It all began in 1992 when 178 countries, meeting in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Ten-Year Conference on Environment and Development, signed a declaration and convention giving a first official definition of sustainable development and expressing the need to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions to minimize the human impact on climate change”. Starting in 1995, first in Berlin, and then every year thereafter, the signatory countries of the Rio Convention met to take stock of the fight against climate change. And, as in Rio, also came there every year, NGOs, companies, and cities, which work on this subject.

Everything started very well: from the meeting in Berlin, quantified targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions were set, region by region. The following year, in Geneva, the second report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was published, and the final declaration of this COP stated that “climate change represents a danger to humanity”. The following year, in Kyoto, for the first time in the history of humanity, was elaborated a binding protocol, aiming to limit the CO2 emissions of more than a hundred countries: it was to reduce by 2020 by 5,2% greenhouse gas emissions using 1990 as a benchmark. For the European Union, this objective resulted in an 8% reduction in its emissions.

The following year, the process fell asleep; and it was not until 2015 that COP21 in Paris set the very ambitious goal of containing the increase in global average temperature “well below 2°C” compared to the pre-industrial era; without imposing quantitative standards, let alone sanctions for non-compliance. Since then, nothing but alarming findings and unimportant COPs have become opportunities to take stock of the disaster and multiply greenwashing operations.

Because the disaster is underway: on the eve of the opening of this 28th COP, in Dubai, at the end of November 2023, global temperatures were, according to Copernicus, for two days, 2.07°C above the average from 1850 to 1900. And climate change, very real, is already everywhere translating into uncontrollable fires, devastating floods, droughts, heatwaves, making regions uninhabitable and transforming random events into certainties, making it impossible to insure against risks that have become certain events; and, even more, creating the conditions for the multiplication and aggravation of conflicts for water, land and food, which are multiplying at the moment.

And for the future, it is no better: a UN report, published in mid-November 2023, concludes that the current commitments of countries lead to only 2% reduction in emissions between 2019 and 2030, instead of the 43% recommended in 2015 to limit warming to 1,5°C. The UN concludes that we are now on an upward trajectory of at least 2.9°C by 2100. In fact, much more: probably 4°C at least if we continue like this.

To avoid this worst-case scenario, which will threaten the very existence of humanity, the UN Secretary-General has called for “spectacular measures now”.

At this time of great urgency, what can we expect from this conference? Not much: oil companies will be very present, often integrated into national delegations and will watch over the grain; there will be nice statements, we will say that we must massively increase the production of solar panels and wind turbines, (which will primarily serve Chinese interests), and nothing will be said that could require oil companies to reorient. One will be content to whisper that one could reduce the increase from 2.9 to 2.5°C if the rich countries provide the necessary means to the poor countries; and, sign of absolute impotence, one will insist on the need to prepare for the worst, and to provide for measures to compensate for future unavoidable disasters.

Hardly anyone will say that we should go much further than simply replacing one energy source with another, and that we should radically change our mode of development. So that the «economy of life» (which includes renewable energies, with health, education, healthy agriculture, digital, research, security, defence, and democracy) is made, by taxation and regulation, more profitable than“Economy of Death” (where you can find everything from fossil energy, from chemistry to textiles, and everything that contains artificial sugars, processed agricultural products, and all kinds of drugs).

Here should be the real debate of COP28: how to mobilize to get rid of the «economy of death» as soon as possible? I fear that, as it has been for thirty years since all this began, we continue not to talk about it. And let us continue heading for disaster, looking elsewhere… How I wish I were wrong!

Image: Mesopotamian marshes threatened by drought. © Photo credit: ASAAD NIAZI/AFP.