The 2023 United Nations climate change conference (COP28) kicked off this week in Dubai, bringing together world leaders to discuss critical actions needed to address the climate crisis. However, the location and leadership of the summit have raised concerns about the influence of fossil fuel interests.
Launch of Controversial Summit
The COP28 summit is being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a major oil producer. The UAE’s special envoy for climate change, Sultan Al Jaber, is also serving as president of the conference. As CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Jaber has faced accusations of conflict of interest (source).
A report last week claimed that ahead of the summit, Jaber and the UAE government sought oil drilling rights and deals with Western nations in exchange for climate pledges. Jaber has strongly denied the allegations, but the controversy has cast doubt over the UAE’s commitment to climate action (source).
Key Issues Up For Debate
The overarching goal of COP28 is to advance commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, the planet has already warmed by nearly 1.2°C, bringing more extreme weather events (source). Key issues under debate include:
Fossil fuel phase-out: Climate activists are calling for a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels, but oil-producing nations are resisting. There are doubts over whether an agreement can be reached (source).
Climate financing: Developing countries continue to push for increased financing from developed nations to help mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts. But funding remains well short of targets (source).
Loss and damage: There are hopes that the COP28 summit can build on progress made at COP27 last year in establishing a loss and damage fund. This would provide money to developing countries facing unavoidable climate harm. But key details around structure and funding sources need to be worked out (source).
"The world is hurtling past the 1.5° Celsius warming limit that nations set just a few years ago…We need all hands on deck – especially from the global private sector and financial institutions – to drive the concrete and ambitious action that science tells us is needed." UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (source)
|2030 Emissions Reduction Target
|50-52% below 2005 levels
|At least 55% below 1990 levels
|Peak emissions before 2030
|45% emissions intensity reduction
_Table showing key national emissions reduction targets pledged under the Paris Agreement_
Protest and Criticism
The choice of a major oil producer to host COP28 has prompted criticism and protests from climate activists:
- Youth climate activists like Greta Thunberg have announced they will not attend the summit in protest (source).
- Demonstrators gathered outside the conference venue this week calling for bolder climate action (source).
- Attendees have complained of the summit’s lavishness and hypocrisy of hosting a climate conference in an air-conditioned Dubai venue while served by fleets of petrol-guzzling cars (source).
"The petrostate hosting #COP28 shows real interest in neither climate progress nor inclusivity…I’ve therefore decided not to attend." Climate activist Luisa Neubauer (source)
However, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has defended the UAE’s role in hosting the summit:
"The Emirates have invested heavily in renewables at home and abroad. And the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative has provided an important platform for the industry to engage positively in the clean energy transition." (source)
Hopes and Challenges Ahead
The launch of a long-awaited loss and damage fund at COP28 is being hailed a breakthrough in providing support to vulnerable countries. But much work lies ahead in translating climate pledges into concrete action.
More ambitious national emissions reduction targets are urgently needed, especially from high emitters like the US, EU, China and India (source). Enhanced commitments around finance and adaptation support for developing countries will also be pivotal to future progress.
Bridging divides between countries to enable consensus on phasing out fossil fuels remains a monumental challenge. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber has emphasized "pragmatism, compromise and positive action" (source). But many are skeptical of real progress being achieved amid geopolitical fractures and oil interests potentially undermining climate priorities (source).
All eyes will be on whether substantive new agreements can emerge from the two-week summit. COP28 will test the world’s collective will to avert climate catastrophe.
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