This season, the leaders of the world have some really tough choices to make. Should they scuba-dive straight into the balmy waters of climate negotiations in Sharm El-Sheikh or practice their Zen skills in a Balinese jungle retreat? Just kidding, of course. Both summit locations might sound wonderfully alluring amid the grey November rut, but anyone who’s done any business travelling knows better than to envy them. Oh, the frustration of visiting a beautiful and exotic place without a chance to enjoy its well-curated surroundings!
No, the tough decisions that our global leaders stand to face these days are quite real. Imagine having to prioritise between climate change mitigation and adaptation. Or weighing whether to confess being ‘loss-and-damage’ culpable abroad or appease the electoral district back home. And there is the dilemma of condemning human-rights violators or coaxing them into trade and climate negotiations. Solving all these and many more conundrums would hardly leave the poor souls much time for the beach or the yoga mat.
“Contrary to their reputation for fast planes and faster disco beats, COP27 delegates actually spent the weekend inside their budget hotel rooms, heating off,” reports Stuart Kirk, who is back to entertaining us with his refreshing anti-greenwashing columns in the FT. Whether there are any results to rejoice about coming out of those stuffy hotel rooms and plenary halls is a different matter, of course.
To be fair, it is quite a miracle that the two top meetings are happening at all. Just a couple of months ago, it looked like everything was about to collapse, with climate and energy ministers clashing over just about every issue out there: Ukraine, climate finance, methane, shipping, carbon levies and whether 1,5 or 2 degrees should be the world’s warming limit. Both COP26 president Alok Sharma and COP27 president-to-be Sameh Shoukry were feeling quite despondent back in September after the preliminary talks broke down.
So, even if there is no consensus on any of the major issues yet, we should be glad they are still talking. And there are some positive surprises and rare bright spots, too. India, of all countries, is gathering support for an agreement proposal to phase down all fossil fuels instead of “just” coal in Sharm El-Sheikh, an unprecedented initiative that seems to be gaining traction unexpectedly. A newly elected Lula is greeted like a rock star when he declares that Brazil is now ready to come back and fight deforestation. Even COP27 president Shoukry is starting to feel more optimistic about a ‘loss-and-damage’ deal being within reach this week. Fingers crossed!
Meanwhile, in Bali, dignitaries from the US and China are finally bonding again, hinting at improving relations between the world’s top two polluters. It must be a relief, judging by the smiling faces of Biden and Xi Jinping after their three-hours-long face-to-face. Time will show whether their meeting was indeed the “breakthrough in the effort to avert catastrophic global warming” that the NY Times hopes it was. It did, however, send waves all the way to Sharm El-Sheikh, where US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua seem to be getting along much better than a few months ago.
So, rather than succumbing to the chronic anti-summit grumbling and declaring the gatherings just another “blah-blah-blah” waste of time, I am willing to recognise the efforts of those sweating in the conference venues in Egypt and Indonesia right now. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt and see what talking and listening to each other leads to this time around.
Summiting is a tough job.