The COP-27 Catch -22: An economic, political and humanitarian dilemma

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Dr Alphonsus St Rose is a consultant physician (internal medicine), internist and gastroenterologist. He is a member of the Association of West Indian Gastroenterology, (AWIG). He can be reached at: stroserae@gmail.com

By Dr Alphonsus St Rose

The climate “loss and damage” cost fund to be established with no progress on fossil fuel reduction could hardly be a COP27 landmark deal, when the crux of the climatic crisis, fossil fuel, is seriously on the rise, enjoying lucrative economic prosperity!

If we were to examine closely and critically, present-day political economics as well as the public and foreign policies around global conflicts (from past to present), we would soon recognize that there exists a common thread that is central to the birth of these global crises. It surrounds a creed that dictates wealth generation, wealth hegemony (dominion and control) and wealth distribution, productivity being, the engine of wealth creation.

That has assumed a rather peculiar context in present-day premeditated incursions where fossil fuel and its wealth-generating capacity is at the heart of what drives these conflicts (never mind the avoidance of public admission), be it in Iraq, Libya, Syria or now, Europe. The simple reason is that the industrialized first-world economies possess an insatiable appetite for gas, oil, and coal, both as raw materials and as key energy sources for their fossil fuel-driven production-based economies.

This global instability, from economies that thrive not on peace, but wars and conflicts, have placed us today in an undesirable crisis governing mode to manage consequential climatic, energy, food, water, and economic (recession and inflation) crises.

The great irony of this all is that the fossil economy, that is the global economy, is at the root of a destructive and soon-to-be irreversible climatic crisis destined to wipe out humanity and planet earth. Fossil fuel (coal, gas, and oil) or dirty energy, is the linchpin of our present-day climatic crisis as well as our environmental, economic, humanitarian, and social injustices.

Climate change activism and advocacy are about a much-needed course correction on a global and multidimensional level to rescue mother earth and her inhabitants from (irresponsible man-made abuses) now approaching a pathway of extinction.

This insidious pathway, being an untenable as well as indefensible situation, demands of our world leaders an accelerated and collaborative conscience and action response/plan. To date, this has unfortunately not panned out as recommended, pledged, and agreed to by them on behalf of humanity.

Some of the major roadblocks are the non-mandatory and distrusting nature of the commitments made as well as the manufactured lack of access to adequate climate finance (which is available), the lack of will and moral courage to rise above selfish geo-economic and political considerations in favour of reasonable global policy that promotes net zero emissions through interventions of mitigation, adaptation and the “Equitable Green Energy Transition” action plan.

Time is running out on a global problem in urgent need of a global solution where the state, the private sector and all civil society must now work collaboratively to rethink, reimagine, and reform its energy, economic and social relationships with each other, with humanity and the environment.

The resultant positive outcome is climatic justice, a game-changer that is broadly speaking, equally humanitarian, environmental, economic, and social justice.

That salvage platform is the United Nations-led Conference of the Parties (COP). At the heart of its mandate is a call to be the vanguard of a journey to save humankind as well as the entire biodiversity of species living in this current high-stakes bio-space. The mission is designed to transcend in a transformative manner the existing abusive and destructive relationships among its eco-spaces to one of sustainable harmony and symbiosis that promotes universal peace, humanity, and shared prosperity.

The strategy is captured in the collective survival goals of, “1.5 to stay alive” and “net- zero carbon emissions by 2050”, for which the evidence-based scientific data is overwhelming and unambiguous. It means, all countries must collectively guarantee that the critical legislative, regulatory and oversight agendas are in place to facilitate the indispensable innovation, financial investment, and education, towards a responsible, inclusive, integrated, and fair transition from a carbonized (fossil energy-based) economy to a decarbonized (clean, renewable, sustainable) economy.

The climatic crisis, our most important existential threat (closely followed by poverty and inequality), is driven primarily by our very own human behaviour and activities grounded principally in a neo-classical economic theory incorporated in modern-day capitalism.

It proposes that the markets must be free to operate within an eco-space of minimal regulation and state interference, so that citizens can enjoy a higher standard of living. This economic model, historically and over many decades, has not paid dividends to most citizens. Instead, what we got was greater global poverty, inequality, inequities, famine, collapsing economies with unsustainable financial indebtedness and a looming sovereign debt crisis, wars, and a climatic crisis that now threatens to wipe out humanity.

The wealthiest nations of the global north are the most productive with their strong industrialized fossil-based economies making them the principal polluters that contribute super enormously to the rising global temperatures, sea levels, and carbon emission footprints. On the other hand, the impoverished, vulnerable, low-income and underdeveloped nations of the global south’s contribution to carbon emissions and global warming is infinitesimal. They are also the most severely and disproportionately affected such that their economies do not permit them the fiscal space and a fair fighting chance at surviving the collateral damage unleashed by predatory economies let alone the ravages of climate change.

The gruelling, time-consuming task of decarbonizing their small and weak economies as well as simultaneously undergoing the necessary sustainable climate mitigation, adaptation initiatives for resilience capacity-building, possesses a myriad of complex challenges for which they will need substantial logistical, administrative, and financial assistance. This is their pathway out of economic stagnation and poverty, towards a greener sustainable economy to stimulate productivity to generate individual and collective, national wealth.

Therefore, to avoid the claws of a debt trap crisis we need to engage our bilateral and multilateral creditors as well as the world’s richest nations, to negotiate debt forgiveness as well as greater access to concessionary, reparatory and justice finance. This is the responsible, affordable, and fair contribution of the wealthiest and most productive nations who are primarily responsible for fuelling the climate crisis.

This clearly will call for much-needed social conscience, global and corporate social responsibility, as well as a global plea for greater voluntary philanthropy to save the entire human race.

Sham el Sheik, Egypt, played host to COP27 which paradoxically, for sheer lack of collective will, trust, credibility, and moral courage by key members to lead on global peace, solidarity, and shared prosperity initiatives has found itself in a more precarious situation today than when it started 27 meetings ago.

The inconvenient truth, however disturbing, recognizes that critical vanguard for humanity, COP, as being on a dangerous trajectory out of its designated orbit, with a high probability to disappoint. The yet unfulfilled Paris and Glasgow Accords (COP15 & 26) are testimony of a failure to rally collective human conscience towards averting the threat of Climate Change. There are still too many national targets not linked to the 1.5 degrees level of protection in any credible and verifiable way.

What this translates to, especially for the impoverished, dispossessed, and vulnerable nations of the global south is a greater exponential risk of the consequential and devastating threat of ruined economies, unsustainable debt crises, unacceptable premature deaths, humanitarian injustices and massive exodus of migrant refugees.

If the climatic crisis is about human justice as well as human existence, then none of the above can be guaranteed if the state does not somehow redefine its relationship(s) with the private sector and capital. The state can no longer operate as a mere facilitator, a lender of last resort to socialize (underwrite) or bail-out private sector losses. It must now reconfigure to accommodate an investment-type mindset that can guide existing markets as well as influence the design of new market economies as a mutual partner alongside the private sector.

What the Financial crisis, the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Climatic Crisis has demonstrated is that the dominant global economic model, that is capitalism, needs a reset, a “New Deal” as it were. What we need is a reformed capitalism in which the roles and relationships between the state, finance and the private sector actors are re-created to reflect greater market synergies (symbiosis) and harmony for better, more efficient, and effective shared global outcomes.

A decarbonized economy will transform society, for it is a survival victory of good judgement for all of humanity. How we embrace and position innovative renewable technologies to get ahead of the carbon market will also determine its ease or resistance to climate change application. This is precisely why until now, COP is laced with lip service and an unwillingness by first-world leaders to commit their pledges, morally, ethically, and humanely into scaled-up action.

Climate finance to the tune of 3 to 5 trillion dollars will be needed over the next 10 to 15 years for climate mitigation, adaptation and just transitioning; until now, that pot is relatively empty. Add to this, the “loss and damage” bill, with China and India (1st and 3rd greatest polluters) already claiming to be “developing countries” to avoid paying towards any fund for global damage while the USA and the EU scream untenable, for reasons of unlimited liability risk. The fossil fuel giants have now been able to reclassify natural gas as green energy while the concept of net-zero carbon emission economies have been deemed too ambitious and instead should now morph into “low carbon emission” economies.

The excessively rich fossil energy economies and fossil energy giants, with their private subsidiaries, no doubt possess and have demonstrated strong influence and lobbying power. Ironically, they do have access to money for climate finance. What level of capital risk investment are they prepared to negotiate is of critical importance. Their new narrative is, the green energy economies can and should peacefully co-exist with their shrewd “low carbon emission” economies.

Our leaders must therefore step up and demonstrate the audacity to confront these urgent challenges as well as deliver on our expectations of them, to be the best negotiators on behalf of mankind.

We must never underestimate the critical role of universal peace as a necessary precursor in framing the optimal conditions to transcend global crises. Universal peace is a transformational relationship tool where freedoms, rights, equality, and equity are guaranteed within a global space. This allows for shared solidarity, stability, progress, happiness, and prosperity in a collective, collaborative, and symbiotic manner for the good of humanity.

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