Is COP28 going to help save our planet?

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Head of Strategy, Energy Transition of the Office of the UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, Abdulla Malek addresses the panellists at the opening ceremony for Energy Day during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The most important discussions around climate change began in the United Arab Emirates, where world leaders, scientists, lobbyists, environmental advocates, and business leaders will discuss strategies for best ways to efficiently tackle climate change in the coming years. The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, is the forefront of establishing ambitious policies at a global scale to promote the rapid reduction of warming temperatures.

The Arguments

COP28 is part of the annual meetings under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This body has been instrumental in shaping international responses to climate change, including agreements like the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol.

COP28 holds a prominent position in establishing global policies aimed at swiftly reduce the escalating impact of rising temperatures. Experts emphasize that fostering awareness and accountability is a paramount objective of this climate conference, considering the urgency and gravity of the current climate crisis. Scientific reports in 2023 show the tangible and immediate effects of climate change, such as difficulties in maintaining safe homes and healthy families.

Also, the fact that 2023 is the hottest year than in any other year on record, reinforce the need for urgent action. This year is currently 1.43C above the pre-industrial average and has been witnessing a surge in extreme weather events, including record-breaking wildfires, coastal erosion, intense storms, and droughts across various regions. This shows the significance of COP28 in the global fight against climate change.

There is a significant gap between countries’ emissions reduction promises and the actions required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Fossil fuels, carbon capture, nuclear energy, and financial contributions for developing countries facing climate-related losses are the central topics of discussion.

The ongoing summit has witnessed a series of commitments across various crucial areas. There have been significant pledges in finance, food systems, renewable energy, reduction in coal usage, endorsement of nuclear power, and commitments from major oil and gas companies to reduce both CO2 and methane emissions.

It is already clear that the world is not on track to meet the climate change targets that governments set themselves in Paris in 2015. In numerical terms, COP28 will be a failure, like all the climate summits that came before it. Leaders are accused of lacking the moral and political will to save the planet.

The Facts

The president of COP28, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, asserted that there is “no science” supporting the notion that a phased-out approach to fossil fuels is necessary to limit global heating to 1.5C. He also said a phase-out of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.

His remarks raised huge concerns among scientists with some describing Al Jaber’s comments as “incredibly concerning” and bordering on “climate denial.” These remarks contradict the stance of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who tried in the last month to raise awareness against the climate change. His remarks show also a conflict of interest, as Al-Jaber not only presides over COP28, but also serves as the CEO of ADNOC, the state oil company of the United Arab Emirates.

Shortly before the summit, leaked documents showed that the UAE had planned to use climate meetings to promote oil and gas deals. This prompted outcry of the international NGOs who battle climate change. Also, Hilda Heine, a member of the primary advisory board for the COP28 and former president of the climate-vulnerable Marshall Islands, stepped down from the board, highlighting that such actions were not only deeply disappointing, but also posed a risk to the credibility of the multilateral negotiation process.

Over 100 countries have already expressed support for a phase-out of fossil fuels. The language used in the final COP28 agreement, whether explicitly calling for a phase-out or opting for milder terms like “phase-down,” is among the most debated issues at the summit and could be a critical factor in determining its success. Urgent and substantial reductions are imperative to achieve zero fossil fuel emissions swiftly, thereby curbing the escalating climate impacts. The United States, being the world’s largest oil and gas producer, endorses such a phase-out. Conversely, countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China reject this proposal. COP28 is considering both options, along with proposals to specifically mention coal or to avoid any explicit reference to fossil fuels. But in 2021, when a historic agreement to “phase-out” coal use was reached, the phrase was changed to “phase-down” at the last minute. It’s hard to believe that the final declaration of the summit will include any “phase-out” timeline.

Over the years, governments worldwide were retracting from their net-zero commitments due to concerns about inflation, the cost of living, and geopolitical issues. Politicians are making the calculation that saving the planet won’t secure their re-election. This is why, probably, the final declaration of COP28 will just adjust the narrative and the timeline of any real measures against climate change.


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