Six months out from the 2023 U.N. Climate Change Conference, concerns are rising about the gap between the measures that governments are taking and the actions that scientists say are necessary to stop catastrophic climate change.
The stakes will be high when the United Arab Emirates, a top oil producer, convenes the summit, formally the 28th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP28, in late November in Dubai, with participants due to complete an assessment on progress toward achieving the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The COP27 summit last November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, billed as a chance for Africa to seek justice as the continent most impacted by climate change yet least responsible for it, demonstrated how fragile the world’s climate approach is.
The sole significant accomplishment of that meeting was a decision to create a worldwide “loss and damage” fund to compensate poorer countries for climate impacts.
The result of tense, last-minute negotiations, the fund gave all the indications of being ill-planned. Even though it has been described as providing at least $500 billion of support for needy nations, the fund currently has no paying subscribers.
Notably, some of the world’s largest emitters — in particular, China and India — have made clear that they will not contribute to the fund. As yet, it remains unclear who will capitalize it and under what conditions distributions will be made.
Egypt hardly did any effective climate diplomacy ahead of COP27, and even countries with which it enjoys friendly relations did not send their leaders to Sharm el-Sheikh, in part due to the unfortunate timing of the event.
The conference began as the world’s media was focused on the delicately balanced results of the U.S. midterm elections. The Group of 20 conference in Bali overlapped with the second week of the conference, deflecting attention and tying up many international leaders. Talks continued through the following weekend as the world’s focus shifted to the opening of the soccer World Cup in Qatar.
Those who missed the Egyptian event included the leaders of China, India, Australia and Canada. At the same time, fossil-fuel industry lobbyists were present in force, giving the event an overly business-friendly tone to the detriment of other important perspectives and voices. Meanwhile, Russia’s continuing conflict with Ukraine undermined COP27 by keeping worries about fossil fuel supplies at the forefront of concerns of many governments.
COP28 is now where decisions ought to be made regarding who will pay for the loss and damage fund and how this support will be distributed. One of the challenges for the Emiratis will be how to operationalize the fund in a just manner.
The U.N. also unveiled an ambitious plan at COP27 to establish a global early warning system. The Emiratis now are supposed to nail down $3.1 billion in financing to support this system for the next five years while giving investment priority to nations at the highest risk but with governments capable and motivated to ensure effective implementation.
The Dubai conferees are also due to conduct what the Paris Agreement established as a “global stocktake” to determine whether the 200 signatory nations’ pledges to reduce global emissions will be adequate to keep the increase in world temperatures below 1.5 C. Countries that have made relatively modest pledges will have to be encouraged to enhance their obligations to keep the target within the realm of possibility.
COP28 could alter the course of U.N. climate talks and provide the impetus to shift the focus from negotiation to action.
To lay the groundwork for a successful event, the Emiratis are already engaging with participating governments at the ministerial, head of delegation and technical levels. They have also committed to work closely with chairs of subsidiary bodies and the COP secretariat to prepare for the conference in a coordinated, open, transparent and inclusive manner.
The conference will be a crucial opportunity to outline how to implement a drastic course correction in global climate action. For both the summit hosts and the climate community at large, there is a definite tone of urgency, purpose and reality. Mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance are all areas that will require collaboration and support at the highest levels.
As current G-20 president, India has invited the UAE to attend that body’s leaders’ summit, which is important as G-20 members together account for around 81% of global emissions. The UAE and India can work together to help deliver a political framework for a more effective COP28.
Similarly, the UAE should work with Japan as the current Group of Seven president. The two nations have a comprehensive economic partnership and have agreed to jointly explore hydrogen power.
In terms of what has been promised and what is still required from the U.N. climate process, there is a vacuum that must be bridged. The UAE will need effective climate diplomacy to deal with the unresolved problems and failures of the past.
Despite the absence of negotiating deadlines, COP28 must produce significant advances toward climate justice. One of the first steps will be to secure the participation of the political leaders who will matter most in resolving the climate puzzle, especially those of high-emitting nations and potential sponsors of the loss and damage fund and other programs.
The Emiratis are starting with a timing advantage, as the marathon of events that sidelined leaders last year with the G-20, the East Asia Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit will have played out this year well before COP28 convenes.
International diplomacy on issues of climate mitigation is challenging and requires a lot of time, effort and expertise. If fossil fuels continue to be exploited, then billions of people will suffer and many will perish.
Scientists have been raising the alarm for years, and if COP28 does not result in meaningful action, politicians will have lost a crucial opportunity to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond the point of no return.
Syed Munir Khasru is chairman of the international think tank Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance.