In the heyday of newspapers there were certain stereotypical headlines notorious among journalists for their capacity to repel readers. High on the list was “Worthwhile Canadian initiative”, though Justin Trudeau’s PR people clearly don’t know it. And now online media steps up with a late entry that renders satire as futile as films like Young Heroic Sisters of the Mongolian Grassland or The Seven Brave Tractor Drivers: “Egypt’s climate plan lands”. The actual story might more properly have been called “Egypt’s climate plan crash-lands” because, CHN says, “With four months to go until Egypt hosts the next UN climate talks, Cairo has updated its national contribution to the global effort. Its previous climate submission was evasive, with a list of the government’s mega-projects and nothing resembling a target. From that low bar, the new plan is an improvement, leading with a goal to get 42% of electricity from renewables by 2035. It still allows emissions to rise, blaming economic woes for hindering ambition.” And here we thought cutting emissions was a great path to prosperity.
This headline, from Climate Home News, is so fulfilling because of its masterful reminder of how pitiful the responses often are from people who claim the crisis is overwhelming. Planet on fire; ride an e-scooter. Really? It was that trivial?
But while our ban on vulgarity prevents us from quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response when told shortly after Pearl Harbor that Romania had declared war on the United States, what possible steps by the Egyptian government, conceivable or otherwise, could possibly matter to the global situation? It currently barely manages to generate 0.6% of global human emissions.
In Canada, we suffer the delusion that we set an example to which others are hypnotically drawn. And not just on climate; we think our health care system is the envy of the world although nobody ever seems to propose or attempt imitating it. But we are often told that while any reduction in emissions we might achieve would, in concrete terms, mean nothing, we need to lead by example and not look back to see if anyone’s following.
Obviously politicians’ capacity for sincere self-aggrandizement would, if it could be converted to electricity, permit us to power the entire grid. So it is not inconceivable that somewhere in Egypt some windbag thinks the world is watching to see what Cairo does about carbon. More probably they’re just trying to put up a vaguely defensible façade as the world prepares to gather in Sharm el-Sheik in November for yet another COP gabfest, the 27th in a long row whose purpose is more baffling than any pyramid or sphinx.
CHN does allow that “Officials want Cop27 to make the case for a faster shift to renewables, to underpin food and energy security. Observers are sceptical, seeing the Sharm el-Sheikh summit as little more than a tourism ad, far from the gritty reality of Egyptian life.” But whether the Egyptian government is hyping tourism and not showing the less vibrant parts of Cairo to its high-flying visitors, the real story isn’t its climate plan at all.
Now if it were China’s… it would be even more disappointing, and far more consequential. Instead CHN says “To salvage a win in these circumstances, the Cop27 presidency will have to get out of its comfort zone and engage with critics.” Which approaches the “quiet green ideas sleep furiously” level of grammatically plausible word salad to which no actual meaning can be attached.
P.S. In case you’re keeping score, Young Heroic Sisters of the Mongolian Grassland is a real film praised by Xi Jinping in The Governance of China: Volume I (p. 202) while The Seven Brave Tractor Drivers is satire by Peter Sellers (although it is now apparently also the name of a band). But if you didn’t know you couldn’t guess, which is the point.