COP28: High stakes and low expectations - Earthwatch

COP28: High stakes and low expectations

With the Earth reeling from record-breaking temperatures—July was officially the hottest month on record and 2023 looks set to be the hottest year—the target to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is in sharp focus.

The recent Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change described ‘widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people’ that are already occurring due to climate change.

Poor, vulnerable and marginalised communities are, as ever, bearing the brunt of these impacts but none on this ‘Pale Blue Dot’ can be shielded from a climate catastrophe. How will the international community respond?

Look to Dubai, UAE, where from 30 November to 12 December, the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will take place. The event presents the next best opportunity to arrest the plight of our planet.

While the stakes have never been higher, few are holding their breath for major breakthroughs. The world is preoccupied with the impacts of the global pandemic, bloody conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, rampant inflation and general economic malaise.

Countries once esteemed for their climate leadership appear to be backsliding – the comeback of German coal and delaying of UK decarbonisation are cases in point. Geopolitical tensions arising from a new Cold War and the repeated failure of rich nations to honour their climate funding pledges to poorer nations have left trust—that vital currency of international cooperation—in short supply.

The appointment of Dr Sultan Al Jaber as COP28 President will have done little to assuage the cynics. Jaber’s day job is as CEO of ADNOC – a state oil giant ramping up production of ‘lower carbon-intensive hydrocarbons.’

At last month’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York, he warned, “We need to brutally be honest about what it will take to transition heavy emitting sectors. There are over 5,500 steel, cement and aluminium plants in the world; none of them can run on renewables alone.”

No matter how inauspicious the circumstances, resignation remains a luxury we simply cannot afford. Earthwatch Europe wants COP28 to deliver concrete actions that address the root causes of the climate crisis. At a minimum, we want to see progress on the following fronts:

  1. Accelerated climate action: As per the Global Stocktake Synthesis Report, the world is falling short of the goals set by the Paris Agreement. Earthwatch Europe calls on governments to seize the opportunity presented by COP28 to intensify their commitment to climate action and establish a roadmap for achieving these goals.
  2. Climate finance commitment: Developing countries need financial resources, technology, and capacity-building support to effectively address climate challenges. The mobilisation of climate finance, including meeting the $100 billion annual target agreed at COP15, remains a pressing priority. COP27 initiated the establishment of a loss and damage fund, but critical questions remain over the fund’s sources, focus and eligible countries. Earthwatch Europe wants COP28 to clarify the future of climate finance with a bold new goal commensurate with the scale of the challenge.
  3. Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA): The Paris Agreement’s GGA lacks a clear definition, hindering progress. Earthwatch Europe wants COP28 aims to adopt a robust framework that defines the goal and provides clear metrics, enabling countries to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability.
  4. Phasing out fossil fuels: COP26 marked a significant milestone by acknowledging the need to phase down unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Earthwatch Europe wants COP28 to deliver a firm and unequivocal commitment to phase out unabated fossil fuels, including oil and gas, supported by plans for transitioning to clean energy systems. We believe that this is the only credible path to limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
  5. Nature-based solutions (NbS) integration: Protecting, restoring and sustainably managing ecosystems offers a holistic approach to mitigation and adaptation while supporting biodiversity conservation. Earthwatch Europe wants COP28 to reinforce the role of high-integrity NbS in addressing both the climate and biodiversity crises.
  6. Transparency and impartiality: The involvement of stakeholders with vested interests in fossil fuels should not compromise the impartiality of talks or retard the pace of decarbonisation. We echo the UN Secretary General’s call for oil majors to “cease and desist influence peddling and legal threats designed to knee-cap progress.”

Earthwatch Europe urges the international community to confront the climate crisis resolutely, responsibly and without further delay. We want COP28 to prove the sceptics wrong and, against the odds, provide a catalyst for the transformative change our world so desperately needs.

Find out more about our work to support biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change here.

About the author

Russell Galt is Head of Science and Policy at Earthwatch. He is focused on instituting an environmental policy function and scaling citizen science initiatives. Previously, he served as Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Urban Alliance, championing ecological urbanism and developing the IUCN Urban Nature Indexes. In other roles, he co-founded the United Nations Young Champions of the Earth Prize, managed ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability’s global biodiversity programme and launched a climate communications start-up. Russell holds an Executive MBA, LLM and BSc (Hons) from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee.

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