One definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’ (Supposedly an Einstein quote.)
A good example is the forthcoming 28th session (COP28) of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This will convene from 30 November to 12 December in the United Arab Emirates. The ‘Parties’ are UN member states plus some observers. The last one, COP27 at Sharm el Sheik in Egypt, had 12,000 delegates from over 200 countries.
There has been one every year since except for 2020. All the 27 so far have warned about the increasingly noxious state of the atmosphere and declaring that something must be done about it before it’s too late.
It all began with the May 1992 UNFCCC Convention. This comprehensive document was supposed to lay the foundation for all subsequent action to deal with climate change. In essence it said: ‘human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases … the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response.’
Nothing much happened so the UN planned a series of Conferences of the Parties to the Convention. The first (COP1) in 1995 declared: ‘The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind … the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change.’
Ten years and ten Conferences later produced the Paris Agreement at COP21 in December 2015, ‘a legally binding international treaty on climate change.’ The 196 Parties attending agreed ‘to limit global warming to 1.5°C … greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030 … the Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations together to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.’
The scale of inaction now clearly bears traces of insanity. Seven years and seven Conferences after the Paris ‘landmark’ COP27(2022) announced: ‘Parties have established their resolve to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change … with cascading crises facing governments and citizens alike, global efforts risk backsliding against the scale and speed of action required … stakeholders must ensure they deliver on their promises.’
The CO2 content of the atmosphere has been measured since 1957 and has risen steadily every year. The twenty-seven Conferences have had no effect on total global emissions. Nations have realised their people’s need for electricity had to come first. The cheapest and quickest way to provide that is by way of fossil-fuelled power stations.
Leaders of nations may also have wondered at the increasingly manic shouts of: ‘global boiling’; ‘July the warmest in human civilisation’s history’; ‘oceans growing hotter … triggering global weather disasters … heat searing enough to knock out mobile phones’; ‘daily temperatures hitting a 100,000 year high’; ‘the September data shows … the planet’s temperature reached its warmest level in modern records and probably in thousands of years.’
Advisers to leaders of nations may have pointed out that we have only been measuring daily world-wide temperatures for about 140 years. NASA makes it quite clear that ‘before 1880 there just wasn’t enough data to make accurate calculations.’ The last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago; the advisors may have advised that it would therefore seem reasonable to expect that records will be broken, will continue to be broken, and may or may not have anything to do with global warming.
There has curiously been very little comment about the willingness of the UN to go on having Conferences calling for actions that don’t happen. Occasional remarks have appeared, in March 2019 for instance: ‘After 25 years of failure, we should abandon the UNFCCC … Emissions are at record levels and the international treaty designed to rein them in cannot drive action, it is time for new ideas to be explored.’
Dominic Raab, then the UK Foreign Secretary, was quoted in the Daily Telegraph for 24 October 2020: ‘We want to see a reformed UN, a UN that is ready … to address the global challenges that lie ahead.’ After the COP27 climate conference closed in Egypt, Simon Stiell, head of the UNFCCC, said he intended to review the COP process ‘to make it as effective as possible.’
Pope Francis, in his recent Laudate Deum Exhortation sums up the problem, declaring that (section 4.52): ‘the accords [of the UNFCCC] have been poorly implemented, due to lack of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and penalties in cases of noncompliance … international negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good.’
But is it a problem? If the UN had had unlimited power and authority, would the industrialised nations have been ordered to give up their coal, oil and gas, send much of their ill-gotten treasure south and east as compensation to Africa and Asia, and shoved back a century as punishment for taking the world down the wrong path?
Perhaps we should be thankful that where climate is concerned the UN can only talk, not act.