The underwhelming results from the UN Climate Conference in Dubai feel like much ado about nothing.
The conference produced a signed pact under which 198 signatory nations, including the United States, agreed to transition away from fossil fuels. Eventually.
Some hail the development as an historic climate first. In a glass-is-half-full analysis, petrostates finally acknowledged that burning fossil fuels - their national product and the source of their massive wealth - is causing the catastrophic rise in global temperatures. The U.S. special envoy for climate change, John Kerry, called the pact “the most important decision since the Paris Agreement.” The UN describes the agreement as “the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era by laying the [foundation] for a swift, just and equitable transition, underpinned by deep emissions cuts and scaled-up finance.”
Others see a glass half empty. Critics point out that the agreement merely reflects an aspiration, a vague intention to eventually transition away from fossil fuels, without any kind of timeline or specific plan of action. The pact lacks a binding commitment to cut carbon emissions, in time certain, with a scheduled phase-out of oil, coal and gas. From this perspective, 30 years of world leaders meeting at the UN to tackle climate change produced nothing except an admission of guilt from the tortfeasors. If it took 30 years for fossil fuel giants to finally admit that their product is destroying the biosphere, how many more species, rivers, islands and farms must disappear before they actually do something about it?
2023 saw record temperatures
The UN conference took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at the close of the hottest year on record.
Although the earth’s climate has changed throughout history, our current warming trend is accelerating at a rate scientists have never seen before, which is attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists’ warnings are dire: we are fast approaching the climate tipping point, beyond which human life as we know it will devolve dramatically. As Scientific American puts it, “the world is approaching thresholds of no return as temperatures rise, water resources shrink, plants and animals go extinct and human-made materials accumulate in natural systems.”
What we needed from the climate summit in Dubai, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC), was an aggressive and binding commitment to cut emissions in half by 2030, or within six years, in order to keep the global average temperature rise short of 1.5°C and stave off calamity.
In the way that a post-it note on the refrigerator encourages you to choose a carrot, not a cookie, the agreement merely “encourages” nation states to increase reliance on alternative energy sources, and to “contribute to efforts to reduce carbon emissions” in ways that leaders of each signatory nation see fit.
GOP-led states, backed by fossil fuel interests, double down on climate misinformation
NASA scientists, far and away the most highly respected scientists in the world, report, “It is undeniable that human activities have produced the atmospheric gasses that have trapped more of the sun’s energy in the earth system. This extra energy has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land, and widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.”
NASA’s assessment prompted Republican members of the Senate Commerce Committee to propose defunding NASA’s climate work.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and his colleagues circulated a memo accusing NASA and other federal agencies of exceeding their charter, seeking to graft nonsensical limitations onto these agencies’ Congressional mandates in order to block their dissemination of climate science. According to Cruz, addressing climate data exceeds their core mission, therefore, agencies engaged in climate science should lose federal funding. Fox News headlined this insane attempt to censor science as, “Ted Cruz, Republicans expose woke climate initiatives in Biden’s budget,” proving that the tumor of MAGA ignorance is wildly metastatic.
The malignancy has spread nationwide. Attacking climate intelligence as part of their culture wars, in 2023, Republican lawmakers introduced 165 pieces of legislation throughout 37 states that would block state investors from even considering how climate change will affect their investment portfolios. Never mind that climate-related losses exceeded $1 billion in the first half of 2023 alone, or that climate destruction has cost $2.570 trillion since economists started tracking it. If you think about climate risk when investing millions in an oceanfront development, you’re “woke.” If you’re in Ron DeSantis’ Florida, you’re also probably a pedophile “groomer.”
The sexagenarians and septuagenarians funded by fossil fuels today will be gone in 20 years, and appear to care naught for their own grandchildren. The only solution is for every voter under the age of 40 to show up at the polls, and take control of the country’s energy policies while there’s still time.
Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.