Dubai COP28: Loss and Damage a milestone, opportunity missed on fossil fuels
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai was no different and finally presented as a face-saver the deadline of 2050 for net-zero and emissions equal to Earth’s sequestration capability
Clinching a deal at climate talks has never been easy. Rarely all 200 countries have agreed before the last minute of the annual Conference of Parties meetings under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Almost every climate negotiation has gone beyond the stipulated time, pushing the negotiations to agree on a face-saver.
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai was no different and finally presented as a face-saver the deadline of 2050 for net-zero and emissions equal to Earth’s sequestration capability.
For the first time, there was hedged wording around fossil fuels saying “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner” and calling for accelerating action in this decade.
The Dubai deal spoke about phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that do not lead to poverty alleviation. The agreement does not talk about phasing out fossil fuels with a deadline, a disappointment. It failed to present any clarity on how net zero will be achieved by 2050 without phasing out fossil fuels.
In the end, as top United States (US) climate negotiator and former vice-president John Kerry said, the deal is a “compromise”. It seems that the developed world has got its pound of flesh in the give and take. Rich countries agreed to much-debated Loss And Damage (LND), a compensation mechanism to pay for loss due to climate-induced disasters, with a US $ 100 billion commitment.
Most of the money from this fund, whose operating rules are yet to be notified, is likely to go to the vulnerable climate island countries and Africa. The fund has been in the making for the past two decades.
A veteran climate negotiator said the LND was a “political tool” to push the vulnerable countries to pressure the emerging economies, India, China, and Brazil, to accept the proposed Global Stocktake (GST), which pushes for renewable energy intake and a longer life to fossil fuels.
As per the deal, the nations have to submit GST by 2025 and report by 2024 on whether they have met earlier Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). “After decades of evasion, COP28 finally cast a glaring spotlight on the real culprits of the climate crisis which is fossil fuels. Yet, the resolution is marred by loopholes that offer the fossil fuel industry numerous escape routes, relying on unproven, unsafe technologies,” said Climate Action Network-International global political strategy head Harjeet Singh.
The GST and review of earlier NDCs is a periodic exercise under the Paris Climate Agreement to push countries to improve their climate mitigation goals every four to five years.
The NDCs is a review-based voluntary emission control exercise under agreement with a common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) principle imbibed in it. As per the Dubai agreement, each country will have to submit NDCs and one will have to see whether they would meet the global climate mitigation target specified under the GST. That is why the review of earlier NDCs will be submitted in 2024, almost a year before countries submit their improved NDCs for 2030.
Many countries in the past have objected to the NDC review mechanism. It was agreed that the submission of NDCs would remain a voluntary exercise without any review. India in Dubai opposed “prescriptive” NDCs.
Experts believe the Dubai agreement would fail to prevent even a 2°C rise in global temperatures to pre-industrial level by the turn of the century, not to mention the 1.5°C temperature target.
The World Meteorological Organisation has estimated that the global temperature has risen by 1.2°C of the pre-industrial level. The emission window available has “almost” been exhausted. The current emissions levels will take the world to a 2.5-2.7°C rise by the turn of the century.
The reluctance of the developed world, especially the US and Canada, and emerging economies, India and China, to phase out fossil fuels, the backbone of their economies, is a significant reason for the inability to achieve the target. The US and Canada want to continue with oil and gas usage. India and China are keen to exploit their huge coal reserves.
The emerging economies believe alternate cleaner technologies are not available at a reasonable cost for them to adopt. Therefore, phasing out fossil fuels does not make “economic sense” to them.
The rich nations are not ready to provide fossil fuel replacement technologies patent-free, saying such a move would hamper innovation and better efficiency in renewable technologies, especially solar and wind.
The emerging economies believe that phasing out fossil fuels without “adequate” climate finance would go against the CBDR principle. India and China believe that the $100 billion climate finance commitment is inadequate for a “just” transition to cleaner fuels.
The Dubai conference has not delivered on the fossil fuels on the expected lines but provided hope to the most climate-vulnerable countries to get compensation through the LND mechanism. There is also forward movement on the adaptation plan.
The Global Goal on Adaptation has seven targets, including significantly reducing climate-induced water scarcity, ensuring affordable potable water supply to all, and fostering climate-resilient agriculture production and health services.
The targets are laudable but would be difficult to achieve in the absence of adequate technology transfer and funding outside the $100 billion climate finance promised by the rich countries.
As it was clear from negotiations in Dubai, the rich countries are unwilling to pay anything more than what they have committed. They maintain that climate change is a global problem and they cannot be the only ones held responsible for historical emissions.
From almost nothing in 1991 at the Rio Earth Summit to Kyoto (Japan) in 1998 when the first climate agreement was signed to Paris in 2015, it was about long and tedious negotiations with small gains leading to positive results. From only rich nations in 1998, all countries are now accountable for climate problems and have to contribute “as per their capabilities” for climate mitigation.
The Dubai conference has also delivered on the “significant incremental” gains as Kerry said. There is some forward movement on phasing out fossil fuels. But only time and science will tell whether these efforts will reduce the intensity of climate-induced disasters such as in Chennai in December and the havoc of monsoon rains in Himachal Pradesh this summer.
As of now, science tells us the negotiations have so far failed on scientific expectations. For now, over to the next Conference of Parties, whose venue is yet to be decided.