COP28: Humans are Putting Life on Planet Earth Under Siege

Nov 29, 2023

Ahead of COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, Columban missionary Fr Sean McDonagh calls for binding forms of energy transition.

Recently, an international group of scientists published a report in the magazine BioScience saying that “the Earth’s ‘vital signs’ are the worst in any time in human history.”[1] This is an astonishing claim, especially, since a similar study in 2019 was endorsed by over 15,000 scientists.

Professor William Ripple, who works at Oregon State University (OSU) is one of the authors of the report. He says that “life on our planet is under siege.” For example, in 2023 right across the globe, climate records have been broken by enormous margins.

July 2023 was the warmest month ever and the year was the hottest recorded on the planet in 100,000 years. Today, warmer oceans are causing serious melting of the ice in western Antarctic and Greenland.

A new study has shown that, if the western Antarctic continues to melt that would increase the level of the oceans by 5 metres.[2] If this happens within a century or two, millions of people who live in coastal cities like Cork, New York, Mumbai, London, and Shanghai will have to find shelter elsewhere.

The warming of the oceans is also causing the destruction of many species. The record loss of sea ice in Antarctica in 2022 caused a mass die-off of emperor penguin chicks because the sea ice melted in mid-November forcing penguins to abandon the colony.  If this continues, the world’s largest penguin will be become extinct.[3]

At this moment humans are taking more from the earth than it can safely give. This is happening, in climate change, biodiversity collapse, food production and water use. Furthermore, this study showed that poverty which had declining for many years, is now on the rise again, especially in Africa.

Another author of the report, Professor Christopher Wolf, says that the world that we are creating will be marked by unbearable heat and shortages of food and water.[4] He believes that by the year 2100, three to six billion people may find themselves outside what is consider the Earth’s liveable regions.[5]

As a result of these changes mortality rates in the human community will begin to rise, turning around a major gain which some humans achieved during the 20th century.

In Laudate Deum, Pope Francis points out that COP28 on climate change will take place in the United Arab Emirates in November and December 2023. At this point it seems that the president of COP28, Sultan Ahmed Ai-Jaber, who is also in charge of the UEA oil company, Adnoc will attempt to present technological solutions like carbon capture as a solution to climate change.[6]

Pope Francis is aware that UAE is a great exporter of fossil fuels. The report by Global Witness found it would take Adnoc 343 years to capture all the CO2 emissions it will produce in the next six years.[7]

And yet, the Pope is hopeful of a favourable outcome. He writes that “to say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change.” (No. 53).

“If there is a sincere interest in making COP28 a historic event that honours and ennobles us as human beings, then one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions; that they are efficient, obligatory, and readily monitored. This, to achieve the beginning of a new process marked by three requirements; that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitments of all.” (No. 59).

These important studies I have quoted here are sounding the alarm bells for us now. We need to expand our renewable energy sources much more quickly. Unless humans begin to live in a sustainable way across the globe, the future will be very dark for those who come after us.

[1] Damian Carrington, “Life on Earth ‘under siege’ as world’s vital signs in crisis, scientists warn,” The Guardian, October 25th, 2023, page 2.
[2] Damian Corrington, “Rapid ice met in west Antarctica is ‘inevitable’ – even with emissions cut,” The Guardian, October 24, 2023, page 2.
[3] Alec Lujn, “Emperor penguin colonies loss of chick due to ice breakup,” NewScientist, September 3, 2023, page 18.
[4] Oregon State University, “Climate report: ‘Uncharted territory’ imperil life on Earth,” Bioscience. October 24th, 2023. 
[5] Sarah Boseley,  ‘Paying in lives’: health of billions at rick from global heating, warms report, The Guardian, November 15th 2023.  https://the risk-from-global-heating-warns-report
[6] Matthew Tayor, “Capturing Cop28 chief’s oil firm emissions would take centuries – study,’ The Guardian, November 15th, 2023, page 19..
[7] Ibid

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