Here's What We Should Be Hearing From COP27 Climate Summit
I WOULD love to live in a more democratic world where the ideas and contributions of individual countries, large and small, are judged on their merits, and international action arose collectively from that effort.
The increasingly plaintive pleas to successive COPs by the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, illustrate that we are far from living in that space. For all his good intentions and despite the powerful and gathering evidence of the urgent imperative for action, the secretary-general, by his own admission, has been unable to mobilise the momentum required to make a difference.
As a result, climate activists denounced the latest COP before it had even begun. Greta Thunberg blasted “attention-seeking COP27 leaders” and said she intended to skip the “greenwashing” climate summit. Only the tamest of protesters are attending this COP in a charade of popular participation.
The Just Stop Oil protesters continue to cause havoc in London traffic, indifferent to public opinion, having abandoned the thought that anything other than direct action will make a difference. When even the protesters stop gathering outside the Conference Hall, it is time to take stock of what can galvanise the world into the required action. When people stop gathering outside, it means that there is lost faith in what is happening inside.
The timing of the COP, coinciding with the American midterm elections, troubles me greatly. It made it certain that the American president Joe Biden would not attend and although John Kerry – the former chair of the Scots caucus in the US Senate – is an engaging and positive force for good, he is not the president with the power to make a difference. One might even think that, in a different world, Kerry would have made a very decent president. Because the hard reality is that without trusted American leadership, the rest of the world will be left looking around wondering who to blame for the failure of inaction.
But let us imagine that better world for a moment and the speech that might have been made at a suitably timed summit by a President Kerry or even a Joe Biden reincarnated 10 years younger. It might have run something like this ...
"My fellow citizens of the world, I shall keep this address short because our time is short – not the time for deliberation but the critical few moments we have left for action.
“Three score years ago, one of my predecessors galvanised America to reach the stars. When John F. Kennedy proclaimed that a man would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s, he made a commitment that defied economic and technological reality. But it was done.
“My friends, I am no John Kennedy – but today I make a similar transformative declaration that by the end of this decade, we will have established a planet no longer dependent on fossil fuels for energy production. That is the goal that is within reach of our joint political leadership.
“As the world’s most powerful country, I pledge that we will bear any burden, endure any sacrifice, to protect the future of humanity.
“We have the technology and the financial muscle and we intend to use it now to save this planet.
“We will thus underwrite the energy transportation infrastructure which will unlock the geothermal power of Iceland and Greenland, the offshore wind blast of Scotland, the hydro-might of Norway, the solar resource of North Africa, and the marine potential of South America and Asia.
“Through these super and smart grids that we shall now build, will flow abundant, clean, green, affordable energy to power our planet and to allow every human being to have the dignity of access to our shared resource.
“I say to all delegates assembled, come with us on this journey. We willingly accept the leadership burden but the responsibility lies with us all. Let us make this a joint enterprise free from our petty squabbles as we seek to safeguard our collective future.
“To adapt the words of JFK from 60 years ago – there should be no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in tackling climate change. Its hazards are hostile to all of us.
“No doubt we will face opposition, vested private interests will seek to block our progress, a few countries will jealously guard their national interests.
“But together we shall overcome because without this initiative there is no common future, indeed possibly no future at all for our green and precious home.
“As we continue to reach outward to the heavens, then let us do it from a secure foundation in the one world of which we were jointly endowed.
“So let us choose to proceed and accept the challenge of this generation on our behalf and that of those as yet unborn.
“May God save our planet and bless each and every one of you.”
This will not happen in Sharm El-Sheikh – or indeed anywhere else anytime soon – but, as John Lennon once wrote, let us just imagine.
First published in The National 09/11/22