carbon capture and storage as part of the answer, a fraud that is nothing but cover for the fossil fuel industry to keep polluting.
The plans made at COP28 had far more to do with protecting the profits of fossil fuel bosses and the ruling class at large than they did with real climate action.
At COP28 the president of the conference, Sultan Al Jaber, proclaimed that the deal was “unprecedented” and told reporters that he is “committed to the transition”.
Al Jaber is the chief executive of the UAE’s national oil and gas company Adnoc. He announced two days later that his company would invest $150 billion in oil and gas over seven years to maintain its current production levels.
This deal does nothing for workers, Indigenous communities or the environment. It stands only to benefit the fossil fuel industry.
David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, writing for RenewEconomy, described the delegates to the conference as “cheering an outcome which will push societies everywhere closer to civilisational breakdown.”
But as climate scientist Kevin Anderson put it, “The time for polish, rhetoric and applause is long gone. We face a climate emergency that the COP process appears simply unwilling or unable to address.”
Labor’s Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen took the opportunity to spruik his government’s greenwashing on the international stage. Bowen had much to say about keeping “1.5 degrees alive” and the threat that climate change poses in the Pacific, promising that “we are not going to see our brothers and sisters inundated and their countries swallowed by the seas”.
But these comments don’t stack up with Australia’s actual track record on climate. Labor are currently overseeing a massive expansion of the fossil fuel industry in Australia, including projects like Santos’s Pilliga Gas Project and Woodside’s Scarborough.
When Bolivia’s negotiator called out the hypocrisy of the developed nations, Bowen replied, “You know, every country has things at stake. We’re a fossil fuel exporter, we’ve got things at stake …”
We cannot look to the market or to conferences like COP28 to solve the climate crisis. Even at their most ambitious, the action promised by 2050 will not be enough and will come far too late. The fossil fuel industry and their supporters in world governments are willing to sacrifice the planet to protect their profits.
If we want to stop the worst impacts of the climate catastrophe then we urgently need a mass movement from below that includes workers, First Nations peoples and climate activists to fight for a real and just transition to 100 per cent publicly-owned renewable energy.
By Angus Dermody