Why every good COP turns into a bad COP

International action always falls victim to national interest

Satya Brata DasAs the leaders of Africa’s most prominent democracies passionately called for climate justice at the UN climate conference in Egypt, there was no indication that the developed world’s response would go beyond minimal contributions that fall far short of what’s needed.

Indeed, there’s no indication that the “culpable’ in the Global North, to borrow South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s phrase, would even meet the 2015 Paris Agreement’s pledge of $100 billion annually to help the most vulnerable.

As we have seen over the last decade of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), those good intentions run aground on the rocks and shoals of domestic and international politics.

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Last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact unravelled in the face of the Ukraine War. Few nations are seriously pursuing the agreed-upon goals to mitigate the chaos unleashed by a warming planet.

Every good COP turns into a bad COP as funding pledges fall by the wayside, and concerted international action falls victim to the primacy of national interest.

Clearly, we need to break the pattern.

We must consider a new social contract using the UN Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to implement and ensure inclusive climate resilience and a sustainable future for humankind.

There is a strong leadership role for Canada, whose pioneering work a generation ago in the Human Security Network impelled the United Nations to adopt R2P as official policy to help civilians beset by war and calamity.

We can pursue two avenues to break the cycle of failed COPs.

First, the international community must be encouraged to find common ground and unity of purpose in applying R2P principles to coping with the climate crisis.

Second, they must find the money. Rich countries are talking about a windfall tax on oil and gas wealth. A more robust and sustainable funding stream can be satisfied by a global carbon levy – a tax on producers of fossil fuels at the point of production. A levy of $3 per barrel of oil or equivalent would raise more than $250 billion annually.

Essentially, all the agencies, programs, legal frameworks and conventions of the UN relating to conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and inclusive societal development must be adapted to address the climate emergency.

In effect, this would be a new social contract, ensuring that all populations and all societies, particularly the most vulnerable and the most marginalized, draw equitable resources, protection and benefit from the global pursuit of climate resilience.

To execute this social contract, we must create a new international body, the United Nations Climate Resilience Agency (UNCRA).

The underlying rationale behind a new climate agency lies in the insufficiency of conventional views of human security, focusing primarily on nation-states and the conflicts within and among them, while failing to mitigate and eliminate the existential threat to our biosphere and our imperilled common home.

If we are to break the cycle of despair that follows every failed COP, we must revive these principles in climate mitigation and adaptation, pursuing inclusive climate resilience that leaves none behind.

Building on the foundations already established, UNCRA’s mission and mandate should include everyone: including the investors and capital pools already committed to funding climate resilience, who already are leading the energy transition, decarbonization, as well as technologies and installations to pursue net-zero economies.

Indeed, robust public-private partnerships will be needed to overcome the limits of international consensus that evoke disappointment at each COP summit, and the constraints faced by private capital, which requires a predictable path charted by the rule of law to govern investment.

A new social contract should bring together the funding streams, expertise and collective will of all nations and all societies – mutually dedicated to enacting and emplacing effective solutions and best practices in adaptation, mitigation and inclusive climate resilience. We believe this can be achieved through the empowerment of UNCRA.

The new UNCRA is intended to create an enabling environment and operating framework to foster local innovation and investment. Ultimately, it will enable the shifts needed for effective action: behaviour change among global citizens, community-driven adoption of new technologies and investment models, and cross-sector investment into sustainable business practices.

All of these elements are needed to fulfill our duty of care.

Essentially, the UNFCCC, with its drive to enact effective climate policy, would now gain an empowered and focused implementation capacity through the creation of UNCRA. It would be the enforcement arm of our global collective will.

The responsibility to protect the most vulnerable must be convened to protect global populations facing the existential crises of the planet: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution and waste.

Our widely-shared insistence that the economy comes first will be a hollow victory indeed if all we are left with is the corroded hulk of a biosphere and a future of unmitigated chaos.

Our greatest and most urgent responsibility is to protect our common home from the worst ravages of human-driven climate change, the linchpin of the triple crisis that imperils us all.

The difficult journey we face needs all of us.

Satya Brata Das leads the Center of Excellence on Human-centered Global Economy at The Digital Economist, a global impact ecosystem converging Web3, digital assets, and the broader sustainability agenda to pursue the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for better human and planetary outcomes. The Center is preparing a special report on Meeting the Climate Challenge, to be issued in late September.

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