UN climate summit begins in Dubai on November 30 and will readdress finance for loss and damage.
For nearly three decades, governments worldwide have convened annually to address the climate emergency on a global scale. Guided by the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), each nation is obligated by treaty to “prevent dangerous climate change” and explore equitable strategies for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
The term COP refers to the Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC, and these yearly gatherings have varied between contentious and uneventful, marked by instances of heightened tension, occasional triumphs (such as the Paris Agreement in 2015), and setbacks (as seen in Copenhagen in 2009). The current year marks the 28th iteration, poised to be a challenging sequel to the previous year when developing nations achieved success on crucial climate finance issues.
When will it start?
The United Arab Emirates will host the conference in Dubai, officially commencing on November 30. World leaders will participate in the World Climate Action Summit on December 1 and 2, after which high-ranking officials will continue with the substantive negotiations. The discussions are expected to conclude on December 12, although historical precedent indicates they might extend beyond this timeframe.
Given that we already have the Paris Agreement, why do we still need a cop?
Certainly. According to the historic Paris Agreement signed in 2015, nations pledged to limit global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with additional efforts to restrict the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. These objectives are legally binding and incorporated into the treaty.
Nevertheless, to achieve these objectives, countries also established non-binding national targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or for developing nations, to limit the growth of emissions in the short term—typically by 2030.
These targets, referred to as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), fell short of keeping the world within the temperature targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. If implemented, they would lead to a warming of 3 degrees Celsius or more, with catastrophic consequences.
Recognizing the inadequacy of the NDCs at the Paris Agreement, a “ratchet mechanism” was incorporated into the accord, requiring countries to revisit their commitments every five years. This five-year cycle concluded on December 31, 2020, and at Cop26 in November 2021, nations convened to establish new targets.
Didn’t Cop26 settle all of this?
The pivotal outcome at Cop26 was the collective decision by countries to prioritize the more challenging 1.5°C aspirational target outlined in the Paris Agreement. This acknowledgment stemmed from the understanding that the 2°C target could result in extensive devastation. Subsequent research conducted after the signing of the Paris Agreement revealed that a temperature increase of 2°C above pre-industrial levels would bring about climate system changes, many of which would be catastrophic and irreversible. Therefore, shifting the focus to the 1.5°C goal marks essential progress.
At Cop26, numerous countries revised their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and nations responsible for approximately three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions outlined long-term commitments to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by around the middle of the century. However, meeting the 1.5°C target requires not only achieving net-zero emissions by approximately 2050 but also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by half, compared to 2010 levels, during this decade. Unfortunately, the emissions commitments made at Cop26 were insufficient to meet this goal.
To address this, the Glasgow summit participants decided to expedite the ratchet mechanism, determining that progress on NDCs should be updated annually. Countries were encouraged to come forward this year, and as often as needed, with new NDCs until they are deemed sufficient.
What about Cop27 last year?
Cop27 took place in Egypt and represented a significant moment for developing countries advocating for addressing the “loss and damage” resulting from the climate crisis. “Loss and damage” encompasses the most severe impacts of climate-driven extreme weather events, such as the destructive floods in Pakistan last year or the drought in the Horn of Africa.
The matter of “loss and damage” has historically been a contentious issue at COPs, but there was a breakthrough last year. Developed countries finally agreed that a fund could be established to provide financial assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable nations when they are impacted by climate disasters. Nevertheless, the agreement reached in Egypt during COP27 marked just the initial stage, and at COP28, countries must work on transforming the fund from a concept into a tangible reality.
What’s taking so long, considering this is the 28th cop?
The prolonged use of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution has shaped the modern world’s reliance on cheap and easily accessible energy sources. This historical dependence has fueled prosperity, technological advancements, and economic growth. Transitioning away from fossil fuels necessitates substantial changes across energy systems, infrastructure, transportation, and societal behaviors, including dietary habits.
Achieving a global consensus on such a complex issue has proven challenging. Developed nations have been hesitant to bear the costs, while developing nations argue for the right to use fossil fuels to propel their economic development. Negotiations have been marked by debates over historical responsibility, burden-sharing, costs, scientific understanding, and political shifts, with instances like Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris agreement.
Despite these challenges, there are positive developments, including the significant cost reductions in renewable energy and green technologies, making them more economical than fossil fuels in many regions. Advances in electric vehicle technology and the exploration of new fuels like hydrogen also contribute to the ongoing energy transition. Cop28 takes place in a prominent oil and gas-producing country situated in the world’s key oil and gas-producing region, highlighting the pivotal role these nations play in determining our collective future.