Climate Change

COP28 – thin lifeline at the end of hottest year ever

Photo: COP28 / Christopher Edralin / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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December 6, 2023

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Published:

December 6, 2023

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At the leading annual climate change conference COP28 in Dubai, international organizations propose guidelines hoping to achieve a consensus that would contribute to a faster transition from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy solutions. Conversely, representatives of the fossil fuel industry, including the conference chairman and host, hold a different stance. They are downplaying the urgency of abandoning fossil fuels. In the first days of the event, an agreement was reached to establish a fund aimed at assisting vulnerable and economically underdeveloped countries most affected by climate change.

Officially, COP28 is the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UN’s climate change conferences are the main multilateral forum, attracting delegations from nearly all countries of the world.

Regardless of how imperfect, criticized, or even controversial COP28 might be in the current format – besides being hosted by one of the biggest fossil fuel producers – such a global summit remains indispensable.

It is the largest gathering of world leaders this year, with approximately 70,000 attendees. The participants and organizers have immense responsibility, as they play a crucial role in establishing at least a minimum consensus and guiding global strategies that impact our planet’s climate and future.

World leaders pose for a group photo in Dubai on December 1, 2023 / Photo: COP28, Mahmoud Khaled / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

The conference is set to last until December 12 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The decision to organize it in a city owing its wealth primarily to fossil fuels is controversial by itself.

Controversial interpretation of science

Host and President of COP28 Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber stated at one of the panel discussions that the call to abandon fossil fuels is not scientifically grounded.

As reported by the Guardian and the Centre for Climate Reporting, he expressed the view that there is no scientific evidence that abandoning fossil fuels would keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Al Jaber, who also heads the ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) and serves as the CEO of Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy company, argued there is no clear roadmap indicating that abandoning fossil fuels would foster sustainable socio-economic development “unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

His statement prompted condemnation from the scientific community and beyond. Al Jaber later claimed his words were misinterpreted.

ADNOC is the largest oil company in the United Arab Emirates and the twelfth-largest oil company in the world by oil production. According to a Wikipedia article, in 2021, the company has an oil production capacity exceeding four million barrels per day, with plans to increase daily production by 25% by 2030.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President of COP28 Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber / Photo: COP28, Kiara Worth / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”

The UN secretary-general also appeals to science

At the same venue, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a different perspective to the participants of the COP28.

“The science is clear: The 1.5 C limit is only possible if we stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not abate. Phase out, with a clear timeframe,” said the UN Secretary-General.

Guterres: Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible only if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presented its report in Dubai and confirmed that 2023 is the warmest year on record. According to data collected until the end of October, the average global temperature throughout the year was about 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The central dilemma at COP28 is whether to phase out or phase down fossil fuels

The stance on using fossil fuels is being debated through varying terminology used at the conference – the abandonment or the reduction in the use of fossil fuels. This could influence the overall success of COP28 and its final declaration, which may also shape and impact future climate and energy policies.

Even though 2023 is the warmest year on record, and the scientific community warns of an alarming situation as we approach a point of no return in climate crisis, there is no clear consensus on the urgency of the fossil fuel phase out.

There is a search for consensus based on reducing the use of fossil fuels rather than a gradual phase-out

At the conference in Dubai, the discussion is not explicitly limited to the process of a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels but also involves lobbying for a consensus based on reducing the use of fossil fuels (phase-down).

The conference’s central dilemma precisely revolves around whether the final text of COP28 will include a resolution on the gradual phase-out of fossil fuels.

Photo: COP28, Kiara Worth / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Considering that one percent of the wealthiest individuals on the planet are responsible for more emissions than five billion of the poorest, it’s unsurprising that even a panel discussion on sustainable yachting occurred at the Dubai conference.

Birol appeals to the fossil fuel industry

One of the major topics and questions at the conference is whether transitioning the fossil fuel industry to clean energy is possible, considering that companies in the sector invest only 2.5% of their capital expenditures in renewable energy sources.

The fossil fuel industry currently invests only 2.5% of its capital expenditures in renewable energy sources

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), emphasized that the use of fossil fuels will peak by 2030. He appeals to the fossil fuel industry to transition to renewable energy, highlighting that they will face a sharp economic decline if this does not happen.

Five guidelines for achieving Paris Agreement goals

Based on current climate policies worldwide, the IEA warns that global emissions will remain high enough to raise average global temperatures by about 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, well above the target set by the Paris Agreement.

Photo: COP28, Kiara Worth / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

The IEA has proposed a global strategy of five critical pillars by the decade’s end. By 2030, the goals include:

  • Tripling capacities for renewable energy sources globally.
  • Doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
  • Reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations by 75%.
  • Creating innovative financial mechanisms to double investments in emerging clean energy in emerging and developing economies.
  • Implementing solid measures for a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, including an end to new approvals of unabated coal-fired power plants.

The IEA underscores that bending the emissions curve on a path consistent with the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible but very challenging.

The good news is that all the outlined measures to be taken during this decade to keep the 1.5 target within reach are based on known technologies and proven policies, said IEA.

Modest start of the loss and damage fund

On the first day of the conference, an agreement was reached to establish a global fund for developing countries affected by the climate crisis – the Loss and Damage Fund.

An agreement has been reached to establish a global fund for developing countries affected by the climate crisis

The decision, at least declaratively, hints at a climate justice process. At the core of the Loss and Damage Fund is the responsibility of developed countries for historical carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions that have occurred since the beginning of the industrial revolution over the past 150 years.

Photo: COP28, Walaa Alshaer / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Historical emissions have caused climate disruption, and today, the consequences are borne by the poorest countries and regions that lack sufficient resources to cope with the climate crisis.

Details of the financial mechanism are expected to be finalized by the end of the conference.

As stated during the conference, the entire donation package will be transparently overseen by the World Bank. The host country and Germany were the first to contribute USD 100 million each to the fund.

However, losses and damages from climate change in developing countries are estimated to be much higher, exceeding USD 400 billion annually, with further increases expected based on the effectiveness of global efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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