BY George Monbiot
Inaction and self-interest are built into climate summits. Instead, we need a voting system that can’t be subverted by fossil fuel producers.
Let’s face it: climate summits are broken. The delegates talk and talk, while Earth systems slide towards deadly tipping points. Since the climate negotiations began in 1992 more carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels has been released worldwide than in all preceding human history. This year is likely to set a new emissions record. They are talking us to oblivion.
Throughout these Conference of the Parties (Cop) summits, fossil fuel lobbyists have swarmed the corridors and meeting rooms. It’s like allowing weapons manufacturers to dominate a peace conference. This year, the lobbyists outnumber all but one of the national delegations. And they’re not the only ones: Cop28 is also heaving with meat and livestock lobbyists and reps from other planet-trashing industries. What should be the most important summit on Earth is treated like a trade fair.
It’s not surprising that the two decisive measures these negotiations should have delivered at the outset – agreements to leave fossil fuels in the ground and to end most livestock farming – have never featured in the final outcome of any Cop summit. Nor should we be astonished that these agreements favour non-solutions such as carbon capture and storage, whose sole purpose is to provide an excuse for inaction.
The appointment of Sultan Al Jaber as president of Cop28 could be seen as this fiasco’s denouement. His day job is chief executive of the United Arab Emirates’ state oil company, Adnoc. Adnoc is now planning a massive expansion of its oil and gas operations. Before the meetings began, Al Jaber was planning to use them as a lobbying opportunity to sell his company’s products to delegates. In arguing with people calling for more effective action, he recited classic fossil fuel industry tropes, including that old favourite: if we were to phase out fossil fuels, we’d go back to living in caves. Fossil fuels present the real threat to civilisation. There have been some uninspiring presidents of the international climate summits, but none so manifestly unsuited to the role.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that, of 27 summits completed so far, 25 have been abject failures, while two (1997’s Kyoto protocol and the Paris agreement, in 2015) have been half-successes. If any other process had a 3.7% success rate, it would be abandoned in favour of something better. But the world’s governments carry on doing the same thing in the expectation of different results. You could almost imagine they wanted to fail.