“The atmosphere responds to one thing: Emissions. It’s physics, stupid… And all the declarations, all the decisions, all the platitudes, all the announcements in the world, if it doesn’t translate into real world action that reduces emissions, is not worth the paper it’s written on.”
– Alden Meyer, senior associate at the independent climate change think tank E3G.
“It ain’t over till it’s over.” That sage bit of wit and wisdom attributed to Yogi Berra proved to be true of the COP 28 gathering that recently concluded in the opulent, oil rich capital of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For the prime-time players in this climate clash of opposing interests, it took overtime, an extra day of deliberation and perspiration for the controversial game of wills and words contested on a less-than-neutral petrostate playing field to declare “game over.” It was a semantic battle over the wording/phrasing of the most contentious issue of the conference that prolonged the contest of wills.
The pivotal paragraph of the final draft of the agreement (consensus) now spells out a merely aspirational path forward in the quest to keep climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above per-industrial levels The long negotiated and carefully crafted wording calls for not a phasing out of fossil fuels in all sectors, the primary offender in the proliferation of global warming, but rather “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”
Historic as it may be, in that this is the first time fossil fuels have been mentioned in a decision text in the history of UN climate talks, this latest overtime edition of the ‘Super bowl’ of climate change confabs, ultimately ended up as so many COP negotiations have with the world’s power brokers kicking the (oil) can down the road and through the goal posts of climate oblivion.
In my humble opinion, an ABC News analysis of the winners and losers from the contest at Dubai best sums up the final score. While I encourage a reading of the entire article, the opening paragraph articulates the essence of the outcome:“As the United Nations COP28 climate summit ended Wednesday, Sultan al-Jaber walked out with what the United Arab Emirates wanted all along — the prestige of hosting negotiations that got the world to agree to transition away from fossil fuels while still being able to pump ever-more oil.
Near the end of the article we are told of a rebuke from Samoa’s lead negotiator (Anne Rasmussen) who points out the “litany of loopholes” that fly in the face of the science referenced in the UAE Consensus: “It is not enough for us to reference the science and then make agreements that ignore what the science is telling us we need to do. This is not an approach that we should be asked to defend.” So well received were her rebuttals that she was given a standing ovation.
Then the author concludes the article with a masterful three sentence wrap up that declares the real winner in this climatic battle with nothing less than the fate of the biosphere at stake: “Al-Jaber sat, grimacing slightly for a few moments. In the end, though, he stood up to applaud the Samoan as well. It was enough to have already won the war.”
We began this COP 28 post with that famous quote by Yogi, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” During this Advent season of active waiting it can also serve as a fitting conclusion to the post. Each Advent begins the start of a new liturgical year with the lighting of the HOPE candle. The Yogi-ism that lights up this post at the darkest time of the calendar year is at its heart an inspiring call to HOPE in the face of disappointment, despair and demise.
A BBC News article from September of 2015 illuminates Yogi’s hope-filled quote by reminding us that: “… there is something about the never-say-die, no-matter-the-odds-we-can-do-this spirit of “It ain’t over…” that finds a place to inspire, time and time again. It tells people to wait, don’t make a judgement yet, because the struggle still might be turned around… What it does is remind you that there is still hope. That if you wipe the sweat from your brow, spit on the ground, and come out fighting, there is still a chance of triumph. It’s a cousin to the Dunkirk Spirit and nodding acquaintance of the blander “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” but with more fire in its belly.
Advent ends with the long, long awaited incarnation of the Creator God, the Word made flesh. This embodiment of divinity and humanity comes to intimately dwell among us full of grace and truth and to light a fire of gratitude in our belly. Advent tears down the mountains of despair and lifts up the valleys of death to make a way in the desert for the hope-filled Kingdom of God to enlighten, reconcile and redeem a fallen creation. That Word made flesh in a Bethlehem barn lives on today in this ‘now-but-not-yet’ embodiment of the Kingdom in the form of the Ecclesia (Church/Body of Christ). At its best, the Christian Church embodies the hope of the world as it prays and works for the fullness of God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on Earth, our common home, as it is in Heaven.
This Advent in the year of our Lord 2023, the hottest year in recorded history and yet only a foretaste of what is yet to come, the fully-functioning, Christ-embodying Church with its hope-filled message that “it ain’t over till its over” remains a positive force to keep hope alive even as Earth’s ecosystems reach tipping points and democracies teeter on the edge of an authoritarian abyss.
In such a critical moment in history as we find ourselves, I conclude with these hopeful and inspiring verses from the 1864 hymn by Bishop William Walsham How:
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
But then there breaks a still more glorious day:
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on His way.