Can the stakes of COP28 live up to the expectations of civil society?

This is the first installment of the Topic of the Month: Inside COP28

Most articles and commentators focusing on the Conference of the Parties (COPs) organised under the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) start with a catchy statement on the urgent need to step up objectives and actions to reduce climate change in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The upcoming 28th COP (COP28), taking place in Dubai (United Arab Emirates – UEA) from 30 November to 12 December 2023, is no exception. But why is this once again an important COP? And why so many people are attending? It is worth taking stock of recent events to understand what can be expected from COP28. 

Scientific evidence

The synthesis for policymakers of the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report published in March 2023 states that “human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases [GHG], have unequivocally caused global warming,” with a global temperature increase of already 1.1°C. Forecasted GHG emissions in 2030  according to national commitments, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, “make it likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century and make it harder to limit warming below 2°C.” Hence, more mitigation policies are needed.

With a very high degree of scientific confidence, the IPCC declares that local, national, and international governmental actions, along with civil society and the private sector, are crucial "in enabling and accelerating shifts in development pathways towards sustainability and climate-resilient development." It acknowledges with the same confidence that the window of opportunity to secure a livable future for all is rapidly closing. 

The first Global Stocktake

The increasingly alarming statements of the IPCC come at the right time. To ratchet up ambition, the Paris Agreement includes a Global Stocktake (GST) that assesses commitments and progress to inform future action of both states (referred to as parties) and other stakeholders, covering mitigation, adaptation, finance, and loss and damage. One of COP28’s priorities is to conclude this first collective GST exercise ahead of the improved NDCs, that are due in 2025. Taking stock of the commitments in the first NDCs, the GST Synthesis Report of September 2023 also illuminates a path forward that parties must follow. It pinpoints critical areas where immediate action must happen and provides a roadmap for the transformation needed to reduce emissions dramatically, build resilience, and safeguard our future. These elements will be discussed at COP28 during high-level events that will inform the political outcome synthesising key political takeaways, identifying opportunities, good practices, and challenges for climate action. This will help parties to prepare more ambitious NDCs by 2025. Parties, but also civil society as a whole, are expected to come back from the conference with homework to tackle climate change. 

Global Goal on Adaptation

The collective commitment of a Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), set under the Paris Agreement, aims to “enhance [global] adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change.” The GGA should serve as a unifying framework that can drive political action and finance for adaptation on the same scale as mitigation. However, the GGA framework has not taken shape until now because a clear goal and indicators to measure the targets on adaptation, which is inherently a localised and multifaceted concept, is very challenging. After two years of further defining the GGA under the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme (GlaSS), COP28 is expected to conclude this GlaSS process with the adoption of an annual report and hopefully of a GGA framework. 

Finance

Developed nations pledged to support climate efforts in developing nations by providing USD 100 billion annually. This target, which was supposed to be reached by 2020, has not been met yet, but commitments will be reconsidered and re-evaluated this year. In parallel, new pledges are sought for the Green Climate Fund, and the private sector is also expected to commit new funds for mitigation. 

Loss and damage

A key commitment to be further concretised is the loss and damage fund that aims to compensate vulnerable countries for natural disasters caused by climate change. At COP27, an agreement to establish the fund was reached, and a transitional committee of developed and developing countries was appointed to tackle the main questions for its implementation. This committee ran into stumbling blocks linked to the host institution and the nature of the commitments (voluntary or not). Nevertheless, the transitional committee developed a series of recommendations, which will be discussed at COP28, to move forward with the implementation of the loss and damage fund. 

Global carbon markets

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, meant to foster international cooperation on climate policies, particularly global carbon markets, is also expected to be a hot topic on the agenda of COP28 again. Recently, the Article 6.4 supervisory body adopted recommendations on greenhouse gas removals and mechanism methodologies to be presented at COP28 for adoption. If successful, the crediting mechanism of the Paris Agreement, very much awaited by the market, may become operational as early as next year! To learn more about this, follow the event co-organised by FSR, IETA, and EKI Energy Services at COP28. 

Conclusions 

One might wonder if COP28, taking place in the UAE, an Arab country not directly involved in existing global tensions, would facilitate bringing conflicting parties together at the discussion table. At the same time, it is presided over by Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the UAE, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and Chairman of Masdar (a state-owned renewable energy company). Legitimate concerns are raised about the conflict of interests between his official role in the framework of the UNFCCC and involvement in the energy business. 

The decarbonisation of the energy sector will be high on the agenda, and some expect an energy package to be adopted. In the outcomes, close attention should be given to the focus on specific sectors to decarbonise and the role of technological solutions in tackling climate change. While technology certainly contributes to reducing emissions, it is not a silver bullet and should not be used to continue business as usual, in particular to extract more fossil fuels or other resources directly compromising the environment and a more livable future. Climate change already disrupts fundamental aspects of the global economy, human lifestyles, and biodiversity, and substantial financial support is needed. 

The appointment of Sultan Al Jaber reflects, in a way, the hybrid nature of COPs in recent years, where negotiators, policymakers, civil society, and the private sector all convene to mobilise the world for climate action. COPs are becoming more inclusive, and Dubai has promised that this will be the most inclusive one. Recent COPs have shown that civil society and the private sector can play a role and contribute to the global goal with voluntary commitments when policies are lagging behind. In addition, although they are not directly involved in the negotiation, they are also there to support ambitious and concrete commitments. FSR will be present at COP28 and will keep a close eye on the outcomes of COP28. 

Learn more: 

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LIFE COASE is co-funded by the Life Programme of the European Union. The views and opinions expressed in this post for LIFE COASE are solely those of the author(s) and reflect neither those of the European University Institute nor those of the European Commission.

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