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Green dreams on the Red Sea … welcome to COP27’s festival of futility


SHARM El Sheikh is an Egyptian resort on the Red Sea, known for its sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs. Best times to visit are spring and autumn. 

The 27th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of the Parties (ie countries) will be convened there this November.  

The previous conference, COP26 in Glasgow last November, brought together 120 world leaders and more than 40,000 registered participants, including 22,274 party delegates, 14,124 observers and 3,886 media representatives. 

COP27 looks likely to beat that 40,000 figure quite handsomely – among other factors, it helps if your venue is a sub-tropical paradise. 

These conferences began in 1995 with COP1 in Berlin, and have continued annually ever since. Their goal is ‘to review progress made by members of the UNFCCC to limit climate change’. 

COP3 (1997) produced the Kyoto Protocol, which committed ‘industrialised countries, and economies in transition, to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets’. 

The 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21) was a ‘legally binding treaty to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees C, compared to pre-industrial levels’.  

I wonder what they meant by ‘legally binding’? Last year’s Glasgow conference claimed that more than 90 per cent of world GDP (gross domestic product) was now covered by net zero commitments.  

During the 26 years between COP1 and COP26, the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content has increased from 22.4 to 36.3 gigatonnes, a rise of 62 per cent. The wordy resolutions agreed annually by the UNFCCC Conferences do not seem to be having much effect. Any effect at all, in fact. 

The UK’s proportion of these emissions is around one per cent. China, India, the US, Russia and Japan between them contribute nearly 60 per cent. China is by far the largest emitter at 29 per cent, because its industry and its people both need electricity.  

Immediately we have a reason for emissions rising in spite of conference resolutions: The quickest and cheapest way to provide constant and reliable power is by way of carbon-based generating stations using oil, gas or coal.  

What has yet to affect the emissions total is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the reaction by NATO countries, and the subsequent threat from President Putin to reduce or even turn off gas supplies to Europe. Result: A sudden political rethink about coal, North Sea gas and fracking. 

It has been clear for some time that neither China nor India, for instance, will be able to achieve net zero by 2030, or even 2050.  

Nuclear is the only emission-free constant and reliable power source we have, but nuclear power stations can only be built at huge cost and over a long timescale.  

In Britain, Hinkley Point C is making ‘incredible progress’ according to the constructors (EDF), but the first generating unit will not be switched on until 2027 – 17 years after the government announcement of the project. 

Current ambitious UK plans, for example, are for nuclear to provide 24 gigawatts by 2050 – a gigawatt is a billion watts. But this is still only 25 per cent of projected demand. Asian countries have much bigger problems and may not do any better. Poorer countries will need help.  

Other renewable sources? It does not matter how many wind turbines you erect, or how many square miles of land you cover with solar panels, you will not get what is absolutely essential: Constant and reliable power. 

The conference at Sharm El Sheikh this November will have to deal with a difficult problem. Is net zero by 2050 really possible?  

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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