The burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of climate change, but for far too long, the UN climate summits have failed to come up with binding obligations on the phasing out of all fossil fuels.
In a recent letter addressed to world leaders and people of goodwill, called Laudate Deum, Pope Francis has called on the world leaders to make sure that COP28 — which begins on 30 November in the United Arab Emirates — becomes a turning point in the phasing out of all fossil fuels.
“If there is sincere interest in making COP28 a historical event that honours us as human beings, then one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition, and such binding forms should satisfy three conditions: that they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored,” Pope Francis wrote.
Setting up binding norms on ending fossil fuels is in itself not enough. COP28 should further consider setting up an accountability mechanism with “periodic review and penalties in cases of non-compliance”, Pope Francis states. Such an accountability system should be linked to the global stocktake, a monitoring mechanism that the global community has recently created.
COP28 should also make sure that resources going to the developing countries to finance this transition are massively increased. It is concerning that Africa, with substantial renewable energy potential, currently receives just 2% of clean energy investments.
It is clear that mobilising significant investments in renewal projects — which is estimated at $4-trillion for developing countries — will require a rethink of the global frameworks currently being utilised to incentivise investments and facilitate technological transfer.
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Other than mitigation, funds are needed to help developing countries, especially those that are vulnerable to floods, heat waves and drought to deal with the effects of climate change.
One of the achievements of COP27 was to establish a global early warning system for climate emergencies so that such a system is accessible to all countries. The system is estimated to cost $3.1-billion over the next five years, and it is up to the leaders at COP28 to come up with a plan to mobilise this budget.
Technological transfer is another area of concern. Issues of patents on vital technologies and the concentration of their supply chains in the hands of a few countries should be revisited so that such technologies become “global public goods” and are readily available to all countries.
It is true that if the transition to clean energy is pursued in a rapid and just manner, both developing and developed countries will suffer short-term economic costs. Pope Francis has however warned that “the cost will be all the more burdensome the longer we wait”.
The time to take radical action on fossil fuels is now, and not later. To achieve this, we need ethical leadership both in the public and private sector, leaders who prioritise global common good over narrow sectional interests.
We need leaders who are guided by moral and ethical principles, and act in the best interests of the people — who serve the people — and who hold the fear of God in their hearts — because they themselves are not gods. The warning by Pope Francis is pertinent in this regard: “When human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies”. DM