The COP28 Climate Summit didn’t push Philadelphia deep into the C40 cities agenda, though what’s still to come is anyone’s guess.

C40? I’ll come back to that. 

But likely you already know about these climate summits staged under the aegis of the United Nations. The good and the great fly in on private jets. They talk very important talk. Then they jet home having told the world’s peoples what’s good for them while leaving the details to others in, say, Washington or Harrisburg or City Hall. 

The summiteers do this often. COP28: 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

COP28 closed this month with a call for “transitioning away from fossil fuels.” Do you have so much as a guess about what that means in the foreseeable future for your car, your stove, your fridge, your dishwasher, your house lights, your HVAC, and your food and water supply, to say nothing of the continuing industrial manufacture of products like those within your sight at this moment? 

No, me neither.

Al Gore scolded that COP28 didn’t do enough, whatever it was that it did. The Chinese got back to building more coal plants. 

This latest summit was held in Dubai, an Arab emirate and one-time petrostate known for its shift away from direct dependence on fossil fuels. The literal high point (half a mile high) of its new economy is the world’s tallest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa, built in Downtown Dubai with reinforced concrete and structural steel, the fabrication and transport of which depended on —Dare it be said?—fossil fuels.

Actually, it has been said, in effect, and by one Sultan Al Jaber, who served as the COP28 president. The head of both oil and renewable-energy companies in the United Arab Emirates, he gets a little testy in response to the alarmist rush toward “net zero” — no more emissions going into the atmosphere than coming out of it. Here’s the sultan during an on-line conference ahead of COP28: “Please, help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

Now let’s move on to C40, or what its promoters call “a global network of mayors of the world’s leading cities that are united in action to confront the climate crisis.” 

I’m going to take a wild guess: When in 2016 Jim Kenney commenced his stint as Philly’s mayor, he lacked the laser-like focus on climate which doomsayers might want from a municipal leader whose city had put its name to C40. Other matters came to occupy the man: re-election, Covid, carjackings. Nevertheless, who could object to falling in with the crowd? New York signed on to C40, as did Los Angeles and London, Boston and Yokohama, Chicago and Dar es Salaam. C40 was growing to something more like C100. When there came the chance to attend a C40 meeting in Copenhagen, Kenney allowed that it took some coaxing by his staff to get him there. He made the trip, though, and talked about parks and libraries.

Here’s another guess: Kenney didn’t lose sleep weighing the unsettled science of climate change against “THE SCIENCE, YOU IDIOT!!!” If the city could take a fair part of its power from a new solar-panel field outside Gettysburg, why not? If his administration was saying pedestrian-only streets made cities more livable, fine. (Jane Jacobs was making that argument in The Death and Life of Great American Cities half a century before a couple women thought to rescue planet Earth by putting on their “Just Stop Oil” T-shirts, walking into London’s National Gallery, and pitching tomato soup on a glass-protected van Gogh.)

One last guess: If Kenney ever divined what the zealots steering C40 really had in mind, the old pol must have thought they were stark raving mad. The C40 publication of a “pioneering piece of thought leadership” offers these targets for “consumption climate action.” Air travel, one short-haul return flight (shorter than 932 miles) per person every three years — think about the consequences for Philadelphia International Airport. Private-vehicle ownership, none — think Philadelphia Auto Show. Clothing consumption, three new items per person per year — think Fashion District. Dairy consumption, none — think Wawa. Meat consumption, none — think Pat’s cheesesteaks, though mushrooms might fill the void. 

To be clear: These would be the “ambitious” targets for 2030 to reach certain ultimate emission limits — targets meant merely, as C40 puts it, for cities to “reflect on.” A more modest “progressive” target for short-haul flights, for example, would be one every two years; for vehicles, 190 per 1,000 people (rough estimates as of now: United States, 908; China, 221; United Kingdom, 600, Japan, 661.)

What C40 wanted from COP28 was a full-throated demand for the “phaseout” of fossil fuels on the path to net zero by 2050. Yes, 2050. That would be 27 years from now — 27 years to substantially replace the energy sources underlying a material prosperity beyond the imagining of anyone living before the 19th century. It took the Phillies longer just to go from one World Series title (1980) to another (2008). 

Contrary to what C40 wanted, what it got was the compromising nuance of “transitioning,” yet among like-minded catastrophists it retains an ally in UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Having pronounced himself upset by the result of COP28, he continues to press for hastening the “inevitable” end of a world powered by oil, coal, and natural gas.

COP29 is scheduled for next November in Azerbaijan. Watch then for more from the true believers within C40 about what they want the next world to look like. 

Richard Koenig is the author of the Kindle Single No Place to Go, an account of efforts to provide toilets during a cholera epidemic in Ghana.

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