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COP28: Little to Celebrate, More to Lament

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By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS | 13 December 2023 (IDN) — When the much-ballyhooed climate change “conference of parties” —COP28—concluded on December 12 in the bustling Emirati city of Dubai, it reflected an old Greek proverb: the mountain that laboured to produce a mouse.

The London-based Nafkote Dabi, Climate Change Policy Lead at Oxfam International, rightly summarized it as follows: “Everyone fighting against the global climate crisis has little to celebrate from this disappointing COP28. Its final outcome is grossly inadequate. Oil, coal and gas won again, but they had to struggle harder to do so and their era is nearing its end”.

COP28, she argued, was doubly disappointing because it put no money on the table to help developing countries transition to renewable energies.

“And rich countries again reneged on their obligations to help people being hit by the worst impacts of climate breakdown, like those in the Horn of Africa who have recently lost everything from flooding, after an historic five-season drought and years of hunger.”

“Developing countries, and the poorest communities, are left facing more debt, worsening inequality, with less help, and more danger and hunger and deprivation. COP28 was miles away from the historic and ambitious outcome that was promised,” she declared.

For the last 24 hours, the mounting criticisms of the COP28 results, mostly by climate change activists and civil society organizations (CSOs), seemed never-ending.

Jannes Stoppel, a Policy Advisor for Biodiversity and Climate Policy at Greenpeace International, said COP28 concludes with a weak signal to transition away from dangerous fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Instead, the Global Stock Take (GST) decision text is full of dangerous false solutions. For example, the agreed goal to triple renewable energy does not exclude the expansion of industrial scale bioenergy, also linked with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to substitute fossil fuel emissions.

“That’s a dangerous distraction because it will have destructive environmental and social impacts around the world”, he said.

The rejection of negotiation texts on the trade of carbon emissions under Article 6.2 and 6.4 should serve as a dire warning to buyers of cheap greenwashing offset certificates from carbon traders who have ignited a rush for land titles in many parts of the world.

More than a carbon scam

The demand to secure cheap offset credits is not only a carbon scam. It risks increasing land grabs and conflicts that endanger the livelihood security of vulnerable communities.

“The approval of a decision on non-market based international cooperation keeps a door of hope open to alternatives means of cooperation that create synergies between climate mitigation, adaptation, sustainable development and ecosystem protection and restoration” Stoppel declared.

In a statement issued following the conclusion of COP28, members of CLARA, the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, said civil society was clear in its demand for a full, fair and funded fossil fuel commitment, calling for rapid action in this next critical decade with a full phase out by 2050.

CLARA members were particularly concerned about the risk of dangerous distractions, including ‘abatement’ language around fossil fuels which open the door to co-firing biomass with coal, using land-based carbon credits for offsetting emissions, and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

As feared, the final COP decision—the UAE Consensus—contains a great deal of dangerous distractions, including abated fossil fuels, unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage, and biofuels.

“This undermines the clarity that was needed from the global stocktake, to send a signal to countries for the action needed to increase ambition. And once again, developed countries who are most responsible for the climate crisis failed to deliver on providing the finance owed and necessary to support developing countries in their ambitious climate action.”

Of the developing nations, the most vulnerable are the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

According to the UN, LDCs are low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. They are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets.

There are currently 45 countries on the list of LDCs which is reviewed every three years by the Committee for Development (CDP).

The very lowest possible ambition

Reacting to the outcomes of COP28, Diouf Sarr, Chair of the LDCs Group, said: “This outcome is not perfect, we expected more. It reflects the very lowest possible ambition that we could accept rather than what we know, according to the best available science, is necessary to urgently address the climate crisis.

“We have taken stock of progress in implementing the Paris Agreement, and seen the world is well off-track. The Dubai decision is historic in including the first reference to fossil fuels, but we are concerned about the loopholes that it leaves open, which could limit true emissions reductions and ambition.”

Limiting warming to 1.5C, she pointed out, is a matter of survival, and international cooperation remains key to ensuring it.  Alignment with 1.5C not only requires countries to urgently reduce domestic emissions but also the delivery of significant climate finance “so that we can continue our leadership in going well beyond our fair share of the global effort when it comes to reducing emissions.”

There is recognition, said Sarr, in this text of the trillions of dollars needed to address climate change in our countries. The GST highlights the vast gap between developing country needs and the finance available, as well as underscoring rapidly dwindling fiscal space due to the debt crisis. Yet it fails to deliver a credible response to this challenge.

“Next year will be critical in deciding the new climate finance goal, which must be informed by this global stocktake, and must close the vast gaps that have been identified. To respond to the GST, the new goal must reflect the full needs of our countries to address climate change, including the costs to mitigate, to adapt, and to address loss and damage,” she noted.

Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said: “As the ‘COP28’ climate negotiations in Dubai concluded, the final declaration agreed to by more than 190 countries and territories shows some serious strides forward, while many frustrations remain.”

The outcome of COP28 has secured the 1.5 degree Celsius goal as the ‘North Star’ for collective climate ambition. Given 2023 is the hottest year on record, “reaffirming that goal underscores the urgency of climate action at speed and scale, aligning with what the science is telling us.”

For the first time, said Steiner, nations have formally agreed to transition away from fossil fuels in a just and equitable manner. These are at the very core of humanity’s climate problem, as the UN Secretary-General reiterated in his closing remarks.

“Some are understandably frustrated that the agreed language could have been stronger on this issue. But it remains the most unequivocal signal to date that the world is moving beyond the fossil fuel era”.

The declaration, he said, should be considered the starting point for more ambition, not the endpoint. Fundamentally, countries have agreed that successful economies of the future will be net zero.

In Dubai, parties also achieved a breakthrough: the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund, with nearly 800 million dollars of capitalization that took place on the opening day of the negotiations. The fund will help those suffering most from the effects of climate change whilst being the least responsible.

However, on the contentious issues of finance, Steiner said, COP negotiations in Dubai continue to fall short on what the most vulnerable nations identify they urgently need: sufficient finance to allow them to meet needs and carry out climate action at the level of ambition necessary.

In his statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said COP28 occurred at a decisive moment in the fight against the climate crisis—a moment that demands maximum ambition both in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and climate justice.

The issues of the energy transition and the future of fossil fuels were front and centre.

The Global Stocktake clearly reaffirmed the imperative of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees which requires drastic reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions in this decade.

In addition, for the first time, the outcome recognizes the need to transition away from fossil fuels—after many years in which the discussion of this issue was blocked, he said.

“Science tells us that limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees will be impossible without the phase out of all fossil fuels on a timeframe consistent with this limit.  This has been recognized by a growing and diverse coalition of countries.”

“To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase out is inevitable whether they like it or not.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late,” he warned. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber (centre), UN climate chief Simon Stiell (fourth from left) and other participants onstage during the Closing Plenary of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, at Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. COP28 | Christopher Pike





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