The 1.5C climate goal died at Cop27 – but hope must not

Every fraction of a degree increases human suffering, so the fight to end the fossil fuel industry must ramp up

When the history of the climate crisis is written, in whatever world awaits us, Cop27 will be seen as the moment when the dream of keeping global heating below 1.5C died.

Does that mean giving up? Absolutely not. The 1.5C target is not a threshold beyond which hope also dies. Every fraction of a degree means an increase in human suffering and must therefore be fought for. How? With everything we have, to tear down the barrier between us and climate stability: the fossil fuel industry.

The 1.5C target, beyond which the most disastrous climate impacts lie, is not yet physically impossible to meet. To achieve that, global carbon emissions must be reduced by 50% by 2030, yet record levels of pollution are still being pumped into the atmosphere.

The scientific warnings before Cop27 could not have been louder: we are on the brink of irreversible climate breakdown. Behind closed doors at the summit, however, the fossil fuel states forced other countries to fight tooth and nail merely to preserve the inadequate status quo.

On Friday, a Saudi Arabian delegate said: “We should not target sources of energy; we should focus on emissions. We should not mention fossil fuels.” Despite the efforts of many other countries, the final decision text duly failed to mention phasing out fossil fuels.

It is extraordinary that in 30 years of UN climate negotiations, eliminating the primary cause of global heating has never been mentioned in the decisions. Given that next year’s UN climate summit will be hosted by a petrostate, the United Arab Emirates, it is hard to see how a crackdown on fossil fuels will happen there either.

The world should be sprinting to rid itself of its fossil fuel addiction as if lives depend on it, because they do, but it is jogging on the spot. The 1.5C goal may not yet be physically impossible to achieve, but Cop27 has shown it is politically impossible.

So, what now? It remains imperative to get off coal, oil and gas as rapidly as possible. Every tonne of CO2 that remains in the ground means less harm to lives and livelihoods.

Can the UN climate talks deliver this at speed? It does not look that way. It is too easy for the fossil fuel states to hold the consensus-based negotiations to ransom, threatening to blow up the whole thing if their black gold is so much as mentioned by name. There were more fossil fuel lobbyists at Cop27 than delegates from the Pacific islands, which their industry is pushing below the waves.

Instead, the fossil fuel industry and its unconscionable expansion plans will need to be fought elsewhere. The first place is in the mind. The global oil and gas industry has raked in an average equivalent of $1tn a year in unearned profits for the last 50 years by exploiting a natural resource that belongs to citizens. Imagine redirecting that financial firepower at decarbonising the world.

The fossil fuel industry can also be fought on the streets, in peaceful protest, and on the lands being despoiled by their expansion. Countries could shun petrostates by forming a “climate club”, a G7 proposal to enable the ambitious to race ahead and to penalise the laggards.

A fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty would provide a transparent way to keep remaining coal, oil and gas reserves untouched. Even a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel advertising, already backed by the World Health Organization, would help. All of this, and more, will be needed.

Cop27 did achieve something. The new loss and damage fund promises to finance the rebuilding of poorer, vulnerable countries hit by increasingly severe climate impacts that they have done little to cause. It is a long overdue acknowledgment of the moral responsibility the big polluters have for the climate emergency. It is all the more important given that Cop27’s failure to meaningfully drive emissions cuts means even worse disasters are to come.

Is there hope? Yes, in that every climate action we take lessens the damage. As Cop27 closed, Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, the poet and climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, said: “I wish we had got fossil fuel phase-out. But we’ve shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible. So we know we can come back [to Cop] next year and get rid of fossil fuels once and for all.”

I hope she is right. I fear she is wrong.


Damian Carrington Environment editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Cop27 talks in disarray with 1.5C goal at risk, campaigners warn
Countries urged to make progress as ‘untransparent, unpredictable and chaotic’ talks in danger of collapse

Fiona Harvey and Adam Morton in Sharm el-Sheikh

19, Nov, 2022 @12:15 PM

Article image
‘We can do the impossible’: how key players reacted to end of Cop27 climate summit
World leaders, diplomats and activists respond to signing of ‘historic’ deal as climate talks wrap up

Guardian staff

20, Nov, 2022 @3:15 PM

Article image
Cop27: ending war in Ukraine necessary to tackle climate crisis, Zelenskiy says
Ukrainian president says Russia’s invasion has forced dozens of countries to resume coal-fired power to alleviate energy costs

Fiona Harvey, Nina Lakhani, and Damian Carrington in Sharm el-Sheikh

08, Nov, 2022 @7:17 PM

Article image
Goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C ‘more fragile’ than ever, says Cop27 chair
Exclusive: in a rare interview, Egyptian minister Sameh Shoukry says global tensions are making talks harder

Fiona Harvey in Cairo

29, Oct, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
UN chief warns of ‘breakdown in trust’ with no deal in sight at Cop27
With only one full day of official talks left, there are no clear agreements on key issues including funding for loss and damage

Fiona Harvey, Patrick Greenfield and Adam Morton in Sharm el-Sheikh

17, Nov, 2022 @6:45 PM

Article image
Climate ‘loss and damage’: why it’s such a big deal at Cop27
Global heating crisis is felt most by countries that are least to blame, so funding is central to demands for climate justice

Nina Lakhani Climate justice reporter

05, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
World is on ‘highway to climate hell’, UN chief warns at Cop27 summit
António Guterres tells leaders ‘global climate fight will be won or lost in this crucial decade – on our watch’

Fiona Harvey and Damian Carrington in Sharm el-Sheikh

07, Nov, 2022 @12:15 PM

Article image
Barbados PM launches blistering attack on rich nations at Cop27 climate talks
Mia Mottley warns of a billion refugees by the middle of the century unless governments act now to tackle crisis

Patrick Greenfield, Fiona Harvey, Nina Lakhani and Damian Carrington

07, Nov, 2022 @11:11 PM

Article image
World likely to breach 1.5C climate threshold by 2027, scientists warn
UN agency says El Niño and human-induced climate breakdown could combine to push temperatures into ‘uncharted territory’

Fiona Harvey Environment editor

17, May, 2023 @10:00 AM

Article image
Developing countries ‘will need $2tn a year in climate funding by 2030’
Report co-written by Nicholas Stern says figure required to switch away from fossil fuels and cope with extreme weather impacts

Fiona Harvey in Sharm el-Sheikh

08, Nov, 2022 @12:01 AM