COP 28: A Breakthrough or a Stalemate?
Amb D P Srivastava, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The climate summit hosted by the UAE produced the first global stocktaking. This was a review of the progress made by member states in moving towards the agreed goals for emissions’ reduction. The report card was not satisfactory. COP 28 called on the parties to transition away from fossil fuels. This has been hailed as the first decision of its kind. It came in the teeth of opposition by OPEC Plus member states. The conference took place at a time when the Hamas-Israel war was raging and the focus of world leaders was to avoid its spillover to the neighbouring oil-producing region. The conference also decided the structure of a Loss and Damage fund which was agreed in principle in COP 27 at Sharm-al Sheikh earlier. However, the amount pledged is meager.

The UN Secretary General in his comments at the opening of COP 28 mentioned that ‘we are miles from the goals of the Paris Agreement and minutes to midnight for the 1.5-degree limit.’[1] The dire warning was meant to galvanize the international community to take urgent action to counter global warming. The Conference was preceded by the launch of the UN Emissions Gap report 2023 aptly titled ‘Broken Record’.[2] The report mentioned that though there has been progress since the Paris Agreement of 2015, still it falls short of the target.

There were also a number of Pledges by Member State. These are voluntary commitments in different sectors. They include a pledge on the tripling of Renewable Energy capacity, a pledge on the tripling of Nuclear Power, and an Energy Charter. These were adopted on the margins of the Conference. These represent initiatives by UAE as the host and the Conference Chairman but are not part of the Outcome Document (except the goal of tripling of renewable capacity which is part of the global stocktaking). The extreme weather events have marched faster than the slow and tortuous process of forging consensus on the climate agenda.

UN Secretary-General

The UN Secretary-General recalled in his remarks at the Climate Summit in Dubai “his recent trips to Antarctica and Nepal, pointing out how he witnessed first-hand the scale and extent of melting ice and glaciers”. Mr. Guterres added “These two spots are far in distance but united in crisis,” He referred to the outcome of the Global Stocktake at the Conference, where the countries will assess how far the countries have progressed on curbing global warming and decide on the steps to reach the temperature, finance, and adaptation goals. He suggested three steps:-

  • “Countries speed up their net zero timelines, to get there as close as possible to 2040 in developed countries and 2050 in emerging economies.”
  • “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees.”
  • “Developed countries to double adaptation finance to $40 billion a year by 2025 and provide details on how they plan to deliver on the $100 billion promise for financial support for developing countries.”

If the UN Secretary General’s remarks are intended to focus attention on the need for urgent action to counter global warming, this is unexceptionable. But he has ratcheted up the targets for emission reduction while tiptoeing around the problem of financing. This is confined to finance goals which were agreed upon when the emission targets, and timelines, were not so pressing. He has merely asked for implementing existing funding commitments.

UN Emissions Gap Report

The UNEP report aptly titled ‘Records Broken’ mentions temperatures hit a new high, yet the world failed to cut emissions (again). ‘Global GHG emissions increased by 1.2 percent from 2021 to 2022 to reach a new record of 57.4 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e).’ CO2 emissions accounted for about two-thirds of current GHG emissions.[3] ‘The emissions gap is defined as the difference between the estimated global GHG emissions resulting from full implementation of the latest NDCs and those under least-cost pathways aligned with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.’[4] The UNEP report mentions that the emission gap in 2030, assuming 2 degree temperature threshold will be 11 Giga Ton CO2 provided NDCs are fully implemented. Assuming a 1.5-degree temperature threshold, this gap will be 19 giga-ton CO2.

The UN report has acknowledged a wide disparity in consumption. ‘The US with 4 percent of the current world population has contributed 17 percent of global warming from 1850 to 2021’. ‘India, by contrast, accounts for 18 percent of the world population, but to date only contributed 5 percent of warming.’ China with a comparable population accounted for 12 percent of warming.’[5]

Global Stock-take

The Global Stocktake noted with concern that the ‘implementation of currently determined contributions would reduce emissions on an average by 2 percent compared to 2019 level by 2019 and that significantly greater emission reductions are required to align with global greenhouse gas emission trajectories in line with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.’[6] It recognized the finding of the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC that in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, the GHG emissions should peak before 2025. It, however, noted that this does not imply ‘peaking in all countries within this timeframe which will depend upon ‘sustainable development and poverty eradication needs and equity and be in line with different national circumstances’. (COP28, Outcome of the first global stocktake)

The Global Stocktake recognized;

  1. ‘Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030’.
  2. ‘Accelerating efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power’.
  3. ‘Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems, utilizing zero and low carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century.’
  4. ‘Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050’.

The language used is ambivalent. There was no call for ‘phasing down of fossil fuels; ‘transitioning away’ is milder. This was followed by a paragraph on ‘transitional fuels that can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security’. This is a reference to gas, which is a significant part of the energy mix in the rich world. The West has ‘ensured’ its interest.

There has been no progress in providing finance to the developing countries that have little or no role in causing global warming but have to suffer the consequences. The amount offered by the developed countries for energy transition remains $ 100 billion. While progress was made in giving shape to the Loss and damage fund at COP28, the amount pledged is rather small ($ 700 million).[7] Developing countries have demanded $ 100 billion. The amount committed is at best a symbolic gesture.

References

[1]UN News, Climate and Environment, 1.12.2023
[2]UNEP, Emissions Gap Report 2023, www.unep.org
[3]UNEP Report 2023
[4]UNEP report 2023
[5]UNEP report 2023
[6]COP28, Outcome of the first global stocktake
[7]Al Jazeera, 1 December 2023

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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