UN climate talks resume in just under a month, with some soul-searching to do after the organisation’s first global stocktake highlighted how short we have fallen on our journey to net zero:
20 to 24 gigatonnes of CO2.
If a gigatonne is a quantity you’re struggling to comprehend, look at this NASA video for a visual representation.
That’s “the gap to emissions consistent with limiting warming to 1.5° C in 2030,” the September report explains. It goes on to deliver a conclusion that isn’t likely to go down well for the many countries still heavily reliant on fossil fuels: that meeting the agreed-upon climate goals requires “phasing out all unabated fossil fuels”.
This is a major fault line world leaders will need to bridge when they meet at COP28.
When is COP28?
Thursday, 30 November to Tuesday 12 December 2023.
Where is COP28 being held?
COP28 is being held at the Expo City, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Fossil fuels, finance, and the future
Against this backdrop, COP28 will strive towards reaching some critical agreements around important and ambitious goals, as outlined by Sultan Al Jaber, president-designate of the summit. These include:
A “massive expansion of renewable energy” to fast-track the energy transition by tripling global capacity to 11 TW to eliminate some 22 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and meet the 1.5° C warming target.
Less consensus evidently exists on the role that fossil fuels will continue to play in the energy mix, and for how long, as well as the effectiveness of technologies to capture GHG emissions.
Also on the cards is a new framework of climate finance - one that allows for a greater flow of capital from wealthy countries and multinational development banks to help developing nations combat the impact of climate change. Wealthy nations have yet to collectively meet their promise of delivering $100 billion per year to help poorer countries lower their carbon emissions and transition to cleaner forms of energy.
Management around phasing out fossil fuels and the transformation of the current climate finance model will require genuine solidarity, collaboration and partnerships to produce meaningful environmental outcomes and render COP28 a success. There are hard yards ahead, in the words of Spain’s Climate Minister Teresa Ribera, “We need to ensure that we are creating the conditions to make this possible.”
Recap: What happened at COP27? Was it a success?
COP27, held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 – 18 November 2022, was billed as an implementation-focused COP but ultimately produced mixed results. Crucially, it fell short on mitigation goals and failed to produce crucial agreements on fossil fuels. An Indian proposal to ‘phase down’ fossil fuel use, which had the support of more than 80 governments, was not passed.
The failure of the parties to agree on an energy roadmap that reflected the urgency of the scientific assessment has been criticised for jeopardising the UNFCCC goal of limiting the average increase in global temperature to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.
At the same time, the establishment of a ‘Loss and Damage’ fund marked a historic achievement that offers hope to nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Progress regarding Article 7.1’s Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) was modest, while discussions around Article 6 gained momentum towards how it would be operationalised in the market and non-market carbon environments.
A ‘coalition of the willing’ and commitments from financial institutions also made some progress in gearing up towards meeting the estimated US$32 trillion needed in investment over the next decade to reach the goals and targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Parties will want more tangible outcomes heading into COP28.
Stances leading into COP28
In April 2023, the G7 committed to speeding up their phaseout of unabated fossil fuel consumption, pledging to collectively increase energy from wind by 150 gigawatts and solar capacity to more than 1 terawatt by 2030.
The European Union heads to COP28 with among the most ambitious climate stances, that advocates for global fossil fuel phaseout and renewable energy expansion, but it’s not watertight.
Internal divisions remain between wealthier EU nations advocating swift change and poorer economies concerned about costs.
And it’s not without concessions, nor vagueness on key issues such as when fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out. These fault lines between members are likely only to be magnified at COP28.
China, the world’s biggest fossil fuel consumer, is among those signalling that it intends to keep using fossil fuels for decades, and Russia has already indicated it will oppose any call to phase-out “any specific energy source or fossil type”.
Other oil and gas-rich nations including Saudi Arabia are also against any definitive phase-out.
African and Indian negotiators, meanwhile, head into COP28 calling on wealthier countries to substantially increase their efforts to combat the effects of climate change. Among greater financial contributions, African states are also seeking to pressure developed countries to stop approving new fossil fuel production projects by 2030. The Indian stance calls on developed nations to go beyond net zero and begin removing carbon from the atmosphere by 2050.
These varying positions will play out across the summit.
Key Themes at COP28 are:
- Health and Relief, Recovery and Peace
- Finance / Trade / Gender Equality / Accountability
- Energy and Industry / Just Transition / Indigenous Peoples
- Multilevel Action, Urbanisation and Built Environment / Transport
- Youth, Children, Education and Skills
- Nature, Land Use, and Oceans
- Food, Agriculture and Water
What’s new at COP28? Impact of climate change on farming
The intersection of climate change and food systems will also come under focus at COP28 for the first time, providing an opportunity to address the critical role of farming and its impact on climate change.
Up to a third of global food production is outside ‘safe climatic space’ and at risk due to the climate crisis, researchers from the Aalto University and the University of Zurich suggest, while agriculture itself contributes significantly to carbon emissions. Experts stress the need to go beyond hi-tech solutions and focus on transforming unsustainable diets and agricultural practices.
The costs of net zero
Plans to achieve net zero by 2050 are already in stormy waters. On the economic front, achieving it will require a massive industrial buildout that a simulation by McKinsey suggests could cost some US$275 trillion.
Meanwhile, political backlash against left-leaning environmental policies has already impacted many Western countries, from Sweden and Italy to New Zealand. In the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned of the potential for revolt should voters know the true “unacceptable costs” of transforming the UK into a net zero carbon emitter by 2050, pushing back bans on new petrol cars from 2030 to 2035.
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