Descending upon the podiums
Once again world leaders are taking to their podiums for another round of COP, this time taking place in the oil-rich UAE. From the end of November to the 12th December, leaders, scientists, activists and celebrities descend on Dubai’s Expo city to discuss progress and pathways forward for addressing the climate crisis.
The negotiating parties include governments that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and/or the Paris Agreement. Since COP21 in 2015, the COPs have mostly focussed on how to implement the Paris Agreement, which has three main goals: keep global average temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; adapt to climate change and build resilience; and align finance flows with ‘a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.
Decisions at COP are taken by consensus. Coupled with the differing needs and interests of parties, this means reaching agreement can be a painstaking and highly charged process.
The conference aims to accelerate efforts to limit global temperature increases and mitigate the far-reaching consequences of climate change. COP28 is significant for several reasons, but most notably because it concludes the first global stocktake (GST), the primary mechanism for assessing progress under the Paris Agreement. The world is currently far off track to meet the agreement’s goals, but there is hope that governments at COP28 will devise a roadmap to expedite climate action.
Key achievements already
Negotiators have already successfully cleared a landmark loss and damage deal to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries pay for the damage caused by climate disaster. Host country UAE and Germany both pledged $100m (£79m) to the loss and damage startup fund, which will aim to keep up with the rising costs caused by extreme weather and disasters such as sea level rise and ocean acidification.
Key Agendas on the Table
The parties of COP also need to agree on a framework for the Paris Agreement’s global goal on adaptation (GGA). The GGA is intended to focus countries’ efforts to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change, but no clear definition of the goal is given in the Paris Agreement and little progress has been made to define it since. It is hoped that the new framework will both define the goal and offer ways to measure progress towards its achievement.
In addition, discussions on energy transition, food systems transformation, and climate finance are expected to receive substantial attention across various negotiating streams during COP28. The Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) is preparing a report on the pledge by developed countries to double adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025, as agreed at COP26.
Finance for adaptation falls far short of what is needed and is dwarfed by the scale of future need. In 2022, the UN Environment Programme estimated developing countries’ annual adaptation needs to be $160-340 billion by 2030 and $315-565 billion by 2050. To put this in perspective, the IMF estimates fossil fuel subsidies were $7 trillion globally in 2022.
Notable Absences and Controversies
US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, presidents of the world’s largest emitting countries, agreed to cooperate on addressing climate change at a rare meeting in November. However, neither of them are expected to attend COP28, instead Harris is representing the US.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will also not be attending, despite receiving an invitation from Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Pope Francis cancelled his attendance two days before the summit due to flu and lung inflammation. He would have been the first pontiff to address the summit.
The main controversy that has already occurred is The president of Cop28, Sultan Al Jaber, has claiming there is “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5C. This comment sparked widespread responses from scientists and politicians, saying that they were “incredibly concerning” and “verging on climate denial”.
Civil Society and Protests
As the official negotiations unfold behind closed doors, civil society groups and climate activists are organising events and protests to ensure their voices are heard. Some protests have already taken place, including to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, but the demonstrations have mostly been small and not disruptive.
It has been reported that the UAE organisers have declined permission for some protests, including one singling out the airline Emirates as a polluter. In a country where protest is prohibited, there have been calls for COP28’s hosts and organisers to ensure protesters will be safe, but they have so far declined to clarify how they are handling dissent.
COP28 holds the promise of being a pivotal moment in the global fight against climate change. The decisions and commitments made during this conference will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of international efforts to address the climate crisis.