Discover more from Net Zero by 2050
Yet Another COP
For the casual follower of international news it would be easy to overlook COP27, the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference that is being held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Reporting from this event has had to compete with many other news items, particularly the United States mid-term elections, and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson, Ukraine.
However, the lack of interest in COP27 is probably symptomatic of a deeper problem — a sense that this meeting doesn’t matter all that much. After all, this is the 27th meeting of its type (the first one was held in Berlin in the year 1995). Yet, as the following chart shows, there has been little real progress in addressing the causes of climate change. Why should COP27 be any different?
The ordinate (y-axis) shows human (anthropogenic) emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in gigatons (billions of metric tons) per annum, starting in the year 1950. There has been a smooth increase, starting at around 5 gigatons in 1950 to today’s value close to 40 gigatons. Events such as the COVID pandemic hardly show up as a blip.
The dashed red line on the chart shows how quickly emissions need to decrease if were are to achieve Net Zero emissions by the year 2050. It would be the height of naivety to believe that COP27 is going to suddenly and dramatically start us down the slope of the red line. Why should COP27 be any different from all the COPs that have preceded it?
The internal dynamics of COP27 support this pessimistic attitude. The Presidents of the United States, Russia and China did not even bother to show up. Even the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, last year’s host nation, could not take time out of his busy schedule to arrange the formal handover to the Egyptian government.
One of the themes of this site is that there is generally a ‘Lack of Imagination’ in our institutions when it comes to technical challenges such as climate change. For example, many of our recent posts have been to do with the proposed changes to OSHA’s process safety standard. Virtually all of those changes are to do with fine tuning the existing standard. Neither OSHA nor the commenters have made any serious effort to think through the fundamentals of process safety. We have been successful for the last 30 years, so why should we change now?
In future posts and discussions we will consider what options might realistically “bend the climate curve”. Such options may or may not work. But of one thing we can be sure — continuing the way we are is not going to address the rapidly worsening climate crisis.
Thanks for reading Net Zero by 2050! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.