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Opinion
The View from White Oaks

Lauren R. Stevens: Slow but steady progress on global solutions to climate change

Sunrise

As the climate warms, will we come to regard the sun as our enemy rather than our friend?

Not the World Cup, exactly. Nearly 200 nations gathered in Egypt Nov. 7 through 18 — actually they stayed longer — to try to save the world. Did they succeed?

The 27th Conference of the Parties who signed the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change should have been the 28th but had to take off a year for COVID. So it has taken that long — and counting — to try to figure out how to fend off global warming.

In the recent 27th edition, the issues remained committing to 1.5 degrees warming since pre-industrial times; swearing off oil, coal and gas; adapting to the changes; and loss and damage, which refers to striking equity between rich and poor nations.

World leaders stopped by Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, early on, including President Joe Biden. In spite of being heckled, he observed that the war in Ukraine only reinforced the need to phase out fossil fuels. In fact, the U.S. and India tried to include “phasing out” in the final report — unsuccessfully. The presidents and prime ministers moved on, leaving the negotiations to staff.

While John Kerry, the U.S.’s climate envoy, self-isolated due to COVID, one of the highlights of the conference was that the U.S. and China agreed to work together to combat climate change, despite their differences.

For the first time, the report includes “nature-based solutions,” including the importance of trees, so day 9, on which conferees heard from scientists on the importance of biodiversity, might have had some effect.

Nations pledged to retain an adaptation fund to help poor countries come to grips with the changing climate and the world that the climate creates. The report calls on the World Bank and other such institutions to restructure in a way that favors poorer countries.

Part of the reason for the conference running late was the dramatic effort to salvage 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the small, island countries, which face being erased by the rising seas. Although, after a tussle, the goal remained, without phasing out fossil fuels, it does not seem possible to achieve it. The more the climate changes, the more everyone suffers — not just island dwellers.

The main reason for running into Saturday night was to grapple with the issue of loss and damage. The U.S., being the second-largest emitter of carbon next to China — and historically the largest — was concerned about what would be required, as were some of the European countries. UN decisions are made on consensus, so the U.S. could have blocked a global commitment to loss and damage, but ultimately did not. The key seems to be that the agreement does not include liability. Still, loss and damage provisions for the wealthy countries to reimburse the poorer ones for the effects of climate change is the signal achievement of COP27 — appropriate for a conference held in Africa.

Really, for all 28 years the world has known how to deal with the climate crisis. It is disturbingly easy, although politically and economically difficult. It’s a big job, converting a world in which most development has been based on oil to one based on the sun, while accounting for those countries that have emitted scant carbon but are suffering most from its effects.

Leave it in the ground. At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.

Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor and a Williamstown Conservation Commissioner.

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