The personal exchange with ten MEPs at the first morning of the European Grandparents for Climate (EGC) meeting in Brussels turned out to be a catalyser in the development from ‘a talking club to an action group’. © Jan Stel.

Blog by Jan Stel, co-chair of European Grandparents for Climate (EGC)

To be frank, I did not expect much of a COP led by the oilman Sultan Al Jaber in Dubai, one of the super-rich oil-states of the Gulf Region. Moreover, I was not at all pleased by the nomination of the Dutch former ‘oilman’ Wopke Hoekstra, as a successor of Frans Timmermans, whom I admire. Yet, at the last minute of the nearly doomed COP, Al Jaber became an already very wealthy ‘Aladdin with a magical lamp’, and outsmarted the fossil lobby. But, let us wait and see…

The science is clear and the villains are known for decades. ‘Playing’ with words has gone on since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Yet, a possible shift away from our fossil fuel addiction now appears (glides) on the horizon. This is a signal of HOPE. (Jan Stel, EGC co-chair)

A statement by Johan Rockström and Ottmar Edenhofer in a press release on the COP28 outcome drew my attention, and made me decide to write this short blog. Rockström and Edenhofer are both co-directors of the world-famous Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Rockström is the man behind the planetary boundaries concept and an esteemed Earth system scientist. His colleague is a climate economist.

The text which drew my attention is: “The EU member states with their major climate protection plan, the European Green Deal, should be encouraged to stay the course, as should the USA with its Inflation Reduction Act”. This reminded me to our very interesting and encouraging discussion with ten MEPs on the first morning of our successful Brussels Meeting .

The MEPs were asked by our very efficient co-chair Godela von Kirchbach, what they thought was the greatest realization in relation to the Green Deal implementation during the present legislation, what was their biggest disappointment, and how the EGC could contribute to assisting them in implementing the Green Deal in the future. A majority of MEPs highlighted the Green Deal as their main realization, while they found that the Agricultural (and Nature) issues surprisingly turned out to be a major problem in relation to the full implementation of it. This also stressed the urgency of the work of our European Elections Working Group.

Kick out the fossil industry

When reading about the size of the fossil lobby allowed to attend COP28, I was shocked. According the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition, this number was at least 2456. And that in a year during which we lived under an above 1.5oC regime for at least a hundred days! The largest delegation was the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), who brought 116 people including representatives from Big Polluters Shell, TotalEnergies and Norway’s Equinor. Although the first draft of the UAE consensus was very disappointing, the second draft which was approved, is a signal of hope and possible change.

Professor Rockström states among others: “No, the COP28 agreement will not enable the world to hold the 1.5°C limit, but yes, the result is a pivotal land-mark.” “This agreement delivers on making it clear to all financial institutions, businesses and societies that we are now finally – 8 years behind the Paris schedule – at the true “beginning of the end” of the fossil-fuel driven world economy. Science called for a mitigation COP, and we got a mitigation COP, focused on the transition away from fossil-fuels.” “Yet, the transition away from fossil-fuel statement remains too vague, with no hard and accountable boundaries for 2030, 2040 and 2050. There is no recognition of the fact that scaling carbon dioxide removal technologies needs to occur in addition to fossil-fuel phase out, to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. And there is no convincing plan on how the transition away from fossil-fuels will occur. We know it will not happen through national voluntary means alone. Collective, global agreements, on finance, carbon pricing, and technology exchange are also needed, at a scale that vastly exceeds what is now on the table”

The PIK press release can be found here.

There is more

All over the world, but most likely not in Saudi Arabia and Russia, which are the two largest oil exporters in 2023, headlines announced the success of COP28: transitioning away from fossil fuels.  But there is more. Over 100 countries made commitments to triple renewable energy at the global level, and to double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency by 2030.

The COP had barely begun, when there already was the first agreement: a Loss and Damages Fund, to assist poor and vulnerable countries in their fight against the effects of climate change. All countries agreed to the creation of this urgently needed fund. Early pledges during the first day of COP28 were some $ 700 million. Again, a signal of HOPE, although they are just a drop in the ocean compared to the needed funds of some $ 580 billion, up to 2030.

The shift from fossil fuels must be fair and fast – and no one can be left out. (World Resource Institute)

According to UN News of 13 December, other important signals of HOPE are:

  • Commitments of $3.5 billion to replenish the resources of the Green Climate Fund.
  • New announcements totalling over $150 million for the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDC) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF).
  • An increase of $9 billion annually by the World Bank to finance climate-related projects (2024 and 2025).
  • Nearly 120 countries backed COP28 UAE Climate and Health Declaration to accelerate actions to protect people’s health from growing climate impacts.
  • Over 130 countries have signed up to COP28 UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food, and Climate to support food security while combatting climate change.
  • Global Cooling Pledge has been endorsed by 66 countries to reduce cooling related emissions by 68% from today.

Although CO2 removal (CDR) might be a critical tool for achieving net zero by 2050, one should not forget the need to change our wasteful lifestyle. It is not solely our world that has to change, but we will have to change too.

Ecomodernists’ belief in new often unproven technology has to be watched carefully as it easily blinds us and leads us away from the urgency of changing our lifestyle. Technology was the basic and principal cause of the current triple global problems (climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution) and will, in my opinion, never lead to a sustainable world as long as nature is not taken into account

In the McKinsey report “Carbon removals: How to scale a new gigaton industry” of December 4, 2023, it is noted that “a CDR industry capable of delivering gigaton-scale removals at net-zero levels could be worth up to $1.2 trillion by 2050.” There is however, a difference between nature-based removals, by restoring, enhancing, or actively managing ecosystems, and technology-based removals, which will need investment and innovation to reduce their relatively higher costs, compared to nature-based solutions

A rapidly growing urgency

On December 6, another alarming report, Global Tipping Points, was published by professor Tim Lenton from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute. The dire warning is clear: if the world warms more than 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, the likelihood of breaching these tipping points increases, as does the chance of crossing others. The report was written by more than 200 scientists from 26 countries, and from more than 90 organizations.

Tim Lenton is describing a tipping point as a slight change in a system that causes drastic changes that are difficult to reverse or are even irreversible due to an intensifying feedback loop. It is like leaning too far backwards in a chair. I hope you never tried that. The scientist note that the planet already has warmed enough to bring our industrialized society at risk of triggering five global tipping points. These could have disastrous effects on the planet and especially our world. Moreover, triggering one tipping point might have a dangerous domino effect by triggering other ones.

The five tipping points discussed in the report are: the melting of the ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland; the rapid thawing of large swaths of Arctic permafrost; the slowing of the North Atlantic sub-polar gyre; and tropical coral reef die-off.

We will be busy

The Global Tipping Points report is underpinning the urgency of our EGC Working Groups established in Brussels and addressing the questions of Honest communication and positive narrative, countering polarization, and revitalizing Climate Action.

Optimistically one could conclude that our EGC was timely born under an auspicious constellation. Let us jointly – as Seeds of Change – take that challenge. (Jan Stel, EGC co-chair)

This – at least for me – unexpected, relatively positive outcome will stimulate our future work and is a challenge that we as European Grandparents for Climate (EGC) will take up by enlarging our membership, developing a good working relationship with MEPs, and above all by becoming an efficient, effective and reliable (action) team. Next year we, the full EGC membership will start to walk this new road of cooperation and dedication.

14-12-2023, 15.30