The road to Sharem El-Sheikh - opinion

COP27 (the 27th global meeting) held this time in Egypt, is a two-week period of negotiations, discussions, and signing agreements to formulate a road map to deal with the climate crisis.

 Prof. Colin Price (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Prof. Colin Price
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)

This week world leaders from nearly 200 countries will be arriving in Egypt for the annual Conference of Parties (COP) that is held every year to determine global policies and directions for dealing with the climate crisis, or global warming.

The cause of the climate crisis is quite clear by now, with 97% of climate scientists agreeing that: 1) the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the highest they have been in more than a million years (and likely longer); 2) that these record high concentrations of gases and pollutants are due to man-made activities on our planet (generation of energy, transportation, agriculture, etc.); 3) that this rise in greenhouse gases is directly related to the increasing temperatures of the planet (the Earth has a fever); and 4) this fever is resulting in dramatic changes in our climate (rainfall patterns, natural disasters, sea level rise, heat waves, wildfires, etc.).

COP27 (the 27th global meeting) is a two-week period of negotiations, discussions, and signing agreements to formulate a road map to deal with the climate crisis. And to deal with the climate crisis, we can divide the actions into "adaptation" and "mitigation" policies.  Adaptation since we are already seeing the impact of the climate crisis on heat waves in Europe, droughts in the US, floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, fires in the Mediterranean, just in 2022.

The number of weather-related natural disasters since 1980 has increased by 400%! However, the countries most vulnerable to these climate impacts are those that are least responsible for the crisis. The developing world is suffering the most from climate change, while the developing countries are largely to blame for the increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Hence, one of the key topics of negotiations in Sharem will be how, and to what extent, with the rich "north" help the poor "south" adapt to climate change, while also covering the costs of the "loss and damage" that is already being felt by these countries today. At previous COP conferences the "north" promised $100 billion per year for helping developing nations cope with Climate Change. But the true support has been much less.

While adaptation to climate impacts is critical for all countries, we must also focus on mitigation, meaning slowing, stopping and then reversing the trends of man-made greenhouse gas concentrations in the air.  If world leaders do not focus on mitigation, we will have to keep adapting to climate change for ever.  Such mitigation policies are related to clean renewable energies, electrification of our cities, changes in how we feed 8 billion people on the planet, protecting the rainforests and biodiversity, and developing ways we can enhance the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, whether naturally or artificially.

The climate crisis can be defined as a "wicked problem", due to its complex and interconnected nature.  It is not only a scientific problem, but also a social and cultural problem. There is no one formula to solve this problem, and solutions are not immediately seen.  There is no right or wrong solution, only good and bad solutions.  The problem is unique to itself, and global in extent, and therefore solutions cannot be tested in a laboratory. The Earth is our laboratory. 

While getting 200 countries to agree on adaptation and mitigation measures seems difficult, progress has been made in previous COP meetings, and the discussions and declarations provide not only a road map for the individual countries, but a road map for the private sector, industry and investors. In the past year the involvement of the private sector has increased dramatically both in Israel and globally to look for solutions to the crisis, through technologies, policies and even education. I am optimistic that in the coming years the non-governmental sectors will be key in developing new solutions for energy, transportation, agriculture, water, etc. that will replace out polluting technologies of today.  However, the longer it takes to transform to a greener, cleaner and more sustainable world, the higher the price tag will be, whether social, political, or economical.

Written by Prof. Colin Price, Head, PlanNet Zero, Tel Aviv University Climate Crisis Initiative