| A crowd in Goiania Brazil protests the destruction of the Amazon Credit HpoliveiraShutterstock | MR Online A crowd in Goiania, Brazil, protests the destruction of the Amazon. Credit: Hpoliveira/Shutterstock

The framework convention on climate is dead. Now what?

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is open to national adherence by the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or Earth Summit (1992), went into effect in March 1994.[1] Currently, 198 countries or parties have ratified it, making it a virtually universal treaty. Since 1995, it has given rise to the annual Conference of the Parties, or COPs, with one clear purpose: “The Conference of the Parties, as the supreme body of this Convention, shall keep under regular review the implementation of the Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt, and shall make, within its mandate, the decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention.” [2]

Of the twenty-seven meetings that the UNFCCC  has carried out to date, there is a general understanding that the most recent one, held in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, was the most inconsequential.[3] Comparing its results to those of COP26 in Glasgow, for example, should not make us forget that there are more similarities than differences between them. Both share the same paralysis and the same idea of transforming carbon emissions into carbon markets, making it possible for rich countries and corporations to translate the abyss of the climate crisis into business opportunities, capitalism’s lingua franca.

The Setback Represented by COP27

Nevertheless, the setback represented by COP27 in relation to COP26 is undeniable. In Glasgow, civil society could protest without suffering repression inflicted by a bloody dictator like General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who counts 65,000 political prisoners in his 223 jails, according to a conservative estimate.[4] The choice of Egypt as the host of COP27 is an affront to democracy and a clear victory for that military regime, strongly backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.[5] In short, COP27 not only was more chaotic, but it was also called the first dystopic COP, with allegations that the Egyptian police had installed spy software even in the official COP app.[6] In Glasgow, at least some pledges were made: (1) reduction of methane emissions, (2) increased resource transfers to poor countries for adaptation, and (3) reduction of coal consumption, as well as some equally empty declarations about reducing deforestation and cooperation between the United States and China. These were only promises, of course, but the final text of Sharm-el-Sheikh was worse. It suppressed that anodyne reference to progressively decreasing coal consumption and introduced encouragement of “low-emission technologies,” which can be read as new projects for the extraction and consumption of natural gas. As we know, natural gas is basically made up of methane (CH4), the principal of the various greenhouse gases (GHG), after carbon dioxide (CO2). Burning natural gas effectively emits less CO2 than oil or coal, but it is not a low-emission combustible, as methane leaks throughout its production and consumption chain can make its use even more emissive of methane than from coal itself. [7] COP27’s final text ultimately suppressed new pledges about more ambitious reductions of GHG emissions and did not even mention dates, however far off, about these emissions’ peak.

The COPs Lobbyists and Sponsors

The COPs have allowed an absurd amount of meddling by lobbies for the fossil fuel industry, the major figure responsible for destabilizing the climate system. COP27 managed to surpass COP26 in complacency with this industry. COP26 registered 503 people linked to these lobbies. The number of these lobbyists with access to the “blue zone,” that is, reserved for official negotiations, was larger than the delegation of any country present. COP27 registered 636 lobbyists from the industry in its official delegations. No less than 29 countries brought a total of 200 lobbyists registered in their delegations. There were 70 lobbyists linked to oil and gas in the United Arab Emirates’s delegation and 33 of the 150 members of Russia’s delegation had direct links to the country’s fossil fuel industry.[8] Those lobbyists, thronging the halls and negotiation tables in the resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, were more numerous than the members of any national delegation from Africa in the supposedly “African” COP. Strikingly, Mauritania’s delegation included Bernard Looney himself, British Petroleum’s current CEO, as well as four other employees of the corporation.[9]

This type of conflict of interest extends to the choice of the COPs’ sponsors. Yes, even the richest host countries turn to sponsors, as if a COP were a sports championship. Let us look at examples of the last four COPs. COP24, held in 2018 in Katowice, Poland, was sponsored by the country’s largest coal and gas corporations, with state control or large state participation.[10] The principal sponsor of COP25 in Madrid was the BMW group. The principal sponsors of COP26 were Unilever, whose plastic packaging could cover eleven soccer fields per day, and Scotland’s two natural gas giants, SSE and Scottish Power.[11] Not being left behind by its predecessors, COP27 had Coca-Cola as its sponsor. That corporation, named the world’s worst plastic polluter five years in a row, produced three million metric tons of plastic in 2017 alone, the equivalent of 108 billion PET bottles, made from petroleum, or 200 thousand per minute. Between 2019 and 2021, its production of plastic rose from 3 to 3.2 million metric tons, an increase of 3.5 percent in the use of virgin plastic.[12]

A Mirage in the Sharm el-Sheikh Desert: The Mechanism of Loss and Damage

 COP27’s much vaunted “result” was the acceptance of the principle that rich countries should compensate the most vulnerable countries for losses and damages caused by the impacts of the climate emergency and climate anomalies, the so-called “Loss and Damage Finance Facility.” This is just a smoke screen to hide the failure of substantive negotiations about fossil fuel pollution and environmental destruction. That mechanism, which would supposedly complement mitigation and adaptation efforts, had already been discussed in preparatory meetings for the Earth Summit in 1991. It then dealt with compensating Pacific island nations (signers of the Alliance of Small Island States, AOSIS) for rising sea levels, droughts, and desertification.[13] The financial mechanism then proposed was never established and the idea only began to be discussed outside AOSIS’s sphere with the Bali Action Plan as part of COP13, in December 2007, perhaps influenced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report from that same year, which stresses the inevitability of impending climatic disasters. In successive COPs, the AOSIS and other poor countries continued to insist on the need for adoption of indemnification mechanisms, until the idea was resurrected by the emotional impact of the devastating Haiyan Typhoon that killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone during COP19, hosted in Warsaw in November 2013.[14] Perhaps the image of Yeb Sano, the Philippine delegate to COP19, is still vivid in the memory of some. Upon hearing news of the catastrophe, he broke down in tears and announced he would fast until a “meaningful outcome is in sight.”[15] The tragedy and strength of Yeb Sano’s reaction, associated with the dire warning of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, were possibly decisive for establishing the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts in 2013. It then contemplated indemnities to countries more vulnerable to the impacts of climate emergencies, including “slow onset events” and disasters provoked by extreme weather events. A long new hibernation period for the idea then followed, again frustrated in COP26, until African countries were able to pull it back out of the drawer. The recent destruction in Pakistan caused by absolutely anomalous rains perhaps contributed to this. These rains caused António Guterres, UN Secretary General, to declare with his habitual lucidity, “We are heading into a disaster. We have waged war on nature and nature is tracking back and striking back in a devastating way. Today in Pakistan, tomorrow in any of your countries.”[16]

However, re-acceptance of the Mechanism for Loss and Damage in 2022 by rich countries does not imply anything concrete. It did not establish who should pay, who should have the right to receive payment, when payment would be disbursed, what the nature of the disbursement would be, and under what conditions it would be activated. These crucial issues were pushed to COP28 and they, in turn, will probably be relegated to successive meetings.[17] This mechanism created in 1992 will probably meet the same end as the promises made by the rich countries in COP15 (2009) to “mobilize” $100 billion per year for the poor countries until 2020—a promise that has never been fulfilled, now postponed until 2025, with 70 percent of the transfers undertaken in 2019 being in the form of loans, including from private banks, further exacerbating the most vulnerable countries’ foreign debt.[18]

The Death of the 1992 Convention on Climate Change

These are the recent facts that we needed to summarize. It is not the case, however, of detailing the failures and the twists and turns of these and prior COPs. What is important is to understand something much more important: the loss of relevance (if it ever had any) of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change itself (referred to hereafter as the Climate Convention) and its more important offshoot, the Paris Agreement, celebrated in 2015, in the fight against the climate emergency. Demonstrating this irrelevance is the main objective of what follows. A year ago, I presented a summary of analysis by Dave Borlace regarding COP26’s “results” (Glasgow, 31/X – 12/XI/2021). The journal Revista Humanitas Unisinos later published the text, the conclusions of which I recall here.[19]

“Unless Im wrong (and I’d truly like to be wrong), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, born in 1992, is dead. It died in Madrid in 2019 and was buried in Glasgow. The Seventh Day Requiem Mass will be in Egypt in 2022 (COP27) and the one-year mass will be officiated in 2023 (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates, one of the oil capitals.… COP 28 will almost be a macabre ritual of fossil fuels’ final victory. By then, greenhouse gas emissions will be well above the levels reached in 2019 (with or without the omicron variant).”

In 2022, these GHG emissions, even with the resurgence of the omicron variant, are now effectively above 2019 levels. COP27’s failure showed that there was neither hyperbole nor a presumption of prophecy on my part; only recognition of the corpse of the most important international treaty on the climate emergency, still formally in effect. This or any other diplomatic accord becomes a dead letter when, at the end of a reasonable time, it is completely ignored in such a way that reality is far removed from the objective that gave rise to it. This is what happened. Let us remember what its objective was, expressed in the Convention’s Article 2 in 1992: “The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”[20]

As we can see, the objective is made up of two assertions that must be analyzed separately: (1) the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” and (2) their stabilization “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Analysis of these two principal assertions contained in this objective gives evidence of the extent of the failure of the 1992 Convention, as each objective has been wholly contradicted by reality. Let us examine them separately.

The Stabilization of Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in the Atmosphere

GHG atmospheric concentrations have continued growing. Worse, they have continued growing at an ever-greater rate (acceleration), as the first 24 COPs succeeded one another, as shown in Figure 1, relative to atmospheric CO2.

| Figure 1 Acceleration of the increase in CO2 atmospheric concentrations between 1960 and 2018 measured in parts per million in step with the succession of the 24 COPs held between 1995 and 2018Source Barry Saxifrage CO2 vs the COPs Canadas National Observer December 12 2018 | MR Online

Figure 1. Acceleration of the Increase in CO2 Atmospheric Concentrations (measured in parts per million) between 1960 and 2018, in Step with the Succession of the Twenty-Four COPs Held between 1995 and 2018
Source: Barry Saxifrage, “CO2 vs the COPs,” Canada’s National Observer, December 12, 2018.

We know that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 had never surpassed 300 parts per million (ppm) in the last 800 thousand years.[21] In 1992, they reached 353 ppm and in May 2022, they reached 421 ppm. They are now more than 50 percent higher than in 1750 (278 ppm) and 20 percent higher than in 1992, when the Climate Convention was opened to adherence by the parties. As the graphic above illustrates, they grew at the average rate of 1.5 ppm per year in the 1990s. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 grew at an average of 2 ppm per year, jumping to 2.4 ppm on average per year in the second decade. In the six years between 2015 and 2020, that increase occurred at the average annual rate of 2.55 ppm.[22] These concentrations increased, ultimately, 2.84 ppm between January 2021 (415.15 ppm) and January 2020 (417.99 ppm).[23] In only sixty years, the speed of that increase has almost tripled, going from an average annual increase of 0.9 ppm in the 1960s to an average annual increase of 2.4 ppm between 2010 and 2019. Rebecca Lindsey reports that “the annual rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 60 years is about 100 times faster than previous natural increases.”[24]

To stabilize these concentrations, as was the objective of the 1992 Climate Convention, presumed the immediate ending of net anthropogenic emissions of GHG, beginning with CO2. Thus, one of the most excruciating aspects of the 1992 Convention’s failure is the permanence of the growth rate of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. As much in the decade of the 1990s as in the decade of the 2010s, these emissions have increased at an annual average rate of 1 percent.[25] Preliminary estimates of anthropogenic CO2 emissions for 2022 indicate an increase to that same rate of 1 percent (0.1–1.9%) in relation to 2021.[26] The year 2022 now has the greatest anthropogenic emissions of CO2 in human history. The conclusion is incontestable: neither the 1992 Convention nor the Paris Agreement of 2015, celebrated at COP21, had any effect on the evolution of global emissions and atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

A Level that Avoids Dangerous Anthropic Interference in the Climate System

The second assertion of the 1992 Convention’s objective refers to containing warming “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” A dangerous level is made up of two variables: (1) the magnitude of warming to be avoided and (2) the speed of that warming, since time is the key factor for adaptation of ecosystems to new climatic conditions.

The 1992 Convention’s text neither conceptualized nor quantified the limit of that anthropic interference nor stipulated the dates for stabilizing those concentrations. This omission is not due to ignorance, since there already was a growing consensus in 1992 that warming should be less than 2°C above the preindustrial period. It is not possible here to summarize the formation of that consensus.[27] Let us just remember that, after a marginal assumption by William Nordhaus in 1977,[28] a scientific proposal of that limit of danger was already in the 1990 report by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI).[29] This was specific regarding the two indicators that should not be surpassed: the speed and the level of global warming. The maximum speed of warming was set at 0.1°C per decade. That speed of warming was already being surpassed during the 1970–2015 period: 0.18°C per decade and should reach 0.36°C per decade between 2016 and 2040.[30] Thus, the current rate of global warming is now reaching a velocity more than three times the maximum rate stipulated by the SEI in 1990. As for the level of warming to not be reached, the 1990 text was more nuanced:

Two absolute temperature targets for committed warming were identified. These limits entail different levels of risk: (i) A maximum temperature increase of 1.0 °C above preindustrial global mean temperature. (ii) A maximum temperature increase of 2.0 °C above preindustrial global mean temperature. These two absolute temperature targets have different implications. It is recognized that temperature changes greater than the lower limit may be unavoidable due to greenhouse gases already emitted. The lower target is set on the basis of our understanding of the vulnerability of ecosystems to historical temperature changes. Temperature increases beyond 1.0°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable, and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.

That maximum level of warming of 2°C to be avoided surfaced again in 1995 as a commentary to COP1 in a declaration of the Advisory Council on Global Change. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber was behind the proposal.[31]

The Disconnect between the 1992 Climate Convention and the Science of Its Time

In 1992, diplomats and their governments not only already knew that 2°C average global warming above the preindustrial period should be avoided, but they also knew that this warming limit would be surpassed in the succeeding decades. Between 1975 and 1990, projections of warming proposed by Wallace Broecker, Jule Charney, Carl Sagan, and James Hansen, among others, showed that warming greater than 2°C would be produced throughout the first half of the twenty-first century.[32] In 1990, two years before the Climate Convention, the IPCC stated in its First Assessment Report:

Based on current model results, we predict, under the IPCC Business-as-Usual (Scenario A) emissions of greenhouse gases, a rate of increase of global mean temperature during the next century of about 0.3°C per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2°C to 0.5°C per decade).… This will result in a likely increase in global mean temperature of about 1°C above the present value by 2025.[33]

“The present value” of superficial global warming in the years 1980–1990, to which this IPCC First Assessment Report referred, was between 0.4°C and 0.7°C above the preindustrial period (1950–1900), as the remarkably similar evaluations by the six most important climate monitoring agencies show, illustrated in Figure 2.

| | MR Online

Figure 2. Annual Averages of Global Air Temperature at a Height of Two Meters Estimated Change Since the Preindustrial Period (left-hand axis) and Relative to 1991–2020 (right-hand axis) According to Different Datasets
Red bars: ERA5 (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service, C3S); Dots: GISTEMPv4 (NASA); HadCRUT5 (Met Office Hadley Centre); NOAAGlobalTempv5 (NOAA); JRA-55 (JMA); and Berkeley Earth.
Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF.
Source: Copernicus, “Globally, the Seven Hottest Years on Record Were the Last Seven; Carbon Dioxide and Methane Concentrations Continue to Rise,” January 10, 2022.

Therefore, since its First Assessment Report, which reflected the scientific knowledge of the 1980s (we must insist: two years before the 1992 Climate Convention), the IPCC had already predicted a warming of 1.4°C to 1.7°C by 2025, or a warming of about 1°C in three decades (0.3°C per decade in thirty-five years: 1990–2025). This projection was confirmed as correct for 2024, as James Hansen and colleagues show in Figure 3.

| Figure 3 Global surface temperature relative to 18801920 meanSource James Hansen Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy August Temperature Update a | MR Online'Thank You' and Biden’s Report Card,” Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program, Columbia University, September 22, 2022.

Figure 3. Global Surface Temperature Relative to 1880–1920 Mean
Source: James Hansen, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy, “August Temperature Update, a ‘Thank You’ and Biden’s Report Card,” Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program, Columbia University, September 22, 2022.

In fact, in 2022, James Hensen, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy noted the following about the graph:

We suggest that 2024 is likely to be off the chart as the warmest year on record. Without inside information, that would be a dangerous prediction, but we proffer it because it is unlikely that the current La Niña will continue a fourth year. Even a little futz of an El Niño—like the tropical warming in 2018–19, which barely qualified as an El Niño—should be sufficient for record global temperature. A classical, strong El Niño in 2023–24 could push global temperature to about +1.5°C relative to the 1880–1920 mean, which is our estimate of preindustrial temperature.[34]

The World Meteorological Organization, in concert with other international scientific collectives, reinforces these projections.[35] According to its more recent five-year forecast, there is a 48 percent chance that at least one year between 2022 and 2026 will reach a mean global warming of 1.5°C (with a 10 percent chance that it will reach 1.7°C), always insisting that those chances are increasing with time. In fact, in the five-year period of 2018–2022, those chances were only 10 percent.[36]  In the 2020–2024 five-year period, they jumped to 24 percent; in the 2021–2025 five-year period, they surpassed 40 percent. Today, as we have seen, they are in the area of 50 percent. Therefore, the chances that global mean warming will surpass 1.5°C in at least one year of the five-year periods beginning in 2023 or 2024 will probably be greater than 50 percent.

Given the state of scientific knowledge available between 1975 and 1990, we can conclude, in short, that the 1992 Climate Convention not only died during our time, but that it was also condemned from birth not to reach its objective:

  • It should not have proposed the stabilization of the atmospheric concentrations of GHG but, rather, their reduction. The IPCC’s First Assessment Report in 1990 stated that, in the last 160 thousand years, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 had never surpassed 300 ppm.[37] In 1992, atmospheric concentrations of this gas had already reached 353 ppm. More importantly, the growth rate of these concentrations (1.5 ppm/year) should have already been considered anomalous and, above all, alarming; they should have caused a shock, because its evolution could no longer be considered safe for humanity and many other forms of life.
  • The Convention remained silent about what the dangerous level of anthropic interference in the climate system that must be avoided was, when it had already been proposed that this level was between 1°C and 2°C above the preindustrial period.
  • It, alas, had been widely known by the scientific community since 1979, or at least since 1990, that this dangerous level of anthropic interference in the climate system would be surpassed in the second decade of the twenty-first century, or rather, nearly two decades after the opening of the 1992 Convention to international adherence.

Current Science Underestimated the Impacts of 1.2°C Warming

The 1992 Climate Convention was unable to make explicit (let alone prevent) what would be a dangerous interference in the climate system, because it was out of step with the science of its time. But it was also unable to do so because even the best science of our time has proved incapable of establishing an adequate correlation between the current rise in temperature of around 1.2°C and the global impacts driven by that rise. The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, published in April 2022, unequivocally concedes that limitation: “The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments (high confidence).”[38] Indeed, no one foresaw that, with a mean global warming between 1.1°C (2017) and 1.2°C (2021), heat waves would reach such a magnitude even in latitudes north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn, pulverizing regional temperature records, as shown in some few examples in Table 1.

| Table 1 Temperature Spikes in Some Countries between 2017 and 2022Source Atlas España Una histórica ola de calor con temperaturas de más de 45 grados azota Argentina El Correo January 16 2023 Hottest temperature on Tuesday clocks in at 471C as heatwave continues Ekathimerini August 3 2021 ECAgencias Este es el nuevo récord oficial de calor en España según AEMET El Confidencial August 2 2022 Phoebe Weston and Jonathan Watts Highest recorded temperature of 488C in Europe apparently logged in Sicily Guardian August 11 2021 | MR Online

Table 1. Temperature Spikes in Some Countries between 2017 and 2022.
Sources: Atlas España, “Una histórica ola de calor, con temperaturas de más de 45 grados, azota Argentina,” El Correo, January 16, 2023; “Hottest temperature on Tuesday clocks in at 47.1C, as heatwave continues,” Ekathimerini, August 3, 2021; EC/Agencias, “Este es el nuevo récord oficial de calor en España, según AEMET,” El Confidencial, August 2, 2022; Phoebe Weston and Jonathan Watts, “Highest recorded temperature of 48.8C in Europe apparently logged in Sicily,” Guardian, August 11, 2021.

In Brazil, the temperature hit 44.8°C in Nova Maringá in November 2020, the highest on record in the country. Between 2019 and 2020, local heat records were broken in Cuiabá, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Vitoria, Brasilia, and Goiania.[39] Forest fires and droughts have taken perennial rivers in Europe, the United States, and Asia to their lowest levels and even dried them out almost completely over the last two summers. Such anomalies may be the “new normal.”[40] As Will Steffen, Timothy Lenton, Johan Rockström, Stefan Rahmstorf, Katherine Richardson, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, among others, have pointed out, more importantly, it is now clear that the climate system can pass tipping points at much lower warming thresholds than previously assumed, leading this system to transition more or less abruptly and irreversibly to another state of equilibrium.[41] For the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (2001), the threshold for high and very high risks of abrupt and irreversible changes in the climate system was between 5°C and 6°C of global warming above the preindustrial period. In 2018, in the IPCC’s Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5 oC,” published in 2018, such risks are mounting with much lower levels of warming.[42] There is already a moderate risk with a warming of around 1.5°C. This becomes high as 1.5°C is exceeded and very high after a warming of 2°C.[43] There are growing probabilities that this critical level of warming will be reached before 2040, given the current inability of societies to face the climate emergency.[44] Bill McGuire sums up the scientific consensus regarding what the years 2025–2040 have in store for us: “Be in no doubt, anything above 1.5°C will see the advent of a world plagued by intense summer heat, extreme drought, devastating floods, reduced crop yields, rapidly melting ice sheets and surging sea levels. A rise of 2°C and above will seriously threaten the stability of global society.”[45]

Although painful, it is necessary to state without mincing words the death of the 1992 Climate Convention. It is of no use to continue pretending that the next COP will do what the previous twenty-seven have not. More than useless, it is harmful to continue selling the anxiolytic that emissions derived from burning coal will diminish (they reached 15.3 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2021, the highest ever)[46]; that GHG emissions will drop more than 40 percent by 2030 (even if governments keep their promises, they will still have increased nearly 5 percent in relation to 2019)[47], and that in 2050, capitalism will, finally, magically, reach the promised land for net carbon emissions.

What Now?

There is no proposed substitute for the Climate Accord in sight, so simply discontinuing it will bring nothing positive. It is imperative that it be revived, redefined in a much more radical way, to make it effective. This will only be possible with even more vigorous intervention by society itself in decision-making, not only in the COPs, but at all levels, including at the highest levels of the international legal order. The climate emergency will not be confronted if we do not understand it as part of a broad socio-environmental crisis. It is inseparable from the other systemic crises that are accelerating: annihilation of biodiversity, industrial pollution, and the abyss of economic, social, gender, and other inequalities.[48] These four crises—climate, biodiversity, pollution, and inequalities—amplify each other and express themselves as a whole as a crisis of democracy and, more broadly, a crisis of civilization.

In the context of efforts to reduce (already extremely dangerous) anthropic interference in the climate system, as was the 1992 Climate Convention’s objective, today we have a great assortment of proposals and initiatives. These should, of course, converge in the construction of a systemic alternative to capitalism[49] that will require: (1) absolute reduction of consumption of material and energy (and not only in relation to any unit of the GDP), beginning with that obtained by burning fossil fuels and (2) the perception that nature can no longer be ontologically reduced to a “resource” for economic activity. It is fundamental to validate the biosphere as a subject of right, as it is not a means to an end for the human species. Alongside this major objective, sectoral and specific social mobilizations can be observed today. Civil society’s struggles are still modest, but they are often effective at their specific levels. This diversity of systemic and concrete approaches, scopes, and practices is positive. We find not opposition, but rather complementarity, among them. Without a radical critique of capitalism and anthropocentrism, the human project will lack conditions for its survival; but without diplomacy, without incremental state polices, and without specific and concrete initiatives from civil society, the forces to advance strategically will not be accumulated. We must construct greater articulation between struggles fought by communities in their territories and efforts to construct an effective democratic global governance. The central ideological obstacle to such an articulation is the national-militarist axiom of absolute national sovereignty that still governs the international legal order. If we do not overcome that axiom, there will be no chance for peace and a concerted action among the peoples of the earth.

In Latin America, and in particular in Brazil, three basic points have guided a set of proposals and practices that must be strengthened:

  1. Zero deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, conservation of the vegetation cover of the other Brazilian biomes, and a warlike effort to restore these biomes with native species. The two conditions absolutely necessary to reach this objective are:

    a. A drastic reduction in cattle ranching, the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and other biomes. This implies an equally drastic decrease in beef consumption in Brazil, since almost 80 percent of this consumption is domestic.[50] Recommending a reduction in the consumption of meat may seem a paradox in a country in which almost 60 percent of the population suffered some level of food insecurity in 2021.[51] But it is not with meat that we can feed a population, but rather with nutrients of plant origin. A healthy and ecologically sustainable diet proposed by Lancet magazine in 2019 stresses that: This healthy reference diet largely consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unsaturated oils, includes a low to moderate amount of seafood and poultry, and includes no or a low quantity of red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables.”[52]

    b. The removal of Latin America and especially the Amazon and the Brazilian Cerrado from their position as a commodity supplier for the globalized food system. The insertion of the continent in this system is largely responsible for destruction of the biosphere in this region, the richest on the planet; of the seventeen biologically megadiverse countries in endemic species, five are in the Amazon region (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela).[53] Brazilian agribusiness is the great vector of biological destruction and climate imbalance in Brazil. It should be discontinued as quickly as possible in favor of organic food production through agroecology practiced by small farmers close to urban consumption centers. Today, agribusiness is Brazil’s major enemy. It is largely to blame for: (1) forest fires; (2) the elimination and degradation of forests, soils, and water resources; (3) annihilation of biodiversity; (4) zoonoses; (5) pesticide poisoning; (6) water eutrophication; (7) carbon emissions; (8) violence against Indigenous and maroon (quilombola) populations[54] and, in general, against rural communities and their ways of life. Former president Jair Bolsonaro has been rightfully accused of genocide and will also be accused of ecocide as soon as the International Criminal Court typifies that crime.[55] During his administration alone (more precisely, between August 2018 and July 2022), the Brazilian Amazon saw 45,586 km2 of primary forest eliminated by clear-cut deforestation, an area greater than the state of Rio de Janeiro (43,696 km2) or, for U.S. readers, greater than the sum of the areas of the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut (41,720 km2). Reality is still even worse because measurements by the National Institute for Spatial Research do not register forest degradation and clear-cut deforestation in areas smaller than 6.25 hectares (about the size of six soccer fields).[56] Here is another way to measure the ongoing ecocide: in 2021, something like 500 million trees were eliminated (a mean of around 1.5 million per day) just in the Brazilian Amazon.[57] Agribusiness is basically a criminal activity, covered up and encouraged by Bolsonaro, since practically all of this deforestation is illegal. As noted above, agribusiness is also responsible for the majority of Brazilian carbon emissions. In 2021, Brazil emitted 2.42 gigatons of GHG (2.42 GtCO2e), an increase of 12.2 percent in relation to 2020 and the greatest recorded since 2003. Agribusiness answers for 74 percent of that total, as 25 percent of these emissions occur directly from agropastoral activities and 49 percent of it is from deforestation, generally perpetrated by ranchers or for their benefit.[58] Brazil is the world’s seventh greatest emitter of GHG and the fourth largest per capita, after the United States, Russia, and China.[59] If the Brazilian Amazon were a country, it would be the ninth greatest emitter of GHG in the world, mainly because of agribusiness.[60] Methane emissions in 2021 by JBS (a Brazilian company that is the world’s largest meat-processing company, by sales) alone surpassed the combined methane emissions of France, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand. Emissions by Marfrig (the second-largest Brazilian food-processing company, after JBS) equaled Australia’s entire livestock sector.[61]

  2. The second proposal for actions to be urgently strengthened is the protection and demarcation of Indigenous lands. There are 223 territories whose demarcation processes need to be concluded on an extremely urgent basis.[62] Others, in addition to those mentioned, should be demarcated in parallel with the expansion of environmental protection areas, on a continental and global scale. The law must be enforced, since even the lands already demarcated and areas designated for environmental protection have been victimized by unpunished invasions and aggressions. Not only Indigenous and quilombola lands, but the entire Amazon rainforest and the remaining tropical forests on the planet must benefit from a much more rigorous legal status. In the case of the Amazon, ideas and proposals in this sense have been laid out by representatives of the peoples of the Amazon rainforest, in concert with other segments of South American societies, in the realm of the Pan-Amazonian Social Forum and the World Amazon Assembly. These and other social organizations and movements, and not lobbies for oil and agribusiness, must have a guaranteed seat at the next COPs.
  3. In 2023, COP28 in the United Arab Emirates will be the macabre triumph of fossil fuels. But COP29 or 30, which will probably take place in Belém do Pará, in the heart of the Amazon, must tackle an agenda centered on two basic axes: (1) massive adherence to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and (b) deglobalization of the food system. This system has never been at the center of negotiations in the COPs. We must, therefore, tackle it head on, if we wish to avoid the ongoing annihilation of biodiversity, poisoning of organisms by pesticides, and global warming that will outstrip the adaptive capacity of countless species, including our own. As Michael Clark and colleagues show, “even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C and difficult even to realize the 2°C target.”[63] In fact, that system represents the second-greatest source of global GHG emissions and answers today for nearly one-third of those emissions.[64]

In 2008, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, remembering the objective of the 1992 Climate Accord to avoid dangerous anthropic interference in the climate system, affirmed: “No conceivable international CO2-reduction strategy (including the one hoped to transpire from the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen next year) could possibly avoid that the planet will enter the dangerous anthropogenic interference zone, where largely unmanageable climate impacts (like sea-level rise in the multimeter range) lurk. All we can do is to limit the warming in excess of the 2.4°C.”[65]

Today, thirty years after the Climate Convention and almost fifteen years since Schellnhuber’s prediction, this is most scientists’ perception: we are closer than ever to suffering “largely unmanageable climate impacts.”[66] The present decade offers humanity the last chance to deviate from this disastrous trajectory that has already been outlined beyond a reasonable doubt, but whose worst outcomes we can still avoid. It is still up to us.


[1] See: https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/conveng.pdf.

[2] UNFCCC, Article 7.2.

[3] Oliver Milman, “Like Vegas, but Worse,” Guardian, November 11, 2022.

[4] “‘Prison Atlas’ details Egyptian Cases, Prisoners, and Judges,” Human Rights First, July 3, 2022; Ruth Michaelson, “COP27 backfires for Egypt as signs of repression mar attempt to bolster image,” Guardian, November 20, 2022.

[5] The White House, “Joint Statement Following Meeting Between President Biden and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Jeddah,” 16/VII/2022; Mohammed Abu Zaid, “El-Sisi thanks Saudi Arabia and UAE for their support,” Arab News, June 14, 2022.

[6] Bob Berwyn, “For Many, the Global Warming Confab That Rose in the Egyptian Desert Was a Mirage,” Inside Climate News, November 24, 2022.

[7] See, for example, A. R. Brandt et al., “Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems,” Science 343, no. 6172 (2014): 733-735; “Some recent estimates of leakage have challenged the benefits of switching from coal to Natural Gas.”

[8] “Over 100 more fossil fuel lobbyists than last year, flooding crucial COP climate talks,” Global Witness, November 10, 2022.

[9] Matt McGrath, “COP27: BP chief listed as delegate for Mauritania,” BBC, November 10, 2022.

[10]Corporate sponsors of COP24. The corporations bankrolling UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland.”

[11] Robbie Kirk, “For Its Corporate Sponsors, COP26 Is a Platform for Greenwashing Their Polluting Practices,” Wire, November 9, 2021.

[12] Sandra Laville, “Coca-Cola admits it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year,” Guardian, March 14, 2019; Stéphane Mandard, “Coca-Cola, sponsor de la COP27 et ‘champion du monde’ de la pollution plastique,” Le Monde, November 15, 2022; Judith Evans, “Coca-Cola increased plastic use ahead of COP27 summit it is sponsoring,” Financial Times, November 1, 2022.

[13] See INC 1991.

[14] Lívia Preti Boechat & Wagner Costa Ribeiro, “O Mecanismo Internacional de Varsóvia para Perdas e Danos: uma análise de seu primeiro ciclo,” Desenvolvimento e Meio Ambiente 58 (2021): 830-49.

[15] “Philippine delegate weeps at UN climate conference,” Al-Jazeera America, November 11, 2013.

[16] Munir Ahmed, “UN chief asks world for ‘massive’ help in flood-hit Pakistan,” AP News, September 9, 2022.

[17] Sindra Sharma-Khushal et al., “The Loss and Damage Finance Facility. Why and How. Discussion paper.

[18] “Poorer Nations Expected to Face Up to £55 billion shortfall in climate finance,” Oxfam, September 20, 2021; Josh Gabbatiss, “Why climate-finance ‘flows’ are falling short of $100bn pledge,” Carbon Brief, October 25, 2021.

[19] Luiz Marques, “Resumo dos resultados da COP26” (from Dave Borlace, “Blah, Blah, Blah? Is that all our leaders provided at COP26?”), Revista do Instituto Humanitas Unisinos, November 30, 2021.

[20] See: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf.

[21] Rebecca Lindsey, “Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” NOAA, June 23, 2022.

[22] Cf. NOAA.

[23] See: “CO2-earth.”

[24] Lindsey, “Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.”

[25] Glen Peters, “Global fossil co₂ emissions increase amidst turmoil in energy markets,” Center for International Climate Research, November 10, 2022.

[26] Pierre Friedlingstein et al., “Global Carbon Budget 2022,” Earth System Science Data 14, no. 11 (2022): 4811-900.

[27] Carlo C. Jaeger and Julia Jaeger, “Three views of Two Degrees,” European Climate Forum – Working Paper, 2/2010; “Two degrees: The history of climate change’s speed limit,” Carbon Brief, December 8, 2014.

[28] William D. Nordhaus, “Strategies for the control of carbon dioxide,” Cowles Foundation Paper n. 443, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics at Yale University, 1977.

[29] F. R. Rijsberman & R. J. Swart, “Targets and Indicators of Climate Change,” Report of Working Group II of the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases, Stockholm Environmental Institute, 1990.

[30] James Hansen and Makiko Sato, “July Temperature Update: Faustian Payment Comes Due,” August 13, 2021.

[31] “The Father of the 2 Degrees Limit”: Schellnhuber receives Blue Planet Prize,” Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, October 19, 2017.

[32] Wallace S. Broecker, “Climatic Change. Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” Science 189 (1975): 460-63; Jule Charney (coord.), Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment Report of an Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate, July 23-27, 1979; James Hansen et al., “Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” Science 213, no. 4511 (1981): 957-66; James Hansen et al., “Global Climate Changes as Forecasted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Three Dimensional Model,” Journal of Geophysical Research 93 (1988): 9341-64.

[33] J. T. Houghton, G. J. Jenkins, and J.J. Ephraums, eds., Climate Change, the IPCC Scientific Assessment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), xi.

[34] James Hansen, Makiko Sato & Reto Ruedy, “August Temperature Update, a “Thank You” & Biden’s Report Card,” Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program, Columbia University, September 22, 2022.

[35]United in Science 2022. A multi-organization high-level compilation of the most recent science related to climate change, impacts and responses,” OMM, PNUMA, Global Carbon Project, Met Office, IPCC e UNDRR.

[36] Luiz Marques, “Os recordes climáticos de 2017 e o legado da atual geração,” Jornal da Unicamp, February 5, 2018.

[37] As seen in the text, today we know that 300 ppm of atmospheric CO2 has not been exceeded in the last 800,000 years, but 160,000 years were already enough to sound the alarm. Cf. Houghton, Jenkins, and Ephraums, eds., Climate Change, the IPCC Scientific Assessment, xv.

[38] IPCC, Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group II, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers, 2022, 8.

[39] State of the Climate in Latin America & Caribbean 2020, OMM, August 17, 2021, 24; Josélia Pegorim, “Recorde de calor em Vitória, Belo Horizonte, Brasília e em Goiânia,” ClimaTempo, January 16, 2019.

[40] Paulo Hockenos, “Could the Drying Up of Europe’s Great Rivers Be the New Normal?,” YaleEnvironment360, September 6, 2022; Samya Kullab, “Politics, climate conspire as Tigris and Euphrates dwindle,” AP, November 18, 2022.

[41] Will Steffen et al., “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 9, 2018; Timothy M. Lenton et al., “Climate Tipping points – too risky to bet against,” Nature, November 27, 2019.

[42] V. Masson-Delmotte et al., eds., Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above preindustrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

[43] Lenton et al., “Climate Tipping points – too risky to bet against.”

[44] Michael Mann, “Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2036,” Scientific American, April 1, 2014; Idem, “Why Global Warming Will Cross a Dangerous Threshold in 2036,” Scientific American, April 1, 2014; “When might the world exceed 1.5C and 2C of global warming?,” Carbon Brief, December 4, 2020.

[45] Bill McGuire, Hothouse Earth (Icon Books: 2022), 26-27.

[46] IEA, “Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2021,” March 2022.

[47] See the UNFCCC’s Report, “Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement. Third session. Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. Synthesis report by the secretariat,” September 17, 2021.

[48] “Scientists categorize Earth as a toxic planet,” Phys.org, February 7, 2017; André Cicolella, Toxique planète. Le scandale invisible des maladies chroniques (Paris: Seuil, 2013).

[49] Pablo Solon (org.), Alternativas sistêmicas. Bem viver, decrescimento, comuns, ecofeminismo, direitos da Mãe Terra e desglobalização (São Paulo: Elefante, 2019); Luiz Marques, Capitalism and Environmental Collapse (Springer, 2020); Luiz Marques, O decênio decisivo. Propostas para uma política de sobrevivência (São Paulo: Elefante, 2023).

[50] Vanessa Albuquerque, “80% da produção brasileira é destinada ao mercado interno,” Brangus, June 6, 2022.

[51] Bruno Lupion, “Fome cresce e supera taxa de quando Bolsa Família foi criado,” DW, April 13, 2021.

[52] Walter Willett et al., “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems,” The Lancet 393, no. 10170 (2019).

[53] Russel A. Mittermeier, Gil Robles, and C. G. Mittermeier, Megadiversity: Earth’s Biologically Wealthiest Nations (1999); UNEP, Biodiversity A-Z: “Together, the Megadiversity Countries account for at least two thirds of all non-fish vertebrate species and three quarters of all higher plant species.”

[54] Quilombos are maroon communities, formed since the nineteenth century by enslaved people who took refuge in the forest.

[55] Patrícia Valim and Felipe Milanez, “Genocídio? Sim, genocídio,” Folha de São Paulo, December 27, 2021.

[56] INPE/PRODES, Monitoramento do Desmatamento da Floresta Amazônica Brasileira por Satélite: “Independente do instrumento utilizado, a área mínima mapeada pelo PRODES é de 6,25 hectares.”

[57] Aldem Bourscheit, “COP26: Nearly 500 million trees cut down in the Brazilian Amazon in 2021,” InfoAmazônia e PlenaMata, November 5, 2021.

[58] “Emissões do Brasil têm maior alta em 19 anos,” SEEG/Observatório do Clima, November 1, 2022.

[59] “Emissions Gap Report 2022. The Closing Window,” PNUMA, 2022.

[60] Paulo Artaxo, “Se fosse um país, a Amazônia seria o 9º maior emissor de gases de efeito estufa,” PlenaMata, November 3, 2021.

[61] “Emissions Impossible. How emissions from big meat and dairy are heating up the planet,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy & Changing Markets Foundation, November 15, 2022.

[62] “Ataque aos Guarani Kaiowá joga luz sobre paralisação da demarcação de Terras Indígenas,” Instituto Socioambiental, 13/VII/2022; Débora Pinto, “Relatório do GT dos Povos Originários pede novas demarcações de Terras Indígenas já no início do governo Lula,” ((o)) eco, December 15, 2022.

[63] Michael A. Clark et al., “Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5oC and 2oC climate change targets,” Science 370, no. 6517 (2020): 705-8.

[64] IPCC, Climate Change and Land, 2019: “If emissions associated with pre- and post-production activities in the global food system are included, the emissions are estimated to be 21–37% of total net anthropogenic GHG emissions (medium confidence)”; Francesco N. Tubiello, “Greenhouse gas emissions from food systems: building the evidence base,” Environmental Research Letters, 16, 2021.

[65] Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, “Global warming: Stop worrying, start panicking?” PNAS, September 23, 2008.

[66] Jeff Tollefson, “Top climate scientists are sceptical that nations will rein in global warming,” Nature, November 1, 2021.