Tens of thousands are converging on Dubai this December for COP28, the annual United Nations-led international climate summit. With the urgency to avert irreversible damage from fossil fuel pollution, global leaders, negotiators, climate advocates, and industry representatives are focusing on adapting to increasingly lethal heatwaves, more powerful storms, and catastrophic sea-level rise.
In a bid to understand the nuances of the world’s most crucial climate change conference, it’s imperative to delve into the roots of COP. Over 30 years ago, a UN treaty was signed by over 150 nations to curb the alarming rise of planet-warming pollution. The inaugural Conference of the Parties (COP) convened in Berlin in 1995. In 2015, COP21 saw over 190 countries endorsing the Paris Agreement, aiming to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees. Despite its landmark status, the agreement lacked specificity on implementation strategies.
As COP28 unfolds, controversy surrounds its host, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a major oil-producing nation. Critics argue that appointing Sultan Al Jaber, head of the UAE’s national oil company, as COP president, creates a conflict of interest. Responding to concerns, the UAE initiated a campaign to enhance its green credentials ahead of the summit. The controversy led over 100 US Congress and European Parliament members to call for Al Jaber’s resignation, citing potential undermining of negotiations. However, some, including US climate envoy John Kerry, praised Al Jaber’s appointment, emphasizing the UAE’s commitment to emissions reduction targets.
The roster of attendees at COP28 is illustrious, with over 160 nations, including major players like the UK, France, Germany, and Japan. Notably, King Charles III will address the opening ceremony, and while Pope Francis had planned to attend, his cancellation due to health reasons has been a setback. Notably absent from the speaker list are US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping, leaders of the world’s top polluting countries. In their stead, US Vice President Kamala Harris will attend, marking a response to criticism over Biden’s absence.
A notable presence at COP28 is expected from major oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, and Iran. Despite concerns that the Israel-Hamas conflict could overshadow climate action, representatives from both Israel and the Palestinian territories are slated to speak. Additionally, the UAE has extended invitations to fossil fuel executives, anticipating new commitments to decarbonize. Wall Street heavyweights, led by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, are also expected, bringing financial perspectives to the climate talks.
Eight years post-Paris Agreement, the global stocktake at COP28 reveals minimal progress in slashing climate pollution. The first scorecard, published in September, highlights the urgent need for action. Melanie Robinson, the global climate program director for the World Resources Institute, acknowledges the wake-up call provided by the stocktake, urging a roadmap for effective climate goal achievement.
Central to COP28 are carryovers from COP27, namely finalizing a “loss and damage” fund and navigating the transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels. A crucial debate centers on whether to “phase out” or “phase down” fossil fuels. At COP27, nations like China and Saudi Arabia obstructed a proposal to phase out all fossil fuels, emphasizing the importance of unequivocal language covering all fossil fuels.
The loss and damage fund, a pivotal issue from the previous agreement, aims to channel funds from wealthy countries responsible for the majority of climate crisis impacts to poorer nations. The goal is to operationalize the fund by 2024, with a special committee recommending the World Bank as its temporary trustee. Nate Warszawski, a research associate with WRI’s International Climate Action team, underscores the delicate nature of the loss and damage fund, identifying it as a key determinant of COP28’s success or failure.
As COP28 unfolds, the world watches with anticipation, hoping for resolutions that propel global efforts toward mitigating climate change. The dynamics of this conference underscore the urgency and complexity of addressing the climate crisis on a global scale.