By now most of us acknowledge that the planet is burning and as a species we are on borrowed time. So the outcome of the global climate conference in Egypt, which began on a very gloomy note, does offer some hope – albeit via limited progress which also leaves much crucial detail unresolved.
As dawn broke over the sumptuous Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh yesterday, 197 participating countries at the COP27 conference adopted a hard-fought final agreement to set up a fund to help poor countries being battered by climate disasters.
But the emerging deal left many of the tougher decisions on definitions and funding until the next leaders’ gathering on climate change next year.
The omissions which stuck out were the failure to nail down who will fund supports and reparations and what the criteria will be to decide which beleaguered countries qualify for help.
There was no agreement on extending already-agreed carbon-emission reductions and this appeared to be a negative outcome. But realistically what is more urgently needed right now is progress on delivering the carbon cuts already enthusiastically agreed but not so readily implemented.
Many delegates rightly said the real heart of this meeting was about advancing supports for those countries most likely to suffer from climate change and which have contributed least to the crisis.
In sum, there was limited progress on advancing so-called “climate justice” to help fund vulnerable countries to cope with storms, floods and other disasters fuelled by rich nations’ historical and ongoing carbon emissions.
On this, there was progress in principle – but not much detail.
It must be acknowledged that the Irish delegation, led by Environment Minister Eamon Ryan, did play an important part here in brokering a final big-picture deal which must be built upon.
This reminds us that smaller countries have a potential role and a moral obligation to play their part, as does every Irish citizen in doing their bit to cut carbon emissions.
However, this two-week summit was a test of global resolve to fight climate change – even as a war in Europe, energy market turmoil and rampant consumer inflation combine to distract international attention.
The brutal reality – which must never allow us to succumb to inaction, much less defeatism – is that a handful of countries and corporations hold the key to success in saving the planet. If these could finally cut emissions, considerable progress would happen.
Ultimately, there must be increased political and moral pressure on this small group of big carbon polluters to act. A major part of that is by showing example here in Ireland, and by extension continuing lobbying in those international bodies such as the EU, the UN, and others in which this country actively participates.
The final deal did not contain a reference requested by India and some other delegations to reduce the use of “all fossil fuels”. This was a loss which must be rectified next time out.