‘So, what does COP28 mean?’ I hear you ask, and it's not '28 Columbian pesos', like my Read Aloud program keeps telling me.
Ahem! COP28 is ‘the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’.
Well, that’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s break it down.
Firstly, conferences on climate change are held under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). COP28 will therefore be the 28th such conference. This tells us either 1) that to make a course correction on climate change, the world’s in it for the long haul, or 2) that there’s been a lack of substantial progress in tackling the negative effects of climate change since COP1, in Berlin, Germany, in 1995.
Actually, it’s 3), a bit of both. But more on that, later.
The delegates involved in COP1 came from 117 Parties (countries) and 53 Observer States.
COP28, on the other hand, will involve 200 countries interacting and working together, comprising 70,000-80,000 delegates, 140 heads of state and 5,000 media professionals.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few decades, you may ask what problem COP28 seeks to address.
The overabundance of CO2 in the atmosphere, mostly!
Yep, CO2 is one of the main culprit gases that have succeeded in making the first week of July this year, the hottest on record. In fact, this year is set to be the warmest, worldwide, on record. Carbon dioxide - the gas we breathe out and plants absorb, just as we learned about in high school biology. All’s well and good when the amount of the gas that animals breathe out, and the amount of carbon dioxide plants convert to oxygen and expel is balanced, but not if excessive CO2 and other ‘greenhouse gases’ are being added to the atmosphere at an inordinate rate.
Look at it like this. In the distant past, your average Stone Ager would light up a twig-and-branch-fed fire to cook whatever he hunted that day, or to keep the cold and the predators at bay. Fast forward to the late eighteenth century onwards, and we have the factories of the Industrial Revolution, artificially-lit cities, and, later, automotive transport, all powered by fossil fuels (coal, gas and petrol, respectively), emitting mucho CO2 into the atmosphere.
CO2 is called a greenhouse gas because it traps the heat from the sun that has entered the Earth’s atmosphere, much as the glass of a greenhouse keeps in the heat. This raises the temperature of the air and the surface and the oceans of our home planet. Since 1880, it’s estimated that the rise in average air temperature has been 1.1oC, or about 2oF. This does not seem a great deal until you realise the average air temperature of Earth in the 20th century was 13.9oC. That said, Earth experiences variations in temperature for a number of reasons, but these are slow, averaging something around a 0.5°C increase over the past ten thousand years.
To offset the rapid rise recently in global temperatures, at COP21 in Paris, in 2015, 194 parties (193 countries plus the European Union) signed the Paris Agreement, a binding accord agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (in addition to CO2, methane is another greenhouse gas, largely emitted in the form of cow and other livestock flatulence), to begin or to continue moving towards the use of renewable energy sources, and, by the end of the century, to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-Industrial levels.
Alas, those temperature figures from the first week of July tell us we have a lot of work to do. To this end, much of the refocusing and reconsidering of our approach to tackling climate change will be happening in Dubai, at COP28, later this month.
So, what are the main problems associated with global warming, and what can we, as humans, do about them?
The most serious problems may appear insurmountable and even seem overwhelming at first glance, but we have a whole world full of people to work upon and solve them.
The burning of fossil fuels leads to an increase of greenhouse gases warming up the atmosphere. Marginal lands become uncultivatable, pushing more and more people onto less and less viable land. Added to this, the polar ice caps are melting, raising the sea level and gradually submerging lower lying islands and coastal areas.
The answers to combatting land degradation and to stop, if not reverse, the polar ice cap meltdown situation, we need either to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching as quickly as possible to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and / or to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through carbon capture and carbon sink technologies.
Then there’s the deforestation of, especially, Earth’s primal tropical forests. Rainforests are often likened to the lungs of the planet. Illegal logging needs to be stamped out, felled forests replanted and a general greening of our towns and cities undertaken to get back to the cyclical balance of animals expelling carbon dioxide and plants converting it to chlorophyl and expelling oxygen.
More controversially, adopting a diet more reliant on plant-based nutrition will reduce our reliance on high carbon footprinted, flatulent livestock.
Of course, nothing will change unless we all (or the vast majority of us in the world) get on board, and many of us are more than half way there.
Remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and single steps, one after the other, for months, years and decades, is what will safeguard our planet’s currently fragile future.
Below are links to my short-listed story for the National newspaper and for a couple of stories that appeared on the Every Day Fiction site - where you can leave a comment and a rating if you so desire. WARNING - Exodus Mortis is a bit disturbing: