More than 70,000 delegates and other guests are expected to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai beginning Nov. 30 and concluding Dec. 12. The international swarm will include representatives of 197 nations, who will be accommodated in more than 230 hotels and resorts. But all of those numbers are for the hospitality committee. The far more important metrics will be addressed by the delegates themselves, who will be tending to a wide range of tough environmental issues—perhaps none more important than these three:
The great global stock-taking
There’s no better way to clean up a mess than to stand back and take a fearless and searching moral inventory of just how bad things have gotten. Every five years, the United Nations climate conference does just that, evaluating where the world stands in relation to the goal established by the 2015 Paris Accords of keeping global warming no higher than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
This year, the news is grim. According to a just-released U.N. report, the world has nearly reached that limit. At this pace, greenhouse gas emissions will have to decline by a head-snapping 43% to have any hope of keeping temperature rise to the more ambitious 1.5°C goal by 2030.
“Implementation of the Paris agreement is lacking across all areas,” said the U.N. report, “and [is] not where it should be.”
Farewell to fossil fuels?
The scourge of fossil fuel emissions would go away entirely if the fossil fuels themselves did. And that’s not an entirely impossible—if admittedly improbable—goal. Just over a week ago, the European Parliament voted by a whopping 462 to 134 (with 30 abstentions) to phase out all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies “as soon as possible and by 2025 at the latest.” Doing away with subsidies, of course, is not the same as doing away with the fuels themselves, but the Parliament also voted for “a tangible phasing out of fossil fuels as soon as possible, as well as halting all new investment in fossil fuel extraction.”
The European Parliament, of course, is just one part of the picture. The U.A.E., for example, has the world’s sixth highest per capita CO2 emissions, and while COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, head of the U.A.E. state-owned oil company ADNOC, has committed his country to reducing fossil fuel emissions, here too that’s not remotely the same as eliminating use of the fuels entirely, something the country has no stated intention of doing. Similar sentiments prevail in the U.S.—the world’s 12th highest per capita CO2 emitter—where just 31% of the public favors phasing out fossil fuels; Australia, the 10th highest per capita emitter, actually plans to expand fossil fuel production and export; and in China, the number one per capita emitter, chief climate envoy Xie Zhenhua recently dubbed the elimination of fossil fuels “unrealistic.”
Loss and damage fund
India got clobbered by the monsoon season this year, with an estimated 428 deaths and more than $1.4 billion in property damage. That’s just a fraction of the losses the subcontinent and much of the developing world have suffered over the decades at the hands of the climate depredations largely wrought by wealthier nations’ historic emissions.
At COP27 last year nations agreed to create a loss and damage fund. Ahead of this year’s summit, during a Sept. 1 meeting in the Dominican Republic, delegates made progress on that, calling on one another to establish funding sources to help the developing world prepare in advance for climate disasters and make the necessary fixes when calamities inevitably occur.
That kind of assistance, though long overdue, will not come cheap. According to a recent U.N. report, mitigation, prevention, and recovery will cost an estimated $215 billion per year in developing countries. COP27, estimates put the figure even higher, at $300 billion per year by 2030. Either way, wealthy countries are nowhere near making good on their pledges: the first loss and damage fund, proposed in Copenhagen in 2009, pledged to raise $100 billion for the developing world. The funds raised thus far have topped out at just $10.3 billion .
“It is one thing to have a well-structured fund,” said Al Jaber, addressing the September gathering. “But [it] will only be fully operational if it is actually funded. COP28 … is the place to deliver and operationalize the fund.”
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