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Al Gore’s fiery speech sets the stage for COP27; demanding solidarity and accountability

1 May 2018; Al Gore, Generation Investment Management, on Centre stage during day one of Collision 2018 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Photo by Seb Daly/Collision via Sportsfile
1 May 2018; Al Gore, Generation Investment Management, on Centre stage during day one of Collision 2018 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Photo by Seb Daly/Collision via Sportsfile

“We continue to use the thin blue atmosphere as an open sewer,” former Vice-President Al Gore said with a sense of urgency and indignation as the curtains rose on the 27th United Nations Conference of the Parties, known as COP27.

We continue a “culture of death” by resuming to dig up fossil fuels, he said citing the fatal floods in Pakistan, heatwaves and “rain bombs” in China, and a million displaced in Nigeria.

There are areas of the world considered uninhabitable, he went on. “They are due to expand to the point where experts are predicting that as many as one billion climate migrants,” could pass “international borders in the balance of this century.”

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu said climate change is the apartheid of our times,” Gore said evoking the late South African activist. But, we can remit “our culture of death,” by backing the renewable energy we need to survive.

As he called on governments to pay billions in loss and damage to nations most burdened by climate change, and the even bigger commitment of the private sector in investing trillions to finance climate adaptation and mitigation in developing nations, Al Gore set the stage for COP27 this morning in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

“We are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution,” he said. It has “ the magnitude of the industrial revolution and the speed of the digital revolution.” But only if we invest in it.

In highlighting the immense jobs renewables create in comparison to fossil fuels and hailing Africa as a potential clean energy superpower, Al Gore called for a “complete revamp and reform” of the World Bank system to siphon private capital to developing countries.

Africa has 40% of the entire world’s global renewable potential, with 400 times the potential for solar and wind power as their fossil fuel reserves, he said, underscoring one of the many elephants in the room: Africa’s “dash for gas” to address development gaps. As this dash will only fuel wealthier countries, Gore names this “fossil fuel colonialism.”

“We are on a highway to climate hell,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the very beginning of the summit. Vehemently, Gore tagged on: “We need to take our foot off the gas.”

As COP27 unfolds, there are several other elephants in the room with dollar signs on their backs. The success of the summit will be measured by solidarity and accountability regarding those elephants.

On the solidarity side, key issues include scaling up the support for adaptation, addressing loss and damage, and supporting the just transition to clean energy. On the accountability side, key issues are strengthening climate targets and demonstrating progress on commitments made last year in Glasgow.

Aside from the thin pledge to “continue the conversation” on loss damage, according to the World Resources Institute, the top five commitments set to be revisited are the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, the Global Methane Pledge, Cities Race to Zero, the commitment from 10 major agricultural companies to come with a detailed plan for ridding deforestation from their supply chains, and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.

In last year’s meeting, held in Glasgow, Scotland, world leaders agreed to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions. However, many viewed COP26 as a letdown, as nations failed to make substantive promises as to how that would happen. COP27 will see a revisit of these promises such as phasing out government fossil fuel subsidies and the race to cut emissions.

In Egypt, contentions not only lie in who will cut emissions and the fight for a “loss and damage” fund, but they also regard who will finance poorer nations in cutting emissions and adapting to the impacts they are already experiencing.

Al Gore exemplifies Nigeria in explaining the financing issue.

As 96% of renewable capital in the U.S. and Canada comes from the private sector, only 14% does in Africa. With 86% government financing, building a solar panel in Nigeria forces developers to pay interest rates seven times that of OECD countries, he said, referencing the developed members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. “That is unjust. It is insane.”

Gore highlighted another elephant in the room: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequently renewed reliance on fossil fuels. Due to the invasion, several countries including the world’s biggest emitter China, and nations across the European Union like Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Italy resurrected previously-closed coal-fired power plants, the most intense source of greenhouse emissions.

The reopening of these plants draws attention to the fact that we are way off track for global pollution reduction goals set by the historical climate conference in Paris. As analyzed by NPR’s Lauren Sommer, collectively, countries have promised to reduce heat-trapping emissions by about 3% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels, a far cry from the 45% drop called for by the United Nations Environment Program.

At this rate, we are projected to see a 5° Fahrenheit rise in global warming as opposed to the 2.7° Fahrenheit (1.5° Celsius) required by 2100 to stave off the most disastrous effects of climate change.

At COP26, world leaders agreed to strengthen efforts to reduce warming, but since then, only 24 out of 193 countries submitted more ambitious climate goals according to a recent report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As seen in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2022 Global Energy Outlook, current pledges are not enough to substantially limit warming.

"We have a credibility problem, all of us,” Al Gore said. “We're talking and we're starting to act, but we're not doing enough.”

Intensifying national pledges are among the top agenda items at COP27. Still, the world’s top three emitters, the U.S., China, and India, are not expected to dramatically bolster plans.

While in the U.S., the Inflation Reduction Act makes strides in the country’s COP26 commitment to cutting emissions in half, the administration has not signaled that it will consider a higher target.

Both China and India’s national plan include an increase in emissions until 2030, and while they both cut the red rope on renewable energy projects in 2022, they’re opening coal-firing plants simultaneously.

According to Gore, each opening is a step back in our 1.5° commitment. Last year in Glasgow, both countries weakened the coal pledge that would phase out coal’s use. BBC asked the question of if India betrayed vulnerable nations by arguing that it has the right to get rich off of fossil fuels, just as countries in the Global North have.

This is the “dash for gas” that Gore alluded to, positing that instead, these countries have the potential to increase wealth with renewables rather than with the dirty money of oil, gas, and coal. This dash “leaves the countries of the world facing climate chaos,” he said, “subsidizing” the culture of death, especially in the summit’s host of Africa.

According to the World Resources Institute, the clean energy transition needs to speed up by six times. The IEA’s energy outlook made it clear: private-sector investing is the gas that will quicken the transition. On the IEA’s heels, Gore calls for an avenue developed by rich nations for poorer countries to access this private capital, removing the barriers to the “$4.5 trillion” mandatory for the energy transition.

“It is a time for moral clarity, not reckless indifference,” Gore said. Recognizing the recent electoral climate action in Brazil, Australia, and the U.S., Gore finished his speech on a note of optimism. In as little as three-to-five years, temperatures will cease rising if we reach net-zero emissions. “There is a path to a future with hope.”

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