'Will the world follow through?' is a million dollar question

The ripples created by COP28 will be felt across the world for a while and in different measures

By Asha Iyer Kumar

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Children at the Green Zone during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 5, 2023.
Children at the Green Zone during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 5, 2023.

Published: Sun 17 Dec 2023, 9:04 PM

The climate convention is over. It’s venue in Dubai, Expo City, will now turn into a magical winter village designed using repurposed material and energy-efficient lighting, reports say. The new seasonal initiative is presumably aimed at sustaining the spirit of what had transpired there in the two weeks of robust negotiations and hard bargains carried out on behalf of the planet.

The news about the winter village could read like trivia, but in some ways it also prompted me to think what the summit leaves in its wake – cautious optimism or open scepticism?

The ripples created by COP28 will be felt across the world for a while and in different measures. Even as the representatives from 198 countries who strived hard to bring the contentious issue of fossil fuel phase-out to the table and got a zinger of a consensus (at least in principle) must have returned to their native lands to celebrate Christmas, three words continue to echo in my ears: Pledge. Commitment. Accountability. These are massive words, especially in a world that frolics in rhetoric and theatrics; in a world where verbiage resonates more than real intentions.

Let me desist from taking ringside views of what transpired during the two weeks because much has been written about it by experts who have nitpicked every issue in its wake. There is no dearth of reactions with regard to what has been accomplished despite resistance, pushbacks and second-guesses. However, considering how global summits on issues that have challenged peaceful human existence have historically panned out, it would take a remarkable amount of positivity to believe that the ‘unprecedented outcome’ of the talks will not remain just that – talks.

There have been significant shortcomings in the implementation of international agreements in the past. A case in point is the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Twenty-three years after it came into force, we are yet to see a world that is free from the fear of being nuked once again. Although the treaty checked proliferation in a number of countries that were deemed capable at the time, the prospects of complete disarmament are still bleak; we live in the real worry of a bully with a nuke machine pressing the button on any odd day.

Seven years after the Paris Agreement (2016) was signed, it is still unclear if countries are ready to present a transparent and detailed Global Stocktake with regard to their commitments on climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance in 2025. How have they faired with their promises and commitments? How honest are their intentions? What are we ready to give up for the sake of our own survival? And who will hold us accountable? These are not idle questions. These are assessments that every morally responsible country should make when their representatives return home and consider taking equitable actions towards net zero.

Although we would like to believe that the perils of climate change will not come to our individual doorstep (although we are beginning to see huge signs of reprisals), and that we, as a species, have the power to fend off any existential threat with our intellectual aptitude, the truth is this – in this fight we are all equal losers if we don’t respond aptly.

In any act of aggression there is a bully and an exploited. In any dispute, there is a strongman and a vassal. But here, there is no Goliath, no David. We are not fighting each other; we are facing a catastrophic phenomenon caused by our combined exploitation of nature. No one is more or less guilty of this offence, and this should be the singular reason for us to set agendas that will not be skewed in their scope or have partisan airs.

The challenges are, no doubt, humongous. It is not easy to talk of renewables without finding means to infrastructure and finance. There are countries of every kind caught in this conundrum, and their concerns must be duly addressed. It is also preposterous to offer solutions of carbon removal after balking at the idea of eliminating fossil fuels. And truth be told, the words ‘transitioning’ and ‘phase-out’ will sound the death knell for societies and economies that currently survive and thrive on fossil fuels. But then, that cannot make death by asphyxiation more acceptable to them.

What we saw in Dubai can only be compared to a ceremony where marriage vows were solemnly taken. It is what happens in the years to come that the true face of the joint ‘I do’ will unveil and our fates will be decided. The statement has been painstakingly crafted, the semantics have been spelt out; the sentiment is loud and clear. Will there be enough fortitude now in all those who took the pledge to honour it, despite the expected struggle and strife that will come with it? Will we hold ourselves accountable? Only time will tell; if we have time, that is. Long story short, either we do, or we die.

(Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based columnist, author and children’s writing coach)

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