COP 28: Force for Good or Farce?

The COP28 climate meetings start today in Dubai. Presided over by the CEO of the United Arab Emirates oil company, will the meetings get hijacked by fossil fuels?

According to a recent report issued by the United Nations, the planet is careening towards 3 degrees Celsius warming. The report finds that while there has been progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015—the projected increase in emissions by 2030 has dropped from 16 percent to 3 percent—we remain woefully short of the targets that would enable us to remain under either 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming (which would require further emissions reductions by 42 and 28 percent respectively.) 

A New Climate Reality

“Even in the most optimistic scenario considered in this report, the chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is only 14 percent, and the various scenarios leave open a large possibility that global warming exceeds 2 degrees Celsius or even 3 degrees Celsius,” the authors wrote.

This report, like so many others before it, calls for immediate, urgent, and aggressive climate action, raising the stakes for the upcoming COP28 meetings that kick off this week in Dubai.

The importance of the outcome of the COP28 meetings can’t be overstated. With more than 70,000 political attachés, business leaders, academics, activists, and civil society representatives, this year’s meetings may be—with no hyperbole—our planet’s saving grace or a stake in the heart of the human species. 

Force or Farce?

The verdict is out if the meetings, presided over by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company CEO Sultan al-Jaber, will be legit.

Burning questions must be asked: can the president of an oil company worth $12.45 billion be a neutral arbiter of global climate meetings? Will COP28 delegates be free to negotiate concrete agreements that phase out fossil fuels, dramatically enhance energy efficiency, significantly increase the use of renewable energy, massively elevate financial support for developing nations experiencing the worst effects of climate change, and drastically scale up efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or will they be pressured and their efforts thwarted by fossil fuel special interests?

Phaseout or Phasedown?

One major topic that will assuredly be fiercely debated: whether we phaseout or phasedown fossil fuels. With only a subtle language difference, the decision will have massive policy, business, climate, and health implications.

A growing number of countries, including small island nations, ae pushing for a wholesale phaseout of fossil fuels. Not surprisingly, oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia are advocating for a phasedown, which would reduce the use of fossil fuels—namely coal—without a full-scale elimination. In a recent agreement, the United States and China may have offered a middle ground solution by agreeing to “accelerate the substitution for coal, oil, and gas generation.”

Another hot topic—loss and damage, or paying reparations to vulnerable developing countries who are getting pummeled by climate change. Developed nations have agreed to contribute to a loss and damage fund, although amounts are still under negotiation. It has been suggested that the World Bank host the fund, although some developing countries are vehemently objecting, citing that the World Bank is a “bureaucratic institution that favors loans over direct grants.”

“It should not be loans against which you have to pay interest because then you’re paying for your own loss and damage,” said Kishan Kumarsingh, head of multilateral environmental agreements for Trinidad and Tobago. 

Carbon markets will also be in the spotlight at the COP28 meetings. While many companies are purchasing carbon offsets to mitigate their climate pollution, critics are calling for a strengthening of rules, regulations, oversight, reporting, and transparency to eliminate fraud from the sector. 

It will be interesting to see if negotiations at the COP28 are untainted, climate progress is made, and a robust global response is generated, or if the meetings are hijacked by the fossil fuel behemoths, resulting in flaccid takeaways that evade enforceable limits or actionable targets on fossil fuel use and production.