On Thursday, the United Nations flag will be raised at the location of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.
By Sara Schonhardt, Charlie Cooper and Zia Weise
There has been an increase of approximately 3 degrees Celsius in global temperatures since the pre-industrial era. This is about twice the target set by nations in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
This year, many countries, including China and the U.S., are supporting an effort to increase renewable energy capacity by three times and energy efficiency by two times.
A group consisting of the European Union and Pacific island nations is pushing for a global consensus to ultimately cease the production and consumption of coal, oil, and gas. The specific wording of this agreement, such as using terms like “phase out” or “phase down,” will serve as an indicator of progress. However, these efforts did not result in any advancements during the previous summit held in Egypt, and it seems that major polluting nations like the UAE are not supportive of stricter language regarding phase-outs for this year’s summit.
Failing to shift away from fossil fuels has already pushed the world past the point of preventing much of the damage from rising seas, worsening storms and spreading floods, droughts and disease. Instead, a lot of the conversation is turning to helping countries build resilience to future disasters and cope with current ones.
Last year’s summit landed an historic agreement to create a fund to help climate-ravaged countries. And just a few hours after this year’s summit, COP28, began Thursday, delegates approved the structure of that fund and countries began pledging hundreds of millions of dollars in donations. (The U.S. lagged behind at $17.5 million, while the UAE offered $100 million, a first for a high-emitting emerging economy.)
Things to pay attention to: The leader of the UAE’s oil industry, Sultan al-Jaber, is heading an effort to persuade oil and gas companies to greatly reduce their methane emissions, which are a significant contributor to climate change. (The Biden administration is anticipated to enforce stricter regulations on methane emissions during the summit.) While this could have a tangible effect, it does not address the majority of the industry’s contribution to climate change – the emissions from burning oil and gas.
U.N. climate conferences are full of jargon, with words like “ambition” and “landing zones” that can have big implications.
These are some terms that consistently confuse the meaning of COP:
Ambition: Maybe the word spoken most often in U.N. climate talks, this refers to how far countries will go to cut planet-warming pollution. Measures in line with Paris’ stretch goal, 1.5 degrees of warming, strike climate advocates as the right level of ambition. Anything less, they argue, is shirking.
The Paris Agreement, which was signed by 196 countries in 2015, is the foundation of the U.N. climate process. Its main objective is to limit the increase in global temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and strive towards capping it at 1.5 degrees. In order to achieve this goal within this century, experts estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions must reach their peak before 2025 and decrease by 43% by 2030 – a milestone that the world is currently far from achieving. Additionally, net zero emissions must be reached by approximately 2050.
Reworded: The concept of adaptation encompasses various measures such as constructing flood barriers, developing drought-resistant crops, and modifying structures to withstand higher temperatures. However, these actions require significant financial resources, and it is often the poorer nations that are most affected and in need of assistance.
Rephrased: The topic of contention during the Dubai meeting was loss and damage. In simple terms, countries with low-lying islands and other vulnerable areas are experiencing damages that they cannot adapt to, such as the destruction of roads, homes, crops, and cultural heritage. These communities are requesting financial assistance from industrialized nations, who are seen as major contributors to the issue, to aid in the recovery of poorer countries. However, wealthy nations, specifically the United States, have consistently rejected the notion that they are legally responsible or should pay reparations.
The 2021 summit in Glasgow, Scotland sparked controversy as countries led by India (with support from China) revised the final text’s stance on coal from “phase-out” to “phase-down.” Essentially, this means gradually decreasing coal usage rather than completely discontinuing it. While this language is not enforceable, it still carries significant implications for governments and investors. In the future, we can anticipate a similar discussion surrounding the use of all fossil fuels.
Removing carbon: Essentially, the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This can be achieved through natural means, such as preserving and safeguarding forests. Alternatively, it can involve the use of technology to filter carbon from the air or oceans and store it underground, under the ocean floor, or in products like concrete. While this technology has not yet been widely implemented, it is a potential solution for mitigating the effects of climate change beyond simply transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
Constantly mentioned: This term is frequently used by John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, as well as in position papers from organizations like the G7. It highlights a major conflict in the discussion surrounding climate change. The removal of “unabated” fossil fuels involves stopping their use at facilities that lack the capability to capture and reduce carbon emissions. However, environmental activists and supporters of vulnerable nations are concerned that countries heavily reliant on oil, such as the UAE, will use this terminology as an excuse to continue production of fossil fuels at current rates, despite experts stating that implementing carbon capture technology at that magnitude is not feasible.
Nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, are voluntary commitments made by countries in the Paris Agreement to reduce global warming. These pledges are renewed every 10 years, with the next round coming in 2025. This year’s discussions are crucial as countries will begin developing their new NDCs after the Dubai summit concludes.
The Paris Agreement mandated that countries provide a status update on the major objectives outlined in the text. This update, known as a global stocktake, was recently released and revealed that we are significantly behind schedule. The upcoming COP28 agreement will serve as the political reaction to this concerning finding. Will countries take action and increase their efforts?
The relationship between the United States and China has been tense, but there appears to be a shift towards cooperation in regards to climate. This could positively impact discussions on topics like methane and eliminate excuses for countries that have been hesitant to take action. According to Rachel Kyte, a seasoned advisor on climate issues.
It is improbable that global involvement will persuade China to take significant measures to reduce coal usage, which is crucial to its economy and energy stability. The upcoming meeting in Dubai may also highlight the ongoing trade and industrial policy disputes between the two nations, which are becoming increasingly linked to climate issues.
The expansive and modernized structure located on the outskirts of Dubai, designed for the Expo 2020, is separated into two sections: the “blue” and “green” zones. The blue zone serves as a location for official discussions and gatherings for diplomats and their advisors, and is exclusive to those with U.N. accreditation, including members of the media and civil society observers. The green zone, on the other hand, is accessible to the general public and has been likened to a trade show. This year’s green zone will feature booths from various businesses, themed hubs, and dining options focused on social responsibility.
Anticipating a significant turnout, the summit is likely to attract a large number of corporate representatives. However, this has sparked backlash, with legislators from the U.S. and Europe expressing concerns. In a letter sent on November 22, they called on the organizers to implement regulations to minimize the potential influence of the fossil fuel sector.
The official talks began on Thursday with the agenda being formally accepted without any opposition, signaling a positive beginning. The following two days will consist of speeches from various country leaders on Friday and Saturday. Over 130 heads of state and government officials will give their remarks, starting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan from the UAE. Some prominent leaders, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and U.S. President Joe Biden, will not be in attendance.
The White House has confirmed that Vice President Kamala Harris will be representing President Biden on a trip. She will be accompanied by high-ranking officials from over 20 American departments and agencies, such as special climate envoy John Kerry, national climate adviser Ali Zaidi, and senior adviser John Podesta.
To certain individuals, the presence of leaders holds less importance compared to their contributions to the discussion.
David Waskow, director of international climate at the World Resources Institute, stated that the question posed to President Biden is less about his arrival and more about his intentions and actions.
A nonpartisan group of representatives from the United States House, headed by the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.Cathy McMorris Rodgers
The Republican representative from Washington and the leading Democrat on the committee Frank Pallone
New Jersey will also be present.
The Republicans view the discussions as a chance to demonstrate the United States’ efforts in tackling energy and environmental concerns. It is also a means of safeguarding America’s future against countries like China, according to a statement from McMorris Rodgers’ representative Sean Kelly to POLITICO’s E&E News.earlier this month.
The way Congress operates has caused difficulties in obtaining funds for supporting climate efforts in developing nations. The United States has faced ongoing challenges in obtaining budget approval to fulfill Biden’s promise of $11.4 billion by 2024.
According to a senior official from the administration who spoke on Wednesday, there are still leaders in the House Republican Party who not only want to delay progress on addressing climate change, but also reject it and want to go back on previous efforts. The official requested anonymity during the call.
It will be interesting to observe how U.S. legislators handle the discussions and what their goals are.
This will mark McMorris Rodgers’ inaugural visit to a COP meeting, as well as for two other confirmed Republican House members: Subcommittee Chair for Energy, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals.Bill Johnson of Ohio and Energy, Climate and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.
But veteran Rep. John Curtis
The chair of the House Conservative Climate Caucus, (R-Utah), will be participating in his third U.N. climate summit.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
(D-R.I.) is also scheduled to be present. He has been advocating for a carbon border tax that will compete with the one being implemented by the European Union.
According to Whitehouse, the most promising solution for reducing emissions is the potential for America to join forces with the U.K., Australia, Japan, and Canada to form a strong consortium. This collaboration could make a significant impact in solving the climate crisis.
What will be the outcome of this?
There is a significant uncertainty surrounding the global stocktake. This pertains to how nations will react to the evaluation that reveals they have not met their commitments to reduce pollution. This creates a situation where countries must devise their next set of climate goals, which will likely require even more significant reductions.
The upcoming pledges will take effect in 2025. Therefore, this conference serves as a preliminary event leading up to COP30, which is anticipated to occur in Brazil, potentially in the Amazon region.
Fortunately, a significant potential conflict was resolved during the initial meeting: the implementation of a financial resource for nations affected by climate change.
The upcoming COP will have a unique focus on action and putting plans into action, with a new leader at the helm. Al-Jaber, who is serving as the president of the summit, referred to the agreement as groundbreaking and significant.
“Getting this done and over the line is a clear demonstration of how committed we are,” he said. “When we commit, we deliver and that is going to be the DNA of COP28.”
The discussions will now center on persuading nations to commit to the more challenging goal of phasing out fossil fuels.
Things to keep an eye on: Will additional non-traditional donors make contributions to the fund for loss and damage? On Thursday, several countries, including the UAE, announced their early contributions to the fund. This may create pressure for other affluent Gulf nations and developing countries, like China, to also contribute.
The leaders’ summit will last for two more days, during which pledges will still be accepted. As of Thursday evening in Dubai, the donations received have amounted to over $400 million.
The United States and European Union have advocated for increased involvement from the private sector and the implementation of “innovative” funding sources, such as potential taxes on air travel or international shipping.
This report was contributed to by Suzanne Lynch in Dubai and Emma Dumain in Washington, D.C.