On the day before the COP28 global climate talks began, you may have been surprised to come across a herd of elephants in business suits protesting outside the gates of the Dáil. Trócaire, together with our Stop Climate Chaos coalition partners, were taking action to highlight the ‘elephant in the room’ at COP, namely fossil fuels. To people outside the COP bubble, it may have come as a shock that fossil fuels, responsible for 86% of carbon emissions in the last decade, had yet to be addressed in a COP agreement.
So, the fact that fossil fuels have been named at this year’s COP is a historic moment, but alas for all the wrong reasons. It lays bare the longstanding dominance of the fossil fuel industry that has successfully blocked bold climate action year after year. It exposes the number of countries that for years have been prepared to continue to put short-term pursuit of profit and economic growth over the long-term survival of the planet. But it also reveals another deeper problem, global inequality and injustice, where many countries in the Global South cannot afford a transition to renewable energy, particularly as their resources are continuously extracted with more benefit for corporations that communities.
I was there in Dubai at this year’s COP, and it was a rollercoaster. One early and hopeful version of the COP text held promise of a “an orderly and just phase out of fossil fuels.” However, the final text was watered down to an agreed commitment to a “transition away” from fossil fuels. This vague commitment is neither fast, fair or funded; the litmus test for true ambition and action that is needed to address the climate crisis at the pace that’s needed.
While the destructive fossil fuel era is facing its inevitable decline, the final text includes language on ‘abatement’ which relies on unproven technologies and other loopholes – we simply don’t have time for this. A weak text with loopholes is not the deal that communities most affected by sea level rise, drought, floods and cyclones deserve. As the Alliance of Small Island Developing States said, it is not enough to make reference to the science and then make agreements that ignore it.
We are seeing alarming emissions and temperature records across the world and we see the direct and devastating impact on communities in the Global South. Communities who have done so little to cause the climate crisis are the ones who must deal with deforestation, land grabs and pollution caused by the relentless financing of fossil fuels, along with the devastating impacts of extreme weather events caused by a rapidly heating planet. Communities are losing their homes, livelihoods and ways of life.
The need for a fossil fuel phase out and a transition to renewable energy is completely interdependent with climate finance flowing to the Global South to support the transition. This gets to the very heart of Climate Justice, because of the historical emissions of richer countries that have caused the climate crisis. This is the ecological debt of the Global North and should not be seen as charity.
However, the failure of richer countries to provide climate finance year after year has eroded trust at the COP to breaking point and this year’s final text does not provide assurances to developing countries that the necessary finance will be provided. While the decision text outlined the scale of global climate finance required, in the trillions of dollars, COP28 fell disappointingly short on compelling rich nations to fulfil financial responsibilities.
This disappointment is further compounded by pledges of just 700 million dollars to the new Loss and Damage Fund, which is less than 1% of the real need, which is closer to 400 billion dollars. To put this in context, in 2022, global military spending rose to an all-time record high of USD 2.24 trillion. If we can find this level of funding for expensive wars, surely we can find the necessary funding to address the climate crisis?
Ultimately, COP28 represented small overdue incremental steps, when transformative change is what is needed. However, the growing and united outrage to such sluggishness when we all know that bold, decisive climate action is needed is clear. We all know the systems are moving too slow – it’s up to us to do everything in our power to ensure political leaders everywhere prioritise fair and just climate action.
The passing of the motion in the Dáil this week calling for increased fossil fuel divestment and for the Government to endorse the development of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is a welcome step in this regard. If we are to properly address the elephant in the room, Ireland can show leadership by joining the growing group of countries who have declared support for this proposed Treaty. To truly phase out of fossil fuels, we need bold new ideas, we need strong leadership. Or else the poorest and most marginalised communities in the Global South will continue to pay the price for the climate crisis.