As COP28 talks in Dubai drew to an official close, the summit headed into overtime with the final deal on the future of the climate yet to be settled.
A new draft is expected to be brought to the table on Wednesday after the proposed text released yesterday by COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, drew widespread criticism for its failure to mention the phase-out of fossil fuels.
Australia, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Norway and the United States are among those who have criticized the draft. However, Saudi Arabia, accused of blocking a call to phase out fossil fuels, has described it as a “good base” to work from.
Meanwhile, the early departure of the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Minister, Graham Stuart, from the summit this morning riled climate campaigners and politicians.
“This is an outrageous dereliction of leadership at the most critical point during this conference. This is the moment when we need to see bold political commitments to unlock the gridlock on the text,” Greenpeace’s Rebecca Newsom told The Guardian.
As further evidence of the need for action, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service revealed that emissions from the Canadian wildfires in 2023 were the highest ever recorded anywhere in the world.
The fires engulfed 18 million hectares, discharging the equivalent of 1,761 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – close to five times the average of the past 20 years.
In other news, the loss and damage fund that was unveiled at the start of the summit has received close to US$800 million in pledges across the course of the summit. But there’s still a long way to go for the fund to provide success.
“Initial pledges are very, very low compared to need,” said The Loss and Damage Collaboration’s Julie-Anne Richards.
To read our previous COP28 daily updates, click here.
“Stop dawdling and start doing. Most governments are still strolling when they need to be running,” said United Nations Climate Chief Simon Stiell ahead of this week’s 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP).
Stiell’s words couldn’t be more stark as yet another record-shattering year for global temperatures draws to an end, with experts warning of an impending global catastrophe if, as seems inevitable, carbon emissions targets are missed.
This year, COP28 takes place from 30 November until 12 December and welcomes over 80,000 delegates, including 167 political leaders, monarchs, activists, diplomats, business representatives and lobbyists from 198 countries around the world.
They’re gathered in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates – one of the world’s biggest oil producers but, ironically, also particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
At the third COP meeting in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was proudly unveiled as salvation for an overheating planet, but at the time, few major polluters had signed up, so it was doomed to fail from the start.
Then, in 2015, hopes were pinned on its successor, the Paris Accord, a treaty aimed at limiting global warming this century to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
At each year’s COP, delegates are updated on progress, or lack thereof, of the world meeting these targets. This year’s COP has already been overshadowed by the latest United Nations Environment Programme report, which makes for grim reading.
It concludes that the world’s 1.5 degrees Celsius target is effectively dead in the water and that even trying for a two degrees Celsius rise would require cutting predicted 2030 emissions by a whopping 28 percent.
This year’s COP has already been overshadowed by the latest United Nations Environment Programme report, which makes for grim reading.
Climate scientists now believe a new era of ‘global boiling’ means a three degree Celsius increase is more likely. In that scenario, sea levels would rise by more than half a meter in just a few decades, potentially displacing more than 800 million people.
The fact that the likes of King Charles aare glad-handing at COP28 shows just how high the stakes have become. They won’t be joined, however, by the presidents of the world’s two biggest polluters, the United States and China, who have sent representatives in their place.
The choice of host nation for the COP28, which has been widely criticized, has not helped expectations for the event. Nor has the appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as President-Designate – especially as his firm intends to expand its production of fossil fuels.
Among those protesting in the lead up to the event were the European Union, 130 United States lawmakers and Amnesty International.
Climate agitator Greta Thunberg described it as “completely ridiculous” while Kenyan climate justice campaigner Eric Njuguna despaired that it represented a “stab in the back for poor countries”.
In his recent TED talk, American politician, businessman and environmentalist Al Gore lamented that fossil fuel interests “have brazenly seized control of the COP process”.
Al Jaber, meanwhile, argues that his poacher-turned-gamekeeper status makes him ideally placed to drive change from within. Unsurprisingly, he says the debate shouldn’t be just about banning oil.
“We cannot unplug the world from the current energy system before we build a new energy system,” he told TIME Magazine.
He has also been quick to point out that no former COP president has ever confronted the oil industry head-on until now. “Not having oil and gas and high-emitting industries on the same table is not the right thing to do,” he said.
“We need this integrated approach.”
However, a recent BBC report suggests the United Arab Emirates has different plans for such table talks, and no intention of unplugging the oil pipes anytime soon. Investigators uncovered proof that the country was actively exploiting its hosting duties to negotiate new oil and gas deals with 27 nations, an accusation United Arab Emirates delegates are yet to deny.
It’s estimated that even the patchy progress achieved since the Kyoto Protocol was introduced in 1997 has prevented a temperature rise of up to six degrees Celsius by 2100.
United Kingdom climate politics expert Professor Michael Jacobs described the revelation as “breathtakingly hypocritical”.
“In the very same meetings where it’s apparently trying to pursue [emissions reductions] it’s actually trying to do side deals, which will increase global emissions,” he said.
But despite cynicism about the hosts, and repeated failures to meet targets, the COP28 summit is still critical. It’s estimated that even the patchy progress achieved since the Kyoto Protocol was introduced in 1997 has prevented a temperature rise of up to six degrees Celsius by 2100.
Al Jaber is certainly ambitious in his hopes for the summit. In a letter to delegates, he outlined four paradigm shifts he wanted COP28 to focus on:
• Fast-tracking energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030.
• Transforming climate finance by delivering on promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance.
• Putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action.
• Mobilizing for the most inclusive COP ever.
Conceding that the group had strayed “off-track”, he said a course correction would require three actions:
1. Identifying implementation gaps and rallying all parties for concrete steps to achieve the Paris Accord’s 1.5 degrees Celsius target.
2. New financial, political and technological resources to frame collaboration.
3. A call to action for how governments, businesses and individuals can play their part.
While critics point to the absence of detail, there’s also a sense that COP remains the world’s best chance to prevent the threatened catastrophe from becoming something even more devastating. The delegates may need to either invent a new word for whatever supersedes a ‘catastrophe’ or move on to using ‘apocalypse’ or ‘cataclysm’.
But, as Global Citizen’s Michael Sheldrick points out, just because COP is flawed, it doesn’t mean it should be written off.
“It’s hard to say where we’d be without a yearly push to jolt governments into action,” he said. “We wouldn’t see much national collective action without the attention COPs generate.”
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland declared on the eve of COP28 that the time for excuses is now over.
“The worst predictions of climate change have become a daily reality,” she said. “In the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable countries, fertile lands are turning to dust, wells are running dry, storms and floods are overwhelming communities and the ocean is rising. The health of us all and of our planet rests on a 1.5 degrees Celsius degree cap on global warming.”