The Conference of Parties-27 (COP-27) ended on November 20 in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh. This conference was supposed to last until November 18, but it ended on November 20 as no result was reached by November 18. In this conference, the item named 'Loss and Damages Fund' has been passed, which is being considered as a major achievement. This item was an issue of discussion for a long time, but the developed countries were avoiding it with various excuses.
In the historical background, developed countries have mercilessly used large amounts of natural resources like air, water, and forests while developing their economies and have also polluted them badly. These countries have achieved huge milestones of industrial development by using coal, diesel, petrol, wood, and the like as energy sources and have emitted tons of greenhouse gases in the environment.
As a result, the earth's average temperature has increased by 1.1 degree Celsius above the Pre-Industrial Revolution Period temperature. The rise in temperature has triggered rapid changes in climate, leading to a rapid increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, heat and cold waves.
In 2022, almost every country in the world was affected by natural disasters. What is worth noting here is that the poor and developing countries are more affected by these natural disasters than the rich and developed ones. Therefore, poor and developing countries have been demanding, for a long time, from developed countries to compensate for the damage caused by natural disasters.
Developed countries have been avoiding their responsibility so far. In this conference, while accepting this responsibility, they have agreed to compensate for the losses caused by natural disasters, which is considered a major and historic achievement of this conference. One of the main reasons for holding the COP-27 in Egypt in the African continent this year was that 54 countries of Africa emit only four percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, while China alone emits 30 per cent of total emissions, the United States of America 15 per cent, European Union countries 9 per cent and India 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
If we look at the historical background, the United States of America alone emitted 24.6 per cent of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during 1750-2020. All African countries have emitted only 2.8 per cent of greenhouse gases in these years. Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and some other countries in Africa have been in the grip of drought during the last four years due to which approximately 37 million people have faced starvation this year. Hundreds of people died and millions of people became homeless due to heavy floods in the countries of Nigeria and Uganda on the continent of Africa.
According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Index, Africa emitted only 1.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita in 2019. The United States of America alone emitted 16.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita during this period, which is 11.4 metric tons more than the global average (4.7 metric tons) and while 54 African countries had emitted 3.6 metric tons less carbon dioxide per capita than the global average. Even with such low carbon dioxide emissions, these countries many times suffer from more natural disasters than developed countries.
According to a survey conducted in 55 poor countries, climate change has caused losses of 525 billion US dollars during the last two decades, but according to experts working in this field, the losses are much higher. With the passing of the Losses and Damages Fund item, there is a ray of hope for the developing and poor countries that perhaps the developed countries will begin to compensate for the losses caused by natural disasters.
One such promise was made by the developed countries at the Conference of Parties-15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to provide developing and poor countries with clean technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of US$100 billion annually by 2020 in the name of the Climate Finance Fund.
Developed countries have been avoiding providing these funds. Every year they used to postpone giving the amount of funds by making some excuses. So far, developed countries have not provided the full amount as per this promise in any year. Only 78 billion US dollars in 2018 and 80 billion US dollars in 2019 were given in the name of the Climate Finance Fund.
In view of such actions of developed countries, in order to make this promise of the COP-27 successful, similar items should be on the agenda and passed in the conferences being organized for climate change so that the needy countries can get financial assistance on time. Many issues related to this fund are yet to be discussed.
The biggest question is which country will pay how much and what criteria will be taken for it. The United States of America and European countries want China, which is currently emitting more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world, to contribute to the fund. The United Nations has currently placed China in the category of developing countries. All such issues will be discussed at the next year's Conference of Parties-28. So, this fund will remain in the files for one more year.
At the beginning of the Conference of Parties-27, it was said that this conference would focus on concrete implementation of the promises of rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but this conference, like the previous conferences, has been very weak. There was no serious discussion of greenhouse gas emission reductions at this conference, while according to a United Nations report dated 26 October 2022, current greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges are limited to 1.5 degree Celsius by the end of this century.
The pledge does not come down to doing. Temperature could increase by 2.5 degree Celsius by the end of the century and greenhouse gas emissions could increase by 10.6 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. According to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas emissions would need to be cut to 45 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius by the end of the century.
According to a 2022 report by the Global Carbon Budget, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current levels, there is a 50 percent chance that the earth's average temperature would exceed the limit of 1.5 degree Celsius in the next nine years. According to this report, emissions of some greenhouse gases may increase by 1 per cent in 2022 over 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions could increase by 1.5 per cent in the United States of America and up to 6 per cent in India. India proposed to reduce the use of all fossil fuels (coal, oil, wood, diesel) but while this is not expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly, there may be benefits in the long term.
European Union countries and the United States of America supported the proposal, but oil-producing countries opposed it. This item was not included in the final conference draft in a written form. In the Conference of Parties -26 India and China diluted the term phased out of coal into the phase down of coal in the final text.
All these reports came before the Conference of Parties-27, and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was of the opinion that the representatives of all the countries in this conference would be aware of the alarming warnings of these reports. Taking a serious view of natural disasters like droughts, floods, heat and cold waves experienced in 2022, leaders of the different countries of the world should take concrete and serious decisions to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, but nothing happened.
Guterres in his welcome speech to this conference has strongly said that now we do not have time to think and delay any more, we must all come together to make such an agreement that we will protect all countries of the world from the effects of climate change. Guterres also said that let's save or else be ready for a mass suicide. This serious issue was not openly discussed in the conference which is a matter of great concern. Smaller issues were discussed, such as that European countries proposed that all the countries in the world should submit a detailed report every year on the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which is now scheduled to be done every five years.
Currently, China, the United States of America, and India rank first, second, and third respectively in the use of coal for energy. China reiterated last year's pledge to begin reducing coal use after 2026. The United States of America has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions in the power sector by 2035 and in all other sectors by 2050. India has pledged to generate 500 Giga Watt of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. According to the Economic Survey 2021-22, coal consumption in India could increase by 1.3 to 1.5 billion tonnes by 2030, which would be 63 per cent more than the coal consumption of 2019-2020. These three countries China (30 percent), the United States of America (15 percent), and India (7 percent) are releasing 52 per cent of the total greenhouse gases into the environment.
Therefore, China and the United States of America should rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They should provide financial assistance to developing and poor countries that suffer from natural disasters due to the increase in average global temperature every year through the Climate Finance Fund, and the Losses and Damages Fund.
Although India emits a very small amount of greenhouse gases in the environment compared to these countries, it should contribute in this regard. With this, along with other countries, India will also be saved from natural disasters. European countries have also reduced greenhouse gas emissions this year by 0.8 per cent from 2021 level despite the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war and severe drought in 2022, which is a positive trend. European countries have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 from the 1990 level. These countries have already reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent from 1990 level during the period 1990 to 2019.
In European countries, public transport is designed to reduce the use of private transport for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The French government has banned short-flights (air travel) from April 2022 where there are train or bus service options of two and a half hours or less. This ban has been imposed to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the country. In addition, almost all of the European countries have sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the roads for pedestrians and cyclists.
The United States of America has pledged to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector by 2035, but most cities have only nominal public transportation facilities. Markets, food stores and places of work are so far from residential areas that even a common man cannot go without a private car/vehicle. According to the third installment of the Sixth IPCC Report, if greenhouse gas emissions are to be rapidly reduced to save the earth, organisms, and people, modes of transportation, food, and living will have to be changed, otherwise every year millions of people and animals will fall victim to natural disasters.
The governments of all the countries of the world should take the path of their economic development which passes through conservation of natural resources instead of depleting them. There is a dire need to make conscious decisions at conferences that are being held to save the earth and people from natural disasters for improving the environment. Time to act is now, tomorrow will be too late.
Dr Gurinder Kaur is a former Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala. Views expressed here are personal.