The recent COP27 conference produced very little in terms of meaningful commitments to reduce emissions. The overwhelming view of the negotiations, other than some progress on loss and damage, is that they were a failure, and that if anything we are further away from 1.5 degrees than we were before the conference. It’s not hard to see why.
Most of the week felt like a networking event on steroids. With so many events on simultaneously, the Blue Zone felt like a shouting match at times, with everyone jostling for their five minutes of attention. But it’s not only CEOs, government ministers and activists who were exchanging LinkedIn profiles. In a year in which the Russia-Ukraine war has triggered an energy crisis more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attended the conference, no doubt sensing an opportunity.
The conference room where governments meet to negotiate, when I took the trouble to go and visit, felt strangely lifeless and joyless, with lines of empty chairs and the quiet hum of air conditioning.
This is not how meaningful change occurs.
So much of the way COP27 is conducted, and the way issues are framed, feels like an extension of the same postures and thinking which got us into this mess in the first place. The set of tools are the same tools and every problem is a nail to be hammered.
I listened to a representative from the IMF tell an audience about the price of the ecosystem services of a whale as if this was a huge achievement - but this is just the same tired old thinking in disguise which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
You hear the same sentences over and over again. To an uninformed observer it would appear that all we have to do to solve climate change is create some new technologies and a functioning carbon market and all our problems will be solved. But climate is not just a technocratic and economic challenge. It's also a cultural, political and psychological challenge. I would argue it’s also a spiritual challenge.
These kinds of discussions were painfully absent from COP27, one of many glaring blindspots. The role of the individual? Casually ignored. Monetary system reform? Nowhere to be found. The importance of our cultural, cognitive and spiritual evolution and the inner development goals? Deafening silence.
It feels like humanity is a patient with a life-threatening addiction who, rather than face up to the profound lifestyle changes which alone will save them, has instead resorted to bargaining with the doctor.
The prognosis is crystal clear: there is no business as usual. We are not going to grow our way out of our problems. If we’re going to become a planetary civilisation which lives in harmony with the earth systems on which we depend it’s going to require a much deeper kind of transformation than anything you can read in the headlines coming out of COP27, nor even in its most exalted (and unmet) ambitions.
All is not lost however. Because on the fringes, in the side events, in taxis, in elevators, on the beach, extraordinary things are happening. Brilliant entrepreneurs, far-seeing investors, indigenous elders and inspirational youth mixed and connected in a creative cauldron, not so much of hope, but of determination.
There, far away from the lines of microphones and the banks of cameras, you can find music, food, joy, laughter and inspiration. You can see a meeting of minds and souls who are being called forward by the dream of a world in which humanity and nature can live in harmony.
Civilisational transformation will not come from the center of power. It will come from the fringes. While people in suits rearrange the deckchairs, the next generation are busy building a new ship.
One way or another, it’s happening this decade.
This article is also published by Beachtoken. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.