Climate academic makes case against world leaders attending COP27

Boris Johnson and Joe Biden at COP26
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The next climate conference – COP27 – is taking place in Egypt between 6 and 18 November. Recently, Rishi Sunak has faced a lot of flak for choosing not to attend the event, before ultimately u-turning on the issue.

But should world leaders like Sunak attend the event? According to a climate academic, the answer to that is ‘no’. Here’s why.

Save the emissions, and the COP27 bullshit

Dr Jennifer Allan is senior lecturer in international relations at Cardiff University. She describes her focus as global environmental politics, including climate, chemicals, and waste. In a thread on Twitter, the lecturer laid out why world leaders specifically shouldn’t attend the COP27 climate conference:

Allan noted that the gathering of leaders at the conference is supposed to raise awareness of environmental issues. But she pointed out that such understanding is “pretty high already”. She also highlighted that although leaders are supposed to report on the headway they’ve made and make new pledges at the event, this doesn’t necessarily equate to meaningful progress:

Moreover, the academic said that leaders don’t even have a particular role at the upcoming COP27, compared to some previous gatherings:

Critically, she suggested that the event provides leaders with a platform to make grandiose pledges that they rarely live up to. We need action not words, she concluded, so leaders are better off “sav[ing] the emissions of their private flights”:

Woefully inadequate action

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) primary decision-making body, the climate COPs are a critical space for governments to come together to thrash out how to make good on the treaty. The events also provide a vital space for civil society to make its voice heard.

But Allan’s argument on whether world leaders specifically should attend is compelling. The events do give these individuals – and corporations – a rather large megaphone to trumpet about what excellent environmental saviours they are, which they regularly fail to deliver on.

The academic highlighted a recent case in point. The UN released its emissions gap report on 27 October. The report essentially identifies the chasm between leaders’ rhetoric and their pledged efforts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2022 report showed that current climate pledges from governments lump the world with a temperature rise of around 2.4 to 2.6 degrees by the century’s end. There’s wide consensus that 1.5 degrees is the level of global heating beyond which impacts would be cataclysmic. The warming level is currently between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees.

The UN further pointed out that, since COP26 in Glasgow, country pledges have pitifully knocked less than 1% off projected greenhouse gas emissions for 2030. We need a 45% reduction to stand a chance of achieving the 1.5 degrees warming limit.

No wonder the UN general secretary, AntĂłnio Guterres, decried the lack of climate leadership as “criminal” earlier this year. Perhaps Allan is right that we shouldn’t be giving world leaders time at a very public pulpit to claim otherwise.

Featured image via UKinUSA / Flickr, cropped to 770×403, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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