Dubai, November-December 2023 – As the world faced record-breaking temperatures in 2023, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) convened in Dubai with a critical agenda: to transform climate promises into tangible actions. This pivotal event, held from November 13th to December 12th, brought global leaders together to chart a course for dramatic emissions reductions and protect lives and livelihoods.
The Controversy of Leadership in a Petro State
COP28’s location and leadership sparked controversy, highlighting a complex relationship between the energy sector and climate policy. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), served as COP28 President. His dual role raised questions about potential conflicts of interest, given ADNOC’s stature in the energy industry.
The Fossil Fuel Dilemma
Petro states faced intense pressure at COP28. The central dilemma was whether to “phase out” or “phase down” the use of coal, oil, and gas. The final text, calling for a “transition away from fossil fuels in a just, orderly, and equitable manner,” reflected a compromise, but with language less forceful than proposed by the Western coalition and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Methane Emissions: Diversion or Real Solution?
In a notable move, a coalition of major oil and gas companies committed to near-zero methane emissions by 2030. However, this focus on methane, a potent greenhouse gas, drew criticism for potentially diverting attention from the deeper issue of oil and gas dependence. Critics argue that while important, methane reduction is a symptomatic treatment rather than addressing the root cause – the ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.
Establishing a Loss and Damage Fund
A significant development at COP28 was the establishment of a loss and damage fund, aimed at supporting climate-vulnerable developing countries. Despite initial pledges totaling $700 million, experts point out that this falls far short of the estimated need, which exceeds $400 billion annually!!! This humongous gap underscores the ongoing challenge of mobilizing adequate resources for climate adaptation and mitigation in developing nations. Worst of all, the US, which is historically the worst greenhouse gas emitter and largest economy in the world, has so far pledged a pithy sum of $17.5m!
Concluding Thoughts: Hopeful Yet Doubtful
COP28 marks a step forward in global climate efforts, but the journey ahead remains daunting. The remaining carbon budget is dwindling, and far more urgent action is needed. Our view is that the path to a sustainable future requires much bigger, bolder steps and more decisive action from all stakeholders. To some extent, we can empathize with Greta Thunberg’s remark that the climate deal was “a stab in the back.”
As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”. All eyes will now be on the exact steps taken to effect the transition away from fossil fuels and whether methane reduction truly takes place given the difficulty in accurately tracking emissions and enforcing the reduction. Many of the pledges in COP28 may just turn out to be a smokescreen, as fossil fuels continue to burn – an outcome we fervently hope to avoid.
As we peek into 2024, there are mounting concerns about Donald Trump winning the 2024 U.S. presidential elections and how this may end up unraveling whatever limited progress is made. Trump’s previous presidency saw the rollback of many environmental protections, such as withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement , raising concerns that similar actions could occur if he is re-elected. Given that the U.S. plays a key role in international climate negotiations, leadership not committed to climate action would weaken global efforts.
Perhaps it is time for greater activism by each and everyone of us. Rather than leaving matters in the hands of the elites, securing a sustainable future is everyone’s responsibility. JC students can reflect on what tangible contributions they can make as they read and reflect on all these issues. After all, mere GP essay writing will not save our planet.
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