At the decennial biodiversity conference in Montreal (COP15), member countries endorsed a target called 30×30, aiming to designate 30% of the planet’s land and oceans as protected by 2030.
This has added significance because protecting biodiversity and ecosystems is indispensable in solving the climate crisis and keeping our planet habitable. More than fifty percent of the worldwide GDP depends on nature and the services derived from it.
The climate conference organised in Egypt (COP27) yielded an agreement according to which wealthy countries primarily responsible for the climate crisis would financially compensate developing countries, which have suffered the greatest climate-induced losses.
These commitments seem to spell hope; however, world leaders have yet to implement the agreements entered into thus far. Of the commitments expressed at the latest biodiversity conference in Japan, held in 2010, almost none have been delivered on, and despite the historic Paris Climate Accords and subsequent agreements, carbon emissions on the planet hit a record high in 2022.
The European Union strives to be at the forefront of protecting biodiversity and the climate. The year 2022 had no shortage of plans and proposals for their implementation, either: guidelines were established on state aid for climate, environment and energy (CEEAG); the Commission proposed mandatory sustainability screening and climate change plans for companies, and sought to redirect more financial resources from the EU budget towards climate for implementing new and previous commitments; a European climate summit was held in May; in July, the EU’s Global Deforestation Act was adopted, becoming the first piece of legislation in the world to require proof that that products sold by companies have not contributed to deforestation, particularly in the tropics.
Despite the Commission’s best efforts, only a slight portion of the planned ambitious climate package was agreed to in June, and the Fit for 55 legislation was only adopted in a heavily truncated form. Unfortunately even without the energy crisis brought on by the war, industrial lobbying has put too much pressure on member state governments. This is reflected in the amendments adopted in December. The silver lining is that the introduction of the climate tax as well as a ban on the sale of new fossil-fuelled vehicles from 2035 were left in the final versions. Though experts are of the opinion that not even the EU’s commitments will suffice to attain the goals of the Paris Accords, Europe is still considered to be at the forefront of solving this global issue.
The climate (COP27) and biodiversity (COP15) summits organised in the final two months of the year saw the EU arriving with ambitious plans approved by its member states, and thus being able to put forward a unified position.
One might think that world leaders are taking the right approach, at least in terms of commitments or statements. However, when it comes to implementing these in practice, all this nature- and climate-friendly attitude vanishes under the pressure exerted by the various opposing lobbies.
Point in fact: worldwide carbon dioxide emissions have not decreased, neither has the rate of biodiversity and habitat loss slowed, and the consequences of climate change have become tangible in every part of the world:
Post-2019 carbon dioxide emissions have again hit an annual record. There has never been as much CO2 released into the atmosphere as last year. So, unfortunately, we cannot talk about a successful implementation of the commitments the world has made over the past decades.
The loss of biodiversity shows no signs of letting up, either, with vertebrate populations alone shrinking by 69% compared to 1970, according to the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022.
A major contributor to biodiversity loss is deforestation, with 10 million hectares of forest disappearing from the Earth every year.
And the world has had no shortage of extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Summer heatwaves set new records not only in Europe, but in other parts of the world as well.
On the other extreme, rainfall in Pakistan exceeded the long-term average five times over, causing extreme flooding that led to the deaths of 1,400 people and 1 million inundated homes.
The suicide of cotton farmers in India who have seen their lives made impossible by the loss of income due to drought has continued this year. In recent decades, tens of thousands of farmers have resorted to such drastic measures as a consequence of the climate crisis.
And the polar regions just keep melting and melting. The “doomsday glacier” is no exception, either. Its name is no coincidence: when it collapses, it raises sea levels by tens of centimetres. Several glaciers have collapsed Europe as well. One that might have attracted the most attention is the collapse of Marmolada in Italy, causing fatalities and, not insignificantly, making winter skiing in the region impossible. The Arctic is warming four times as fast as other parts of the Earth. This not only affects the glaciers, but permafrost as well, the melting of which threatens to unleash unforeseen events.
Not only have we failed to make climate change a more natural process, but Europe, at the forefront of the climate fight, is still wasting inordinate quantities of food: the EU produces 153 million tonnes of food waste yearly. This is more than it imports. Yet just by eliminating food waste we could reduce emissions by 6%.
Although we are already seeing the effects of climate change first-hand, the damage n developing countries is orders of magnitude greater. It was suggested several times in 2022 that developed countries should offer compensation.
The climate crisis has caused a surge in the number of people suffering from famine in developing countries. Research in the ten countries hit hardest by the climate crisis found that increased extreme weather events (drought, floods, storms) doubled the number of starving people. In 2022, 48 million people were suffering from acute starvation in the ten countries studied alone.
The increase in the number of starving people in developing countries is just the tip of the iceberg, as their economies are also orders of magnitude more affected by climate change than those of countries that are major drivers of climate change. The EU and the US are responsible for nearly half of carbon emissions between 1751 and 2017. According to credit rating agency S&P Global, for instance, poor and lower-income countries are facing a loss in GDP 3.6 times higher than richer ones. Another example is South Asia, where 18% of the GDP could be lost to climate change, which is ten times Europe stands to lose, as it is the least affected.
While the ever-instensifying effects of climate change have not yet been mitigated, it is fair to say that attitudes around the world have taken a turn for the better in the past year. Among other things, commitments facing rejection for years have now taken shape, such as compensating the Global South for the effects of climate change or increasing the number and size of protected areas in the world. However, according to Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI), a global market leader in financial analysis providing critical decision support tools and services, no breakthrough is expected in the practical implementation of a just green transition in its analysis of the likely evolution of environmental, social and governance trends by 2023.
Nevertheless, let us hope that UN Chief Secretary Antonio Guterres will be proven right in saying, after COP15, that “We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature”, and let us hope the world leaders who have signed it will send word to those on the front lines that they may lay their arms down.
It is we who need to change, not the climate...