LEICESTER, United Kingdom – England’s top bishop on the environment, Bishop John Arnold of Salford, is calling for more concrete commitment to tackling our climate crisis after another COP conference closed on Dec. 13 in the two-week summit in the United Arab Emirates.
For the first time in 28 years of climate talks, delegates from nearly 200 nations said the world needed to transition away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Fifty oil and gas companies said they would sharply reduce emissions of methane by 2030.
However, many people pointed out the pledges made were voluntary, so not enforceable, and there was not way to force countries to comply.
“I see far too many references to targets needing to be agreed – things needing to be settled. The language is right, but there’s no real sign of measured commitments being met and sanctions for anyone who doesn’t meet the commitments,” Arnold said.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates’s president-designate of the COP28 climate talks, claimed the delegation had found a new path to protect the environment by “following our North Star.”
“Together, we have confronted realities and we have set the world in the right direction,” he said.
“We have given it a robust action plan to keep 1.5 [the maximum temperature rise in Celsius] within reach. It is a plan that is led by the science. It is a balanced plan, that tackles emissions, bridges the gap on adaptation, reimagines global finance, and delivers on loss and damage,” he said at the end of the two-week meeting.
“It is built on common ground. It is strengthened by inclusivity. And it is reinforced by collaboration,” the sultan added.
However, critics pointed out that Al Jaber is also head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and overseen a substantial expansion of gas and oil production.
On the first day of the summit, Al Jaber denied a BBC report that said the oil-rich United Arab Emirates planned to make deals for oil and renewable energies during the negotiations.
Many environmentalists doubted the promises made in a leading country in the oil industry, which is responsible for much of the emissions that cause climate change, especially since these promises are nonbinding.
“Is this greenwashing? I hope it’s not,” Arnold said.
“I really do want to be optimistic about it and to think that nearly 200 nations have gathered and said very urgent things to one another and come up with what looks like an agreement is excellent,” the English bishop said.
“But how do we measure real progress? We’re going to have to wait and see. But even from COP27 and COP26, those commitments were not met. Is it more of the same language amounting to no real action? I hope not,” he added.
Arnold noted that he still greeted the statement made at COP28 which pledged to “transition away” from fossil fuels and provide financial support to countries most impacted by the effects of the world’s changing climate with “guarded optimism.” However, the bishop said, “more is needed.”
Dr. Emma Gardner, Head of Environment for the Diocese of Salford, said the words at COP28 sounded optimistic, but lacked the urgency and commitment needed given the scale of the challenge.
“As ever, it’s important to be positive and focus on the good we see in the world,” she said.
“There have been some positive commitments at COP28, including over 100 countries agreeing to triple the world’s amount of renewable energy installed by 2023, $800 million pledged to fight tropical diseases, and $700 million pledged to help nations across the Global South deal with the impacts of climate change,” Gardner said.
“But is that enough? Realistically, considering the scale of the challenge, no. Billions are needed to address the harm caused by the effects of climate change. More is needed,” she said.
“We know accelerating action is critical, especially as it is widely believed we are not on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees [in Celsius]. Every 0.1 degree rise matters, preventing further ecological and social loss. All things considered, the commitments made at COP28 are simply not strong enough and don’t embody the urgency we need to see,” she continued. “What will you do?”
In his message to world leaders at COP28, Pope Francis called for the elimination of fossil fuels, greater dependency on renewable energy, and debt cancellation for countries who have contributed least to our ecological crisis but bear the greatest impact.
Gardner explained what Francis meant: “It is up to us, each one of us … to acknowledge the urgency of the ecological crisis and engage in caring for our common home and our brothers and sisters around the world, so that we can ‘create a new culture’ that ‘rises from deep within society’.”