COP28: What to expect at UN climate talks
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Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in the next few days for the UN’s COP28 climate summit where, during the next two weeks, negotiators will spend long hours haggling over how to limit global warming.
COP talks are often fractious. This year, diplomats are expected to argue over whether to phase out fossil fuels and who should help poorer nations pay for climate damages.
Scientists are increasingly concerned about rapid warming and the frequent extreme weather events propelled by it. For the world to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement — struck at COP21 in 2015, to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels — scientists from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now say greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 43 per cent by 2030 compared with 2019.
As a result, an important part of the COP28 agenda is the “global stocktake” to assess progress countries have made towards cutting emissions. This year’s summit is expected to make clear that the world is not on track to limit global warming by the amount agreed in Paris and that more needs to be done. But by whom, and how, will be among the key questions up for debate.
The global stocktake
Parties at COP28 will be expected to sign off on a document measuring how the world is progressing in reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C.
Countries will then need to agree on pathways to bring emissions under control. According to a UN report released this month, the world is heading for a temperature rise of between 2.5C and 2.9C and must take urgent action.
Despite almost 200 countries promising to set out plans for net zero emissions, many setting targets by 2050, the report said the world was “not on track”.
“Because of the global stocktake, the stakes are particularly high [at this COP],” says Alden Meyer, a senior associate at climate and energy consultancy E3G. “This is the chance to send a signal, to have transformation and the course correction . . . to say that we’re really going to double down on meeting what we committed to in Paris in 2015.”
The future of fossil fuels
At COP27 in Egypt, more than 80 countries backed a proposal to gradually end the use of fossil fuels, which are by far the largest contributor to climate change, accounting for about three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. But the proposal was derailed by major oil and gas producing countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia.
This year, countries are again heading for a clash over whether to get rid of fossil fuels, and in what timeframe. Negotiators will also have to agree on how abatement technologies, which capture and store carbon emissions, fit in.
The US and EU member states are among those countries calling for a timeline to phase out “unabated” fossil fuels (those burnt without the capture of emissions). However, Russia — one of the world’s largest crude oil producers — has already said it would oppose any deal to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
The UAE, an oil-producing country, will have the opportunity as the presiding nation to shape the outcome of these talks.
The loss and damage fund
Countries agreed to set up a fund to help the developing world tackle the ravages of climate change when they met in Egypt last year, but at COP28 governments will have to actually set up the fund and fill it with cash.
Talks about the fund ahead of COP28 have been fraught, with tensions between developed and developing countries running high over who should pay into it, and who should be allowed to claim money from it.
Developing countries have argued that the developed world, which is responsible for about 80 per cent of carbon emissions, should pay into the fund. The US and others have pushed back on the suggestion that any countries should be obliged to pay.
A preliminary agreed text says the loss and damage fund will “invite financial contributions with developed country parties continuing to take this lead to provide financial resources”. But this will need to be supported by all the almost 200 countries and adopted at COP. How much money will be contributed to the fund and who pays into it remain open questions.
John Kerry, US presidential climate envoy, said the US will commit “several million dollars”. The EU has pledged a “substantial contribution”.
Methane and other greenhouse gases
The US and China agreed ahead of COP28 to rally other nations into having a summit on methane, a potent global warming gas, to be held as part of the talks. They agreed to include a broader array of greenhouse gas emissions in their next round of climate targets.
“It does seem that, finally, climate actors and national leaders around the world are recognising that methane is the key to limiting near-term temperature rises,” says Paul Bledsoe, a former White House official and a lecturer at the American University. “For most of the last 30 years, these talks have been completely dominated by CO₂, and other greenhouse gases have been essentially ignored.”
Although China has so far declined to join the global methane pledge — a broad agreement between 150 countries to collectively reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 — it has announced it will track and reduce its methane emissions. However, it has not specified any targets or timelines. US officials say they hope to announce additional grant funding to tackle methane emissions at COP28.
Rich countries will be under pressure to deliver on existing pledges to help poorer countries adapt to global warming — including a commitment made at COP26 in Glasgow to spend $40bn per year in adaptation finance by 2025.
A recent UN report found that developing countries need up to $387bn a year to adapt to climate change. But there is a “gap” of about $360bn between the money needed and the amount being spent.
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