The consequences of our (in)actions
By Peter Schlosser
“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”― Zadie Smith
We talk about climate change as an existential threat to humankind, and it is. Unchecked, it may place at risk life as we know it, and at minimum will lead to life-and-death tradeoffs in a resource-scarce world. But, global warming is an outcome–it is not a root cause of the dire situation we have created for our world. Rather, it is part of a long and worrisome cause-and-effect chain that begins with human activities, particularly in the Global North. Earth is a complex system, with highly interactive subsystems. The environmental hazards that counteract a thriving global future–climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, soil degradation, and so on–are all related and are the consequences of people’s decisions.
But, global warming is an outcome–it is not a root cause of the dire situation we have created for our world. Rather, it is part of a long and worrisome cause-and-effect chain that begins with human activities, particularly in the Global North.
But this is also how we know change is possible. People and societies can make different choices, ones that slow emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gasses. We knew heading into the COP27 global climate summit that change isn’t happening fast enough to prevent the transition from crisis to catastrophe. Countries are not meeting the nationally determined commitments. Roughly, we are on track for warming of 2.7°C–failing the 2015 Paris Agreement of “well below” 2°C and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change target of 1.5°C by 2050 by a wide margin. When international negotiators met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for the COP27 global climate summit, they knew this context.
Organizers billed COP27 as the “implementation COP” when policies are clearly defined that will meet the 2015 Paris Agreement, an event that will move the world from pledges to actions. Definitive success is lacking on that front. Globally, the war in Ukraine is pushing for more, rather than less, use of fossil fuels, the primary contributor to our excess greenhouse gas dilemma. No agreement was reached to phase out fossil fuels. Leading up to the conference, there was also a great deal of focus on loss and damage. Over the past weekend, negotiators reached an agreement, referred to as historic by some, to establish a loss and damage fund to support developing nations vulnerable to climate disasters. The fund is essential, but it is worrisome that how much money and who will manage the distribution of that money remain unclear.
Despite underwhelming success at the negotiation level, a sense of optimism resonated within the periphery of the event, where groups dedicated to equity, justice and youth voices dominated pavilions.
GFL was at COP27, participating in negotiations, U.N.-sponsored events, and hosting pavilion discussions regarding what humankind can and must do now on climate change and interrelated crises that threaten future societies. Despite some challenges, the annual conference is one of the most important platforms to discuss and negotiate climate. By participating, we have the opportunity to get international, expert input on our efforts, including the 10 New Insights in Climate Science led by the Earth League, Future Earth and the World Climate Research Programme, and the 10 Must Haves Initiative, which launched at the Global Futures Conference in conjunction with the Earth League. And, our presence gives us first-hand knowledge of the negotiations and the politics behind change–providing a picture of the policies and politics that will set the boundaries within which we can develop and deploy solutions.
Join us on Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health auditorium to hear from those who attended COP27 and learn how this year’s negotiations advanced global society toward the 2050 targets. RSVP online. Our decisions and actions have clear consequences–it is up to us whether those impacts are positive or not.
Peter Schlosser is the vice president and vice provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University. This article first appeared in the Global Futures: Now newsletter on Nov. 21, 2022. Sign up for the newsletter at globalfutures.asu.edu/gfl-newsletters.