Countdown to COP28: This will be on the agenda

November 30, 2023, COP28 is kicked off in Dubai. This COP will be special, as it will include the first global revision of how the implementation of the Paris Agreement is going. In this article, you'll learn what else is on the agenda so you can get ready for COP28.

Nov 20, 2023

Climate change

Isabella S. Rasmussen

The 28th COP is hosted by the UAE and COP president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, and it takes place from November 30 to December 12, 2023. More than 70,000 participants are expected.

The UAE is one of the biggest producers of oil and gas, and Al Jaber is CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The choice of host country and president has brought out strong reactions from all over the world, and 133 members of the US Congress and the European Parliament have even called for the president to be replaced.

Al Jaber himself has, however, stated that keeping the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive is the north star of the conference and has made it clear that “it’s time to turn rhetoric into results, ambitions into action, pilots into scalable projects. It is time to Unite, it is time to Act, and it is time to Deliver”.

In order to carry out the “major course correction” that Al Jaber is aiming for, all Parties must update their plans for reducing emissions to align them with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. This brings me to one of the most important points on the agenda for COP28, namely, the Global Stocktake.

(If you want more background info on COP and its history before reading on, check out our article about COP).

The first Global Stocktake: How is it going with implementing the Paris Agreement?

As part of the Paris Agreement, the Parties are to submit their climate action plans – their so called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – every five years. The NDCs lay out how the Parties plan to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Every NDC must be more ambitious than the Party’s previous one.

Together, all the Parties’ NDCs – and their implementation, of course – will determine whether the world is on track for the 1.5°C goal.

With the goal of assessing how the implementation of the Paris Agreement is going, a Global Stocktake will take place every five years. The first one happens this year at COP28 and will inform the new NDCs that the Parties must submit in 2025. The hope is that the Stocktake will encourage the necessary level of ambition from all the Parties.

Based on a new report from the UN Climate Change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, says that “inch by inch progress will not do. It is time for a climate ambition supernova in every country, city, and sector” and COP28 must be a clear turning point. “Governments must not only agree what stronger climate actions will be taken but also start showing exactly how to deliver them,” he says.

Loss and damage: Where will the money come from?

While the richest countries are responsible for many more emissions than the poorer countries, the poorer countries are paying the biggest price for global warming.

This has been a topic for debate throughout much of COP’s history. In 2009, the Green Climate Fund was established, and the rich countries pledged to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 to fund projects that reduce emissions in poor countries. But that promise wasn’t met and still hasn’t been to this date, and this has created mistrust between rich and poor countries.

Last year, at COP27, another fund was established – one to compensate poor countries for loss and damage caused by climate change, and this was regarded as one of the key outcomes of the conference. But they didn’t figure out where the money should come from which provoked the slogan “show us the money” that was used by many protesters and NGOs and dominated many COP27 headlines.

At COP28, one of the main tasks will therefore be to operationalize the loss-and-damage fund. Only time will tell if the money is shown.

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Fossil fuels: To phase out or not to phase out

Despite fossil fuels being the main drivers of global warming, it wasn’t until COP26 that explicit wording in the final text (the so-called cover text) began reflecting this, with an agreement to phase down coal.

Many Parties arrived at COP27 with the hope of extending that formulation to cover all fossil fuels. In fact, 80 countries supported phasing out unabated fossil fuels, but even so, Egypt did not include it as an option for the final text.

(When the word “unabated” is included, it means fossil fuels can still be used if this use is compensated for with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. The UAE in particular are big supporters of CCS while the EU is advocating that CCS only be used when absolutely necessary and that it shouldn’t be used “to green-light fossil fuel expansion”.)

COP27 was one of the longest COPs in history, as Parties continued battling over the final text long after the conference should’ve ended. Many accused oil and gas nations – including the host country, Egypt – for stonewalling the process.

In his closing speech at COP27, Frans Timmermans, then EU Climate Chief, said: “There were too many attempts to even roll back what we agreed in Glasgow”. He threatened to walk away from the agreement if it didn’t include language on phasing down fossil fuels, but in the last minute, he accepted it, in order not to hinder the agreement of establishing a fund for loss and damage.

And while the loss-and-damage fund was great news and long overdue, the agreement symbolized a focus on treating the symptoms of climate change without also treating the disease itself.

Many fear that there will be similar obstacles to this year’s negotiations due to the fact that COP28 is also hosted by a country that is one of the largest producers of oil and gas.

Mid-December, we will know whether the EU and other Parties have convinced the remaining Parties to commit to phasing out fossil fuels and peaking emissions by 2025.

Carbon markets: Time to avoid junk offsets

A carbon offset represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions avoided or removed from the atmosphere. Offsets can be bought by companies and governments who can use them to meet their own emissions reduction commitments. You’ve probably also had the opportunity to “offset” yourself, for instance, when buying an airplane ticket, a laptop, or ordering shipping. However, many of these offsets are highly questionable.

The problem is that the current rules for the carbon market are very opaque, and this can result in very ineffective projects or even projects that are used for greenwashing.

Let me give you an example: You buy an offset that involves the planting of trees. If those trees would’ve been planted anyway, you‘ve made no difference buying your offset which means it doesn’t make up for your own emissions. The same goes if the trees burn down, and the stored carbon dioxide is released into the air.

The lack of effective regulation means the carbon markets are full of offsets of low or poor quality.

There is also debate about who should benefit from offsetting projects, and countries are starting to make national rules that makes them able to retain more of the profit from projects carried out in their country.

Improving the rules of the carbon market is another important point on the COP28 agenda.

Methane: The low-hanging fruit

Methane is a greenhouse gas just as carbon dioxide but hasn’t received the same amount of attention, even though it’s 80 times more harmful than CO2 for 20 years after it is released”, and “its impact is 34 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period”. According to UNEP, methane is responsible for more than 25% of global warming.

Worldwide, at oil and gas fields, methane leaks happen all the time mainly due to equipment failure. Stopping these leaks is considered a low-hanging fruit in the race towards Net Zero.

At COP27 last year, the number of countries committed to the methane pledge reached 150. These countries are committed to reduce methane emissions with 30% by 2030.

A couple of weeks ago, China, the world’s largest methane emitter, announced a plan to reduce methane emissions, and on the 15th of November, the EU reached a provisional agreement (that awaits formal adoption) on new regulation to reduce methane, mainly by reducing venting and flaring of methane as much as possible.

As such, there are positive signs that the fight against methane emissions is gaining traction ahead of this year’s COP.

Whether the Parties will follow COP28's slogan, "Unite. Act. Deliver.", we'll know when the conference is over in a few weeks' time. I’ll make sure to update you; keep an eye on our website or LinkedIn page.

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