We are not on track for the much-discussed and debated 1.5-degree C restriction on global warming, which has been the cherished target of every COP since 2015 in Paris, according to Oxford Professor Lavanya Rajamani, an expert in International Environmental Law. The Report of the Technical Dialogue of the Global Stocktake from September was very clear about this. Despite all the pledges and all the talk, we are on an overshoot pathway.
As a veteran of COP conferences since Kyoto, which she attended as a student, Professor Rajamani explains, one of the main reasons for this is because the success or failure of climate conferences has been judged on the rhetoric rather than the reality. Are we going to stick to 1.5C? Have countries pledged enough GHG emission reductions?
Yes, they have pledged a lot, if not enough. Yes, they have agreed we should limit global warming to 1.5 C. But, no, Professor Rajamani insists, it is likely not going to happen because there has been too much talk about target-setting and not enough money on the table and on the ground implementation.
There has been too much talk about target-setting and not enough money on the table and on the ground implementation
Professor Lavanya Rajamani
She is clear, it looks likely that we will overshoot 1.5 C, because of this. But, Professor Rajamani says, we can come back to 1.5 C, as long as we do not overshoot too far or for too long. But that will only be achieved with a radical change to the way we have been approaching this. At COP28, she says, we need to shift the focus from target-setting to target-achieving, follow-up and accountability.
COP Presidencies pay too much attention to leaving a ‘legacy’ at the end of the conference – which often means seeking agreement on an attention-grabbing announcement. But catchy headlines do not translate into solid action and change. At COP26 in Glasgow, there was a much-vaunted agreement to phase down coal. No one is asking where we are with that anymore, Professor Rajamani winces. Targets and goals are no use unless they are acted upon.
Catchy headlines do not translate into solid action and change...Targets and goals are no use unless they are acted upon
This essential shift means we are getting serious about accountability and following up on announcements and declarations of intent. It means countries doing the things they have promised they will do, and it means significantly increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency, phasing down unabated fossil fuels, transforming their economies and their food systems. It means taking a whole of economy and society approach.
Professor Rajamani insists, key is the need to ensure fairness and equity – not just because it is fair to do so, although it would be fair – but it would accelerate and enable our climate ambitions. In turn, this will limit global warming. Not reaching an agreement on climate justice, means countries in the developing world will simply not be able to switch to renewables and implement environmentally-friendly policies.
COPs need to stop obsessing over target setting alone and shift to following up on announcements and declarations. Only this way will we see targets...and the economic transformations we need become a reality
An agreement on scaling up funding, will help those countries to transition, and accelerate the world towards those targets. There needs to be a significant upscaling of finance for mitigation and adaptation to get onto the Paris pathway, says Professor Rajamani, who points out that to the IPCC says finance levels are currently three to six times below the amount necessary to meet Paris goals.
How can all this be achieved? Professor Rajamani is clear. COPs need to stop obsessing over target setting alone and shift to following up on announcements and declarations. Only this way will we see targets for mitigation, adaptation and support and the economic transformations we need become a reality. But the professor is clear, equity and fairness must be part of this – otherwise, there is no possibility of this working.
A formal follow-up process must be established at COP28, perhaps under the UN Climate Secretariat. What the world does not need is another momentous announcement that promises to put us on track, with no follow-through or translation into on the ground action.