This article will provide an overview of the COP 28, which will start on November 30th, 2023, in Dubai, analyzing the context in which this Conference will be held and which will be the topics of discussion.
The Conference will host 200 Nations and more than 7000 people and, as it has been since its first edition in 1995, it will fulfill the purpose of being the main organ for decision-making on climate-related issues. The main objective of COP 28 is to evaluate the progress that has been made following the Paris Agreements of 2015. Indeed, the conference will end with the Global Stocktake, which is a way to assess the progress that has been made so far on the fulfillment of the agreements. Then, the objective of the conference is to establish a game plan to adopt, moving forward, to continue tackling the issues and reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda.
First of all, it is important to mention that it has not gone unnoticed to some environmentalists that the fact that Dubai has been chosen as the location to host the meeting is a rather controversial choice. Indeed, the Emirates are leaders in the production of oil and the city of Dubai has been built, with all its extravagance and luxury, thanks to the money generated through the sales of fossil fuels. Yet, the difficult climate conditions are a threat to the region, which suffers from water shortage and lack of homegrown foods and is severely hit by the high temperatures in the summer.
Among all the topics of discussion that are being brought to the event, three in particular will need to be tackled. First of all, the need to reduce the emissions of methane drastically. Second, the issue of the lack of financial resources to face climate issues. And finally, the need to combat the use of fossil fuels.
Methane is the main component of natural gas, which is the reason why this issue is so important to face. The good news is that China signed a deal with America just this week, including for the first time the goal to reduce methane emission in its climate plan. Additionally, the EU is also focusing on drastically reducing the emission of methane, including those coming from imports.
As for climate finance, the big issue regards the failure to honor the promise to compensate emerging economies, which are usually the ones that contribute the least to pollution. Rich countries had promised to fulfill payments of $100bn to the most vulnerable countries by 2020, but, so far, this has not happened yet. During COP 27 a proposal arose to create a “loss and damage” fund, managed temporarily by the World Bank, but no agreement was found.
Finally, the third issue is the hardest to tackle. The need to reduce or eliminate the reliance on fossil fuel as always splits the countries. Additionally, the possibility of using “abatement” technologies which allow to capture greenhouse gasses and store them, also needs to be addressed, as it would mean allowing the continuation of the use of the energies creating emissions. It is undeniable that fossil fuels still represent a resource we greatly exploit, with 80% of total world energy coming from them. And it is also true that experts believe that fossil fuels will still be largely used in 2050, even though it is forecasted that these kinds of sources will have their peak and then decline in the following decades, being replaced by new sustainable energy sources. But when it comes to abatement technologies like carbon capture, some skepticism remains, because they could be seen as a way to enable companies to continue with their emissions, as long as they compensate with these technologies.
As it often is the case for these events, their monumentality and symbolic importance is often shadowed by the threat of empty promises. In the agenda of the conference, we find many objectives: to accelerate and organize responsible and equitable transition in the energy sector; develop climate finance mechanisms; focus on life and livelihood; protect and restore ecosystems; and forge inclusivity and engagement of all stakeholders.
The cynical perspective many hold over the conference, made worse by the paradoxes that seem to plague the conference – first and foremost its location – stems from the fear that the great objective that has driven and been at the front of all coordinated international intervention for the climate up until now, that is, the 1.5° C threshold, is no longer a realistic possibility. The reason behind this is not, per se, a lack of action – but the lack of enough of it. All that was promised in the Paris Agreement has turned out to be too painful of a request for countries and governments worldwide.
Stronger positions would have been and are still needed, but most of the steps that are necessary – necessary to still aspire to that threshold, necessary to keep up with the agenda promised for the COP 28 – are also a sacrifice for the majority of Western economies, which are currently grappling with economic uncertainty, geopolitical instability and adverse demographic transitions. They are thus unlikely to devote energy and money to this endeavor, in favor of shorter-term urgencies.
In particular, the changes in the world equilibria we are experiencing in this new decade have been unlike anything before the 2nd wave of globalization. The conflict in the Middle East, the Ukraine War – but also the retreat of the USA from Afghanistan, the rise of the extreme right in many governments all over the world, and the change in China’s political and economic condition, as its population ages, its commercial relation with the West intensify and the window to make a move on Taiwan tightens with each year: all of these factor come together to draw a picture that struggles to fit the ideals behind something like the COP 28.
Criticism for this COP is to be expected, even traditional: the annual UN climate has a habit of being in the public’s eye as people question the value of the COP process, and it is sometimes for heads of state even an hassle, as it requires continuous increase in the ambitions delivered and promised during the conference and can greatly affect future political campaigns. Other than what we have already spoken about, critics will also focus on the summit’s president, who is the CEO of a big state-owned oil company.
UN climate summits have their flaws – this one maybe more than others.
But they remain one of our best hopes for addressing climate change. It’s more than a summit; it’s an investment in delivering a sustainable future.
By Alice Sleiman and Lucrezia Manta