COP Matters More than Ever


The Conference of the Parties or the COP28 began on November 30 amidst many controversies and debates in the oil-rich nation of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai hosts the largest annual climate action summit till December 12, which is expected to witness over 70,000 delegates from across the globe with a single mission of fast -tracking energy transition and slash emissions.

The world’s single multilateral decision-making forum on climate change, COP28 comes at a time when most scientists globally have sounded alarm bells on climate change being a threat to human well-being and planetary health. The summit also becomes crucial on whether global community can slash planet-warming emissions enough to meet Paris Agreement targets. The landmark COP21 in Paris eight years ago had two hundred countries pledging to keep global temperature rises “well below” 2-degree C and “pursue efforts” to limit them to 1.5-degree C, crucial to avoiding the most dangerous climate impacts.

There have been significant concerns raised on the COP28 President, Sultan Al Jaber’s dual role as head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, a perceived conflict of interest. However, Mr. Al Jaber emphasised on bridging the historical gap between developed and developing nations in his opening address.

One of the most crucial elements, that the COP27 in Egypt had ended with, was the creation of a loss and damage fund, a global financial package for rescue and rehabilitation of countries facing the cascading effects of climate change. The fund specifically accentuated responsibility of rich nations, whose industrial growth resulted in global warming, to pay poorer nations with lower carbon footprint a compensation for the rising sea levels, floods, crippling droughts, and intense cyclones, among others.

Why COP matters more than ever?

As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN Panel, had said in its report that the failure to prevent the earth from heating 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels will lead to irreversible adverse impacts on certain ecosystems with low resilience. In fact, global temperatures were around 1.4-degree C above the pre-industrial average for the first 10 months of 2023, making it the hottest year on record. Greenhouse gas emissions displaced millions while climate change and extreme weather events killed thousands too during the year, continuing the trend of the recent years.

UN Secretary General Mr. António Guterres had spoken about Antarctica being awoken due to climate chaos and its sea ice reaching all all-time low. Further, 2023 was the hottest year, while the previous eight years have been the warmest on record, spurred by surging greenhouse gas concentrations and accumulated heat.

This can spell a doom for about half of the global population, being concentrated in the vulnerable regions. In fact, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were fifteen times higher in the highly vulnerable regions in the last decade.

In 2022, the Emergency Event Database EM-DAT recorded 387 natural hazards as well as disasters globally causing loss of 30,704 lives and impacting 185 million individuals. This was made worse by the economic losses of about USD 223.8 billion, a number that has been only rising with each subsequent year.

Big Matters at COP 28

The event will be the first “Global Stocktake,” a process in which countries look at their place on planet-warming emissions vis-à-vis the globe needs for meeting Paris targets. A vociferous and high decibel campaign across the globe has been witnessed as the CEO of a national oil company, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, is chairing the current COP. Furthermore, the fossil fuel industry has been invited to an extent not witnessed since the first COP.

As per a report by the International Energy Agency, the oil and gas industry spend about 2.5 per cent of its budget on the energy transition, which needs to surge to 50 per cent by 2030 for meeting the Paris goals.

Although energy transition debate will be at the forefront, geopolitics and strife may cast a shadow over COP, as a number of key actors are either engaged in economic or military tensions and conflicts. The Bonn Summit in June was a mixed bag with financing and mitigation programmes being the stumbling blocks.

Adaptation, which has long been paid less attention, becomes crucial for confronting changing climate. Some reports by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stressed on the significant gap between necessary adaptation actions and actual implementation. Additionally, there has been criticism on funding for adaptation falling woefully short.

What has been achieved so far?

The first couple of days of COP28 witnessed a gathering of over 170 world leaders. There was a significant consensus from leaders of different countries on the need to have an impactful Global Goal for Adaptation, putting at par with mitigation. More than eighteen countries took a step in made commitments of over USD 725 million to date towards the loss and damage fund, including USD 100 million from the host nation.

There was also consensus by 119 countries to scale up renewables and energy efficiency endorsing Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge. Further, a fresh initiative, the Industrial Transition Accelerator was launched for accelerating decarbonisation in heavy emitting sectors and transport globally including the joining of 40 companies.

It was also a landmark two days since the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter (OGDC) had 50 companies targeting to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with 30 committing to near-zero methane emissions for the first time. A cross-country collaboration was witnessed during the US-China-UAE Methane and Non-CO2 Gases Summit highlighting action for unlocking USD 250 M for reducing methane leakages in the oil and gas sector in developing countries.

The summit has also called on the key roles of civil society, women, youth, local leaders, faith-based communities, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and those on the frontline of climate change. In addition, more than 850 businesses and philanthropic participated in the Business and Philanthropy Forum and announced over USD 5 billion in new funding for climate transition in emerging economies.

Tall Promises

Activists and academics have raised concerns on effectiveness of USD 100 billion climate finance goal, which was supposed to be met by 2020. There has been significant furore on the goal lacking lacks scientific grounding and lacking a proper mechanism to measure progress.

Since the last climate conference, 7.1 per cent of the global GDP, or 7.1 trillion USD, was spent on fossil fuel subsidies from nations worldwide, representing a record surge. It is anticipated that even though alternative forms of energy are catching up speed, being primary drivers of energy may be still years away.

Some critics view the overcrowded event overshadowing the ultimate purpose and being just another celebrity-studded gathering of rich people. This is because the number is 40 percent higher than previous year’s 50,000. There is also an argument of such large mass riding airplanes to an oil country to talk about climate change.

It is estimated that a flight from New York to Dubai produces three tons per passenger, which translates to 200,000 tons of carbon emissions just for one COP.

History of COP

The COP meetings have served as a platform for international collaboration on climate change. The ‘parties’ are the 197 nations and territories around the world that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, the gatherings have often fallen short of expectations, with both corporations and governments and corporations not adhering to promises.

In the recent years, the COPs have tried to focus on actions but still have disappointed. For instance, COP26, held in Glasgow in 2021, was pivotal but concluded without much action plan and vague commitments. Similarly, COP25 in Madrid could not find agreement on funding targets for climate finance or even headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The 2018 COP in Poland could not establish long-term emission reduction targets or even make progress towards dependency on fossil fuels.

India’s Role at COP28

India’s role at COP 28 will be crucial for myriad reasons. A key emitter of greenhouse gases, home to world’s largest population, a critical voice for the Global South and successfully completing the G20 summit, India’s voice will be a key factor. Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra has outlined climate finance and climate technology as crucial segments in the global efforts to address challenges of environmental degradation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was at COP on November 30 and December 1, addressed a high-level segment of COP-28 for Heads of State and Heads of Government at the Summit. He highlighted that COP’s efforts had established that global welfare was not possible without everyone’s involvement and launched the Green Credits initiative, aiming to create carbon sinks through community participation.

The Indian PM spoke about how India had demonstrated an incredible balance between economy and environment, with its emissions of less 4 percent to the global percentage, despite constituting 17 per cent of the world’s population. Further, he also stressed on how the country was on target to meet the Nationally Determined Contributions.

PM Modi had called for COP-28 to deliver on pertinent issues related to Climate Finance including progress in New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance; replenishment of Green Climate Fund & Adaptation Fund; affordable finance through MDBs and developed countries to eliminate carbon footprint before 2050.

India may counter tricky questions around its role in curbing emissions. One of them are its high methane emissions, especially from the agriculture sector as the sector remains an important source of livelihood for millions in the country. Further, the recent suggestions on immediate shut-down of coal-fired power plants that the country is unwilling accept as the fossil fuel currently remains an integral part of the energy mix. Although India has been progressing rapidly in its renewable installations, touching 44 percent of its total installed power capacity, a whopping 73 percent of electricity consumption is through coal. The country is aiming to reduce emissions intensity by 45 percent by 2030, increasing share of non-fossil fuels to 50 per cent and the big goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2070.

India, which held the G20 Presidency in the course of the last one year, had emphasized the importance of climate issues with the vision of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future,”. Further, the G20 summit had achieved agreement on Green Development Pact. India’s leadership has stood out amongst in the environment domain as it has promoted the hydrogen sector for alternate fuels and launched the Global Biofuels Alliance. Lastly, under its Presidency, there was consensus on the need for committing trillions of dollars instead of billions towards climate finance.

Other Major Countries at COP

The US Vice President Kamala Harris is likely to announce a number of initiatives, including USD 3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund as the US will work with partners for mobilize finance at pace and scale. It is estimated that President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda has translated to over USD 350 billion in private investment in clean energy manufacturing. While the clean energy job creation has been over 210,000 in just the last 15 months, it is anticipated that 1.5 million jobs will be created over the decade.

The European Union will be pushing for tripling renewable capacity, phasing out carbon emitting fossil fuels, ending new coal-fuelled power plants as well as grids powered by renewables by 2030.

China is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter but has also suffered the most aftermaths of climate change amidst heatwaves, flooding, and extreme drought. Its President did not show up and Beijing has been demanding richer nations pledge USD 100 billion in annual climate finance for poorer countries.

African negotiators would be vying for climate finance and mechanisms for expediting green energy projects.

Conclusion

COP28 must be the opportunity for getting fossil fuel companies to turn pledges into action. It will need to be seen if the targets can become wider and even encompass the other relevant aspects for holistic emissions reduction. However, the perennial danger lies in the event just becoming another event of inconclusiveness and civil society organizations raising voice to no deaf ears.

The global climate summit has the potential to be the defining moment in the fight against climate change. However, short-term self-interest aside and proactive work for world’s good should be the driving force for all countries- developed and developing.

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