The planet is standing at a crossroads, and as the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Climate Change (COP 28), which will take place at the Expo City Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023, approaches, it is worryingly clear that the climate crisis continues to defy global efforts aimed at mitigation and adaptation. The global community is still having difficulty making real headway in the fight against the looming calamity known as the climate crisis, despite many pledges, agreements, and promises.
It is impossible to overemphasize how urgent the situation is; rising global temperatures, frequent and severe natural disasters, drought, wildfires, the melting of the ice caps, and ocean acidification are all signs of a planet in trouble. The overwhelming body of scientific evidence indicates that human activities, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels, are what are causing these grave changes in the Earth’s climate.
The worldwide community has experienced periods of optimism and aspiration in the run-up to previous COP conferences, with pledges for less carbon emissions, increased investments in renewable energy, and plans to safeguard vulnerable areas. However, it is painfully clear when we reflect on the years that have passed since the start of these conferences that words and vows alone will not be enough to keep us from the brink of environmental catastrophe.
The absence of legally binding agreements and enforceable mechanisms is one of the most obvious obstacles to effective global action. While international agreements like the Paris Agreement have gotten countries to the negotiating table, many of these pledges are toothless because there are no severe penalties for breaking them. These agreements are voluntary, which enables nations to give short-term economic gains precedence over long-term environmental stability.
In addition, the disproportionate burden of responsibility continues to be a significant roadblock to our collective efforts. The industrialized world has historically been the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, thus developing countries legitimately argue that they should shoulder a larger portion of the financial and technological burden. But because of the slow pace of resource sharing and technology transfer, vulnerable nations are left to deal with the effects of a crisis they played a lesser role in creating.
The situation is made more difficult by vested interests and national politics. Despite the rising scientific consensus and an informed public, some people still use climate change denial and delay strategies. The transition to a low-carbon economy is being slowed down by influential lobbying groups and sectors with a stake in maintaining the status quo.
Given these challenges, COP 28 must mark a critical turning point. Beyond empty rhetoric, the international community must take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions, invest in infrastructure for renewable energy, and give priority to actions that will help humanity adapt to the effects of climate change. We require a comprehensive and equitable structure that holds nations accountable for their commitments and supports the most vulnerable populations.
A crucial part is also played by individual activities. Governments, businesses, and people all need to incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives. Every step contributes to the fight against climate change, from reducing individual carbon footprints to encouraging businesses to prioritize environmental responsibility.
The world must face the reality that climate catastrophe is not a problem that can be solved in the future as we prepare for COP 28. It is an urgent matter that demands a prompt and determined response. The time for half-measures and hollow promises is over because the future of our planet is on the line. The path to COP 28 needs to be built with sincere commitment, cooperation, and a common resolve to overcome the enormous obstacles the climate catastrophe offers.
Afeniforo is a sustainable development practitioner, climate change scientist and activist, and Ph.D. scholar at the IUSS Pavia, Italy.