Here is what will happen at the hottest UN climate summit ever

Road to COP28

Here is what will happen at the hottest UN climate summit ever

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As the world endures record-shattering heat, 70,000 delegates and the climate-minded travel to Dubai for a petrostate climate extravaganza

This year is expected to be the hottest in recorded history as the devastation from extreme weather due to climate change has hit nations across the globe. The world has, for the first time, crashed through to 2ºC of warming, well before 2030 as initially predicted by climate scientists.

As world leaders prepare to meet at the UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai, they’ll be hard-pressed not to give in to a sense of doom around the future of the planet. But that doesn’t mean leaders should not work towards finding a solution.

The world can still win the battle against climate change and COP28 is “critical” to winning that fight, “but only if we do the things we said we’d do,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said at a climate forum earlier this year.

This year’s COP is the first time that countries will assess the progress they’ve made since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015 

This year’s COP is the first time that countries will assess the progress they’ve made since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015. We already know the world is not making enough progress to cut emissions, but there’s hope that the review will put pressure on countries to speed things up.

“This COP is important because the choices we make now will have impacts for thousands of years. The [International Energy Agency] has told us that staying under 1.5ºC is not only essential but possible,” said Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s international envoy on climate.

What is on the COP28 agenda? 

The host nation UAE has laid out four goals to work on during the two-week event:

  • Fast-tracking the just, equitable and orderly energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030
  • Transforming climate finance by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance
  • Putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action
  • Mobilizing for an inclusive COP

Climate finance and the push for renewable energy are likely to be the top contentious topics during the conference.

Earlier this month, leaders agreed to a blueprint for a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable nations address climate change disasters. The fund will be hosted by the World Bank for the first four years, despite objections from several developing countries and the U.S.

Poorer nations had sought clearer language to make the burden of funding fall on wealthier nations who have released more emissions. Concerns have also been expressed that the World Bank lacks the independence to administer the fund.    

Who will pay for climate damage?

While the loss and damage fund text is expected to be adopted as it currently stands, discussions will need to be held around who will contribute to the fund. The EU has pledged “substantial” support, but the billions of dollars promised for climate finance as part of the Paris Agreement is not close to being reached, said Carlos Rittl, director of public policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“We will have to address this huge finance gap because the world cannot wait anymore, the most vulnerable communities cannot wait anymore”

As it stands, there is no clarity on how much money will be in the fund, where it will come from, how the funds will be accessed, or the criteria for nations suffering from climate change, he said.

“The world hasn’t achieved the old commitments on finance, and they’re already discussing the future financial goal. We will have to address this huge finance gap because the world cannot wait anymore, the most vulnerable communities cannot wait anymore,” Rittl said. 

Is the fund a blueprint for neo-colonial control?

Farhana Sultana, a professor at Syracuse University, said climate accountability should be center stage, and many developing countries that are most impacted by climate change have criticized the loss and damage fund as it stands. 

“It is very likely the leaders will adopt this blueprint because it perpetuates a form of neo-colonial control over the developing world,” she said.

“It is important for world leaders to move fast on key issues so nations can get the aid they need,” Morgan said.

Other items on the agenda include a push for backing renewable energy. The U.S. and EU are leading a coalition of 60 nations that are pushing for the tripling of renewables and double energy savings by the end of the decade, according to Bloomberg. However, India and China are holding out on an endorsement, which could put an end to the resolution as it needs support from more than 190 countries.

Finally a global carbon market

Meanwhile, final recommendations for a global carbon market have already been agreed, paving the way for approval at COP28. Under the Paris Agreement, governments can create a carbon credit that can be traded on a market overseen by the UN. The agreement includes guidelines for companies and nations to receive verified carbon credits, as well as what projects can offset with carbon credits.  

Carbon credits have come under scrutiny from environmental advocates, who say they allow companies to get around implementing real climate action. Others say they have the potential to encourage companies to do more towards addressing climate change.

What climate advocates hope will happen at COP28

There are numerous challenges at this year’s COP. For one, the host UAE is a country whose economy relies almost entirely on oil, and the COP president is oil executive Sultan Al Jaber. Coupled with global conflicts and a cost-of-living crisis, it’s difficult to know if this year’s COP can deliver any significant outcomes.

Ana Mulio Alvarez, a researcher at climate think tank E3G, says the language in whatever agreement that is made “is more likely to include fossil fuel ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ and mention ‘unabated’ [fossil fuels], which is unfortunate and will slow the progress needed to the Paris Agreement goals.” 

Including “phase down” language rather than “phase out” will slow the progress needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals…

“Phase down” generally refers to progressively reducing fossil fuel use over time but keeping it at a level deemed acceptable for continued use. “Phase out” usually means gradually reducing use to the point where there is no further usage of fossil fuels. Meanwhile “unabated” refers to using fuels that don’t use technology to capture carbon emissions. There is continued debate over which term and approach towards combating climate change is the right one.  

Phasing up fossil fuels

Including phase-down language rather than phase out will slow the progress needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals, said Alvarez, and many experts agree that countries aren’t doing enough. Current commitments mean greenhouse emissions will increase 9% by 2030 from 2010 levels, compared to the 43% decline needed to limit global warming to 1.5 C. Meanwhile, a recent report from the IEA found oil companies are still investing too much in fossil fuels while contributing just 1% to global clean energy investment. 

“I don’t think it will be a complete flop, but a quite limited success,” said Alvarez.

Ultimately she said the outcome will depend on the internal politics of countries. She hopes leaders will set more ambitious goals on cutting emissions, including reducing methane emissions by at least 75% in the energy sector, supporting a just transition to clean energy, shifting fossil fuel investments to a majority of renewables by 2025, and strengthening climate reporting measures.

Sultana is concerned that the influence of the fossil fuel industry and corporate interests will derail any meaningful advances but still has hope that some good may emerge.

“My worry is that COP28 will be another theater of climate colonialism, with modest advances in pledges, finance and abilities of justice-oriented people to have a real impact,” she said.

Others like Morgan are more optimistic.

“I’ve been at every COP since the start, I have to be an optimist, or I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning,” she said.

Written by

Moriah Costa

Moriah Costa is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor who covers personal finance, investing, culture, and environmental issues. Her work has been published in Thomson Reuters, Money, The Guardian, and others. She previously worked as a banking reporter at S&P Global. Originally from Arizona, she's lived in London, Madrid, and D.C. She currently calls Paris home.