COP28 Action Tracker: Last-minute climate talks in Abu Dhabi as UK offers new fossil fuel licences

Pictured clockwise from top left: Abu Dhabi; EU climate chief Wopke Hoekstra with COP28 President Dr Sultan Al-Jaber; Sizewell B nuclear plant; the late Saleemul Huq

COP28 begins on 30 November in Dubai. As with all UN climate summits, it is a major event in the diary for anyone working in – or passionate about – climate action and sustainable development.

With global climate diplomacy evolving at a pace, edie is running the COP28 Action Tracker – a regular feature rounding up all of the business and policy preparations being made here in the UK and across the world. Read on for our third edition.

Editor’s note: You can recap on the first edition of this Action Tracker here. The second edition is located here.

The numbers

  • 92% of global GDP covered by net-zero targets from governments
  • 6,380 companies signed up to implementing science-based emissions targets
  • 3,730 companies with verified science-based emissions targets

The headlines

UK updates

It’s been another busy week for green policy in the UK; The Energy Act received Royal Assent on Thursday (26 October).

The Act, which has taken the best part of 18 months to pass through Parliament due to changes in Prime Minister and Energy Secretary, includes a host of measures intended to ease the scaling of low-carbon industries including nuclear, green hydrogen, heat pumps and alternative fuels for aviation. It also gives energy regulator Ofgem an official net-zero remit.

On the same day as the Act was ratified, Energy and Net-Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho oversaw the publication of two important response letters – one to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and the other to the advisors at the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

The letter to the Environmental Audit Committee responded to MPs’ concerns that policy rollbacks announced in September could impact the UK’s ability to stick to forthcoming carbon budgets. These concerns were voiced in late September, shortly after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak weakened some provisions relating to electric heating, building energy efficiency and electric vehicles.

MPs on the EAC had asked to see Government figures on the carbon impact of these changes. Coutinho said producing that data was neither “appropriate, nor a requirement” – a response which EAC chair Philip Dunne MP called “disappointing”.

Dunne said he hoped the data would be included in the Government’s official response to the CCC’s 2023 progress report to Parliament on net-zero. It was not.

The response counters the CCC’s conclusion that the Government only has credible plans to deliver 25% of the necessary future reductions in emissions with a claim that Westminster is partly or fully acting” on 85% of the CCC’s priority recommendations.

It also argues against the CCC’s statement that the UK is losing its international credibility as a climate leader due to its support of domestic fossil fuel expansion and lack of clear signals globally. The response states that the UK’s long-term domestic emissions targets and its involvement in international initiatives remain the same.

You can read edie’s summary of which CCC recommendations were adopted, rubbished and disputed here.

Monday (30 October) then brought news that the North Sea Transition Authority has offered 27 new licences for oil and gas production projects, stating that it has selected these projects as they have the potential to be developed more quickly. It is expected to offer up to 100 licences in the current round, the UK’s 33rd.

Green groups are not only continuing to push for an end to these rounds but also for a more concerted focus on improving energy efficiency as a more affordable, lower-carbon way to protect the UK from price fluctuations associated with fossil fuels produced globally.

In other news, more than 70 civil society organisations sent a letter to Sunak on Tuesday (31 October) criticising his decision to count international aid spending that was not previously badged as climate spending towards its £11.6bn climate finance goal.

The letter, coordinated by Climate Action Network UK, calls the approach “bitterly disappointing and short-sighted”, stating that it is “not credible or appropriate”.

Oxfam GB’s climate policy advisor Lyndsay Walsh said: “Just as we need increased ambition ahead of COP28, the UK is once again found lacking and serves yet another blow to its claimed ambition to be a climate leader.

“These new ways of counting the UK’s climate finance lay the groundwork for a worrying reduction in the quality of climate finance and the possibility of double counting money from an already-overstretched aid budget. This opens the door for a decreasing proportion of grants being given, which are critical for lower-income communities to respond to the escalating impacts of climate change without further embedding cycles of debt and poverty.

“Furthermore, the intention to increase the role of British International Investment, which operates through financial intermediaries, will only mean the government has less control or oversight over where and how its international climate finance is spent.”

Global moves

Pre-COP28 ran on Monday and Tuesday (October 30-31) in Abu Dhabi, presenting a last-minute chance for the Presidency team in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to set out its priorities for the summit and attempt to garner international consensus. Around 70 ministers were in attendance.

Speakers emphasised the team’s support of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) recommendation that global renewable energy capacity is trebled this decade. The COP28 Presidency worked with the Global Renewables Alliance and International Renewable Energy Agency to launch a report outlining how this could be achieved, detailing the need to address barriers relating to policy, regulation, planning and infrastructure.

Another key agenda item was loss and damage. Negotiations earlier in October intended to operationalise the loss and damage fund agreed upon at COP27 failed to produce an agreement, with nations rowing over who should pay in, who should receive payments, and other key logistical points. The COP28 Presidency team urged negotiators to reach an agreement at an extra round of negotiations tabled for 3-5 November in the UAE.

Informal consultations on the Global Stocktake at the Ministerial level were also held at pre-COP28. Global Stocktakes track progress made on the Paris Agreement since it was ratified in 2015. They are meant to be held every five years but this inaugural edition was delayed due to Covid-19. The Stocktake is regarded as a crucial tool for identifying gaps at the national level and evaluating global progress.

COP28 organisers have also told the media that two-thirds of the 250,000 meals served daily at the summit will be vegetarian and vegan. This may seem a small story but debates on how much meat was on offer were lively during the past two COPs. Moreover, with a whole day in the agenda dedicated to food systems, the actions of the organisers can set the tone.

In other news, the global climate diplomacy world is mourning the sad loss of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development’s (ICCCAD) director Saleemul Huq, also known as Saleem. 71-year-old Huq passed away at his home in Dhaka last weekend after decades of climate work, with the ICCCAD stating that “his unmatched legacy will remain a shining example for years and generations to come”.

A touching tribute to Huq has been posted here by the Loss and Damage Collaboration’s founder and global lead Erin Roberts. Climate Action International’s head of global political strategy Harjeet Singh has also left a heartfelt message, remembering his friend’s “steadfast dedication to those impacted by climate change… genuine humility and unwavering responsiveness”.

Tributes are also being paid to the late Pete Betts, who was the EU’s chief climate negotiator when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Betts worked in the UK civil service for more than 30 years and COP26 President Alok Sharma called him “a hugely experienced source of wise advice and a good friend to the British COP26 team”. Betts died at the age of 64 following a battle with cancer.

Also this past week…

  • Net-Zero Review author Chris Skidmore MP has published a ‘lessons from the past’ report, outlining a brief history of the successes and failures of COPs 1 through 27
  • EU nations have been rapped for falling behind on the delivery of their 2030 energy efficiency goals
  • Spain’s deputy PM Teresa Ribera, who will represent the EU-27 at COP28, has said she will push for a strong agreement to halt new coal expansion
  • Some climate scientists are saying that global net-zero by 2034 will now be needed to keep 1.5C alive
  • UN University has warned that the world is approaching a series of risk tipping points not only in climate but also in water, nature and space pollution
  • Almost 40 health bodies are urging negotiators at COP28 to act with urgency and mainstream knowledge of the potential public health impacts of climate change

Private sector climate action

The We Mean Business Coalition has published the results of a poll of 250 business leaders from eight high-carbon, hard-to-abate sectors as part of a report tracking the global low-carbon transition in the private sector.

While the Corporate Climate Stocktake report charts exponential growth in technologies like solar and electric cars, it also outlines a swathe of policy and market-related barriers to decarbonisation for big businesses in many markets. Seven in ten of those polled called strong policy direction the most effective potential lever for their net-zero transition.

As such, many of the leaders polled are not preparing for a rapid fossil fuel phase-out. Across all sectors, three in ten of the business leaders surveyed said they do not expect their organisation to end fossil fuel use entirely before 2050, despite the majority of them having set net-zero targets for 2050 or sooner.

The sectors least optimistic about a rapid fossil fuel phase-out are shipping and concrete and cement. The most optimistic sector is road transport, where half of respondents expect to transition entirely away from fossil fuels by 2040.

In power, while more than four in ten respondents expect to transition by 2040, almost three in ten expect the transition to come after 2050.

Another big stocktake of corporate action on decarbonisation is expected from As You Sow later this week, so watch this space.

Also this past week…

Words of wisdom

“It is a difficult and yet critical time for multilateral engagement; and a time of anxiety.

“Let us be united by the knowledge that climate change is our common challenge, and that here, we will all benefit from the solutions, and we will all suffer from the failure to find them.

The world wants to know exactly how fast we are going and in exactly which direction. If climate ambition is our north star, we need a clear path charted north, not a few degrees Northwest.”

– UN Executive Secretary for Climate, Simon Stiell

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