The first week of COP28: The nine biggest talking points

It's half-time in Dubai on the two-week COP28 summit that is desperately trying to keep 1.5C alive with new funding for loss and damage and ambitious clean energy goals. But with a conference brimming with oil and gas representatives, what exactly has happened at COP28 so far?

The first week of COP28: The nine biggest talking points

Have you ever had a cup of tea that was too hot, a little too weak and left a slightly bitter aftertaste in your mouth? Welcome to COP28 in Dubai, where obscure announcements are unveiled at breakneck speed in 30C heat that, while welcome, ultimately fail to shift the world to the action needed to keep 1.5C alive.

With more than 100,000 people registered to attend COP28 in Dubai over its two-week running time (including a record number of oil and gas representatives), the first week of the annual climate summit has leaned more into the spectacle than the stocktake this year.

Each day has seen a flurry of announcements hit news desks that sound impressive in scope, but hold back on a few key details that start to make you question just how transformative they will be. Take the tripling renewables by 2030 pledge included in this round-up (don’t scroll down yet!), it took several hours after the announcement for journalists to actually confirm that the likes of India and China weren’t signed up.

Add to that the ongoing rumblings on how the oil and gas industry has had a little too much involvement in a global climate summit and it is easy to see why many remain suspicious that a COP in Dubai can rechart a global course to 1.5C – bearing in mind we’re on course to overshoot that target in the next four years.

That’s not to say that major progress hasn’t been made in some key areas and as we come to the rest day in negotiations at COP28 everything is still at stake, and fortunately still on the table.

While the many announcements are welcome, it may well have been difficult for most to keep up with the pace (and indeed the technical jargon) of all the announcements as they break in Dubai. So grab a tea or coffee and catch up on the top nine biggest announcements to have taken place at COP28 so far.

Nations commit to tripling renewables capacity globally

At the World Leaders Summit at COP28, more than 100 countries signed up to a commitment to keep the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement alive by trebling global renewable capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030.

The Global Decarbonisation Accelerator (GDA) acts as a guiding star to steer nations toward the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement by committing to dramatic clean energy scale-ups and reducing emissions from methane production.

The GDA is focused on three key pillars: rapidly scaling the energy system of tomorrow; decarbonising the energy system of today; and targeting methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs).

A total of 116 countries have signed up to the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, which will see them aim to triple global renewable generation capacity to at least 11,000 gigawatts and to double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around 2% to more than 4% every year until 2030.

New global corporate net-zero disclosure database unveiled

At the start of the year, CDP found that less than half a percent of 18,600 companies that disclosed climate information through its platform last year had a credible climate transition plan to net-zero by mid-century.

Additionally, CDP has warned that just four FTSE100 companies have net-zero transition plans that would meet the ‘gold standard’ requirements of the UK’s forthcoming reporting mandate. It is welcome then, at COP28 that a new public database was launched to boost corporate climate disclosure.

During the World Leaders Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a new concept for a global database for corporate net-zero targets.

The proof of concept for the Net-Zero Data Public Utility (NZDPU) will act as the world’s first global, centralised database for private sector climate-related data. The NZDPU will be freely accessible and will inform users of climate transition-related data in a bid to improve transparency across the private sector.

The NZDPU will provide information on corporate Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, reduction targets and any transition-related data. It will be populated with the data from companies that disclose through CDP, improving the accessibility of companies’ direct (Scope ) and indirect (Scope 3) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and GHG emissions reduction targets.

public consultation is open through March 1, 2024, to give stakeholders the chance to feedback on the development of the platform.

Fossil fuel lobbyists swarm to Dubai in record numbers

Each year, campaign group Kick Polluters Out (KPO) trawls through the list of registered COP28 attendees to determine how many are fossil fuel lobbyists. It applies this label to decision-makers at state-owned and private energy companies, plus delegations of petrostates with major expansion plans.

There are a record 100,000+ people registered for COP28. KPO estimates that around 2.5% of them fit its definition of a fossil fuel lobbyist. For context, this is five times the number of scientists on the ground.

Also worth noting is that KPO has tracked a fourfold increase in fossil fuel lobbyists on the numbers present last year at COP27 in Egypt. Fossil fuel lobbyists also outnumber Indigenous representatives – of which there are just a little over 300 – by seven to one.

Then there is the COP Presidency to take into account.

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, COP28 President is also the chief executive of the nation’s state-owned oil and gas business, ADNOC, which makes him a controversial pick.

There are concerns this year about whether a significant proportion of the COP28 workforce are employed by, or have other interests in, ADNOC. The Guardian reported in July that ADNOC decision-makers were able to read email chains sent to decide on the Presidency’s key messages and how it would respond to media requests for comment.

It has since emerged, thanks to investigative journalism work spearheaded by the Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC, that the UAE planned to agree new oil export deals on the sidelines of COP28.

Voluntary Carbon Markets struggle to take shape

It has been a challenging year for carbon credits. High-profile exposés have uncovered potential greenwashing in forest credits sold on the voluntary markets and revealed accusations of human rights abuses in the development of projects for markets in which nations can trade internationally under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

Just before COP28 began, the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI) released additional guidance for corporates looking to make accurate claims about procuring high-quality carbon credits.

Then, at the conference, six of the world’s largest carbon market standards setters (ACR, ART, CAR, GCC, GS, Verra/VCS) announced a collaboration to align standards with common principles. These principles will cover topics including avoiding leakage, transparency and ensuring that projects have community benefits.

Despite these welcome interventions, eyebrows continue to be raised at the fact that nations including Switzerland and the COP28 host the UAE are purchasing land in poor, forest-rich nations to produce credits. Proponents say this is an economic growth opportunity for the global south, and overall a good thing for climate. Critics point to the potential for neo-colonial land grabbing.

Draft texts of the Global Stocktake emerge

One of the biggest talking points at this COP is the Global Stocktake. COP28 will mark the first time a global assessment of national efforts to reach the Paris Agreement has been published during the summit. It will essentially chart the course of action moving forward, most likely acting as a wake-up call for nations to accelerate action.

The draft text was published overnight going into 6 December. The 12-page document, “welcomes” that the Paris Agreement has “driven near-universal climate action by setting goals and sending signals to the world regarding the urgency of responding to the climate crisis”.

It also states that “the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5C compared with 2C”.

However, the draft text “notes with significant concern” that emissions are not in line with modelled global mitigation pathways consistent with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. Recently, the UN warned that current national pledges are aligned with 2.5-2.9C of warming. It warns of a “rapidly narrowing window to raise ambition and implement existing commitments” to limit warming to 1.5C.

The document is currently light on mentions as to how fossil fuels should be phased-out and also lacks detail on key biodiversity mechanisms such as combatting deforestation and championing nature-based solutions.

It also warns that nations are not on track to achieve ambitions on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support.

The official negotiating texts are also out in their initial format. Carbon Brief estimates that more than 90 possible combinations of decisions are possible. The good news is that an option including a fossil fuel phase-out is on the table. But there are also options to mention a phase-down, or to omit direct mentions of fossil fuels entirely. Saudi Arabia has emerged as an early and vocal blocker of a phase-out.

Loss and Damage funding agreed

In an unexpected opening to COP28, negotiators delivered a major breakthrough in the form of a loss and damage fund.

COP27 saw wealthy nations U-turn on their historic opposition to the creation of a dedicated global funding pot for loss and damage. But the fund took time to operationalise, because nations continued to dispute which nations should be eligible to pay in and which should be able to receive payments out. A key sticking point is the status of China.

However, on Thursday (30 November), as COP28 began, a host of wealthy nations agreed to the calls from small island states to set up dedicated funding streams for loss and damage.

Loss and damage refer to the impact on economies, infrastructures and societies from climate-induced events. Small island states have been rallying for dedicated funding for years and major nations agreed to do so at COP28.

The UAE had committed $100m to the fund, a figure that has been matched by Germany. The UK has pledged £40m to the Fund and £20m for other funding arrangements for loss and damage. The US has committed $17m – a move that has been criticised for not being sufficient enough – and Japan $10m. Along with other backers, the total now exceeds $725m.

The World Bank has agreed to act as administrator for at least four initial years. Additionally, nations that should pay in have been named, including the US, UK and EU. These wealthiest nations will be “urged” to contribute their fair share, while rapidly developing nations with major economies, like China, will be “encouraged” to pay in. There is not yet a set target for how much should be provided and by when.

‘Out vs Down’ emerges as the key grappling point

COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber was slammed on social media and in the press on Sunday (3 December), after the Guardian unearthed comments he made at an online event prior to the climate summit.

In conversation with Ireland’s former President and chair of The Elders, Mary Robinson, he said he had seen “no science out there” concluding that a fossil fuel phase-out would deliver the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory. He accused Robinson of “alarmism” and asked her to have a more “sober and mature conversation”.

Al Jaber has since distanced himself from that notion, delivering a press conference at COP28 and stating that “I have said over and over the phase-down and the phase-out of fossil fuel is inevitable. In fact, it is essential.”

Previous COPs have been stung by last-minute language tweaks that have weakened the overall agreement, with the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26 notably having its texts changed at the last minute to remove fossil fuel phase-outs, in favour of phase-down. The latter is ambiguous and lacks real urgency and definition and one of the key make or break points at COP28 will be whether the final texts and/or the Global Stocktake include the dreaded “down” rather than “out”.

Research from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned that global annual average temperatures will exceed the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement by 2027, bringing life-altering climate impacts at a quicker pace. This, and other reaffirming research, has led many within the green community to state that a phase-down of fossil fuels is not compatible with the Paris Agreement. Voices are growing louder and stronger in defiance that phase-out must be included in the final texts.

Points of no return have been passed

Also at COP28, scientists published what they claim is the most comprehensive review to date of environmental tipping points, both positive and potentially catastrophic.

The Global Tipping Points report went out on Tuesday (5 December) from a coalition of academics convened by the University of Exeter, assesses how close the world is to 26 negative Earth tipping points.

These are points of no return, past which damages will materialise at a faster pace. Damages can relate to the topic itself but also create cascading risks across systems. One tipping point, for example, is rainforest loss – particularly in the Amazon. Cascading impacts include biodiversity loss, changes to water systems and a reduction in carbon sequestration.

The report sets out six key asks for those at COP28, the UN’s annual climate summit currently ongoing in Dubai, to help bring about these positive tipping points.

Chief among them is immediate action to phase out fossil fuels, putting the world on track to dramatically scale back production and consumption before 2050. This has proven to be a big sticking point at COP28 given the host nation’s status as a petrostate. Strong rhetoric is on display on coal, but nations rich in oil and gas, as well as energy companies, are on site blocking an agreement on a total fossil fuel phase-out.

Additionally, a collective of leading researchers across more than 20 nations banded together to produce a report at COP28 that detailed 10 new climate science insights that policymakers need to respond to, covering fossil fuel phase-outs and an over-reliance on natural carbon sinks.

The 10 New Insights in Climate Science series have been launched at COPs since 2017, in partnership with the UNFCCC. To mark COP28, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, has worked with Future Earth, the Earth League and the World Climate Research Programme to outline the latest climate-related trends and how they should be responded to.

Click here to read about the 10 points in more detail.

UK’s climate leadership status starts to erode

The UK’s approach to climate policy before COP28 has been, in the kindest words we can use, head-scratching. Back in September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to relax certain deadlines for green policies. These included a five-year delay on the ban of new petrol and diesel cars and vans, to 2035; a weakening of requirements for all homes with oil and gas boilers to replace them with low-carbon alternatives and weakened requirements for landlords to improve building energy efficiency.

Sunak’s appearance at COP2 was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. He was on hand at the Blue Zone to unveil how more than £1.6bn in climate funding would spent, as well as confirming a new £11bn investment partnership for the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm with UAE-based Masdar. But he was off soon after than that, leaving some to summarise that he’s spent more time in private jets flying to and from COP28 than he did at the Summit.

Some commentators in the climate space believe that Sunak limited his time at COP28 to also limit his exposure to questions on the recent policy decisions. The UK Government still champions its self-proclaimed notion that the nation is a “world leader” on climate, but it is most certainly at risk of reneging on this title.

The UK is not pushing for a phase-out of fossil fuels at COP28, for example. Energy Security and Net-Zero Minister Graham Stuart confirmed shortly before the summit began. He told MPs that Britain would support a ‘phase down of fossil fuel emissions’ in a bid to get a broad global consensus.

Stuart’s comments were made just a day after the King’s Speech, through which it was confirmed that the Government would enshrine in law a requirement for annual oil and gas licencing rounds.

edie recently spoke to Chris Skidmore, author of the Net-Zero Review, as to whether the UK’s position as a climate leader is at risk. You can watch that here.

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