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Requiem for the planet

By Matthieu Ricard on December 06, 2021

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Matthieu Ricard will meet with Jane Goodall on December 14th, 2021, at 7PM (Paris Time), for an exceptional virtual round table on the theme of Hope – a necessary commitment. They will explore the topic of the urgency to establish a new social contract between humans and the rest of the living world. To participate, click here.

When making the final COP26 statement, its president, Alok Sharma, had to pause to contain his tears after saying : «my apologies... I am deeply sorry. » The assembly rose to applaud his desperate efforts, as of many others, to convince the world's major polluters to limit the damage they inflict on our environment and the suffering they hence impart on future generations. But for the most part they turned a deaf ear to the pleas of those already struck by environmental upheavals. How can we not feel concern for the fate of our children, our grand-children and those who will follow suit ? They'll say : « you knew and you did nothing. »

This bargaining and procrastinating stance from the highest polluting countries is pathetic. Do you bargain with the doctor who only gives your child half the medicine needed to treat septicemia ? Do you bargain with the surgeon who only takes out half of the tumor threatening to take over your body ?

An advisor from the Saudi Ministry of Oil demanded sentences such as « the need for urgent and fast-tracked mitigating actions at all levels... » be removed from the report. A high-ranking official from the Australian government rejected the conclusion that shutting down coal-fired power plants is necessary, even though one of the objectives of the COP26 is to end coal use.

India announced it was aiming for carbon neutrality in...2070. Meaning never, since many irreversible changes will have taken place in the interval. Coal is responsible for almost 40% of yearly CO² emissions, putting it center stage in the drive to meet the 1,5°C target. To reach this goal, global emissions must be slashed by 45% by 2030 and near zero at mid-century.

The draft report stated that « plant-based diets can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50% compared to the average high-emission western-style diet ». Brazil and Argentina, two of the world's largest producers of cattle and animal-feed crops, firmly opposed including in the final report data that showed that a reduction in meat consumption is necessary to cut down greenhouse gas emissions.

Isn't it absurd that lobbyists from fossil fuel industries formed the largest delegation at the COP26 ? According to a Global Witness analysis given on BBC radio, there were more delegates from fossil fuel industries than from any large country : no less than 503 people with ties to fossil fuel interest received accreditation for the climate summit.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNPD), the world's governments spend a yearly 420 billion dollars (313 billion pounds) to subsidize non-renewable energy, despite the commitments made by G7 countries to phase out « inefficient » fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. By comparison, the same world governments pathetically struggle to find 100 billion dollars to help poor countries develop renewable energies.

Fossil fuel subsidies are government measures aimed at artificially driving down prices of coal, oil and natural gas. They include production subsidies – tax breaks or direct payments that cut the cost of production, as well as consumption subsidies – reduced energy prices for consumers, such as setting prices at the pump.

According to Johan Rockström, it is still possible to stabilize global warming at 1,5°C, but immediate, radical and coordinated action is required to avoid the risk of tipping points, particularly in large forest systems and the Greenland ice cap. The rapid growth of methane and nitrous oxide emissions puts us on a path toward a 2,7°C warming, and factors of climate shift lead to high-impact risks.

In France, peak summer temperatures of 50°C [122°F] will not be the exception but the norm. Goodbye vineyards, sun bathing (at 50°C ? No thanks!) and winter sports... You fear immigration ? Better get used to it ; you don't stop hungry people. In 2050 we could could have over 200 million people migrating to temperate zones due to environmental pressure. Nothing like the few millions that have come to Europe in the past years.

We need to set short-term and binding objectives that governments can put in place during their term in power, instead of passing on the problem to the next government to avoid taking unpopular measures. The cost of climate change mitigation is undoubtedly high, but it is wholly justified by the benefits for human health and for nature and pales in comparison to the economic, human and environmental cost of current degradations. The future does no harm, at least not yet...But it will strike hard.

Our future is at stake – if you feel concerned – and we must undertake real progress to prevent « tipping points » before it's too late. We have at most seven or eight years to effect real change and move beyond the useless talking, this blah, blah, blah.