Couldn’t afford to fly a private jet to this year’s UN climate change summit? Here’s everything you need to know
This week, the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (aka COP27) is taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at the Tonino Lamborghini convention centre. If the irony of holding a climate summit at a venue funded by a luxury company descended from one of the world’s biggest sports car manufacturers isn’t lost on you, then just wait until you hear about the private jets.
First, though, what is COP27, exactly? And if this is the 27th instalment, then how come we’re still living in the midst of a raging climate crisis? Well, in brief, the summit is held every year to get governments in a room together – more than 200 are invited to this year’s event – where they’re supposed to agree on steps to limit global temperature rises.
Of course, things don’t always go down so smoothly. From Greta Thunberg’s mass youth protest outside COP26, to Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement ahead of COP25, the climate change conference is often marked by turmoil. (This year, Thunberg is swerving it completely, criticising the widespread “greenwashing”.) Even when there is a common consensus among the world’s most powerful people, though, do the rest of us actually stand to benefit, or is it all just greenwashing and political posturing?
Below, we’ve gathered what you need to know about COP27 as it happens, and what it means for those of us who can’t afford to ignore the world burning around us.
ELITES FLEX THEIR PRIVATE JETS
Another year, another high-profile climate summit that sees nearby airports flooded with the private jets of the rich and powerful. Flight tracker screenshots showed hundreds swarming Egypt in the run-up to COP27, despite the fact that they’re proven to be five to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes (per passenger), and 50 times more polluting than trains. Something to think about while you’re sorting your cardboards from your plastics.
The flights have been met with some resistance, though. Earlier this week, hundreds of Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace activists blocked private jets from taking off at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport by riding around on bikes. Before being arrested, many of the activists called for more trains, and a ban on unnecessary short-haul flights and private jets.
The world's elite have arrived at #COP27 on hundreds of private jets to lecture you about climate change. Sponsored by Coca-Cola. pic.twitter.com/fR4rqxL1nP— DiEM25 (@DiEM_25) November 7, 2022
WE’RE ON A ‘HIGHWAY TO CLIMATE HELL’
UN secretary general António Guterres isn’t one to mince words, and as such he opened COP27 on Monday by telling world leaders that humanity is “on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. The planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make man-made climate change irreversible, he explains.
This warning isn’t one to ignore. As the UN itself says, the target of limiting the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is already looking increasingly implausible. There’s still a “narrow shaft of light”, Guterres adds, but many of the decisions that will shape ecological breakdown or recovery in years to come will have to be made during this fortnight.
THE WAR IN UKRAINE IS A HOT TOPIC
One world leader who isn’t in attendance, unsurprisingly, is Vladimir Putin. That being said, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a much-discussed subject at the summit, not least because of its disruption of global energy and food supplies. Leaders are also keen to stress that the conflict shouldn’t pull too much focus from the ever-present threat of man-made climate change, with Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, warning – without naming any names – that “political tensions” can’t get in the way.
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak made more direct reference to Russia’s military aggression earlier today, when he told the summit: “Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine and rising energy prices across the world are not a reason to go slow on climate change. They are a reason to act faster.”
“Climate and energy security go hand-in-hand,” he added, in reference to the war, before sharing a more optimistic message about “bequeath[ing] our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future”.
Let's fight together - and let's win.@antonioguterres | #COP27— UN Climate Change (@UNFCCC) November 7, 2022
RISHI WASN’T EVEN PLANNING TO SHOW UP
Don’t be fooled by the PM’s visions of a future where our children frolick in green pastures. His mere appearance at COP27 represents a massive U-turn, since he initially caused outrage by announcing that he was too focused on domestic issues to turn up. Apparently, he also banned King Charles from attending.
This won’t be surprising to anyone who’s been keeping up with Sunak’s environmental efforts since before he got the top job. A quick refresher: in 2021, a group of young climate activists were banned from Sunak’s talk at Glasgow’s COP26 for the crime of… asking him about his plans to stop funding fossil fuel companies. Earlier this year, he asked activists to stop filming when they questioned him on approving new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
Of course, young people might not have to probe politicians with so many questions if the Tories’ actual political opposition – see: Labour leader Keir Starmer, a literally repulsive man – was doing its job. Instead, Starmer is out here calling Just Stop Oil activists “wrong and arrogant” and doubling down on Tory plans for harsh sentencing against activists.
THE ATTENDEES ARE SPLIT ALONG ECONOMIC LINES
Another recurring theme is the disparity between the world’s wealthiest nations (who are, by no coincidence, some of the planet’s biggest polluters), and developing nations, who by and large bear the brunt of the crisis. According to reports from the summit, developing nations are “increasingly angry” as they witness the damage caused by climate change, and are in many cases demanding compensation.
The UK, for one, has pledged to donate £200 million to help African countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, says that rich countries’ failure to pay 100 billion dollars per year to developing countries – financial aid that was agreed at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 – has eroded their trust, and regaining this trust will require “tangible progress” and “real accountability”.
More notable is the complete absence of leaders from some of the world’s largest economies, including China – the biggest global polluter – and India, where a fast-growing economy is expected to come with a sharp increase in emissions. Meanwhile, the second-biggest polluter, the US, has been called out for decades of “denial, delay and deception” when it comes to sharing funds to make up for the loss and damage it has helped cause.