Will The UAE Presidency Succeed In Securing Tangible Climate Wins At COP28

By Abhiir Bhalla November 02, 2023

COP28: The first global stocktake mandated by the Paris Agreement is expected to be conducted at the COP28 to check progress of countries with reference to their commitments

Will The UAE Presidency Succeed In Securing Tangible Climate Wins At COP28
US has refused to pay historical reparations to developing countries for its emissions during its developmental journey, and this is likely to inspire other developed countries. Shutterstock

We are less than a month away from the annual premier climate conference, the 28th Conference of Parties (COP-28), and all eyes are on the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the conference in Dubai from November 30th to December 12th.

Even with talks being nearly a month away, the conference has been the topic of much controversy and debate in climate circles. Be it policymakers, youth activists, non-profits, or even amongst companies and governments, stakeholders have had varied perspectives, soliciting optimism and criticism, with expectations riding high nonetheless.

The first ‘global stocktake’, mandated by the Paris Agreement, is expected to be conducted at the COP28 to check the progress of countries with reference to their commitments. It will likely be polarising, given that countries are already aware they are off-course and are yet to find common consensus on the way forward. Meanwhile, the US has refused to pay historical reparations to developing countries for its emissions during its developmental journey, and this is likely to inspire other developed countries.

Amidst this, critics are sceptical whether the UAE - the world’s 8th largest oil producer - would be able to turn the tide on just and equitable energy transitions, given that the talks are being led by Sultan Al Jaber, Chairman of the state-owned oil company, ADNOC. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels has been a hotly contested topic at the conference of parties.

At COP-26 in Glasgow, India and China faced global criticism for diluting the words of the conference outcome document from “phase out” of coal, to the “phase down” of coal. The following year, in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt), India, backed by the UK and the US, tried to make amends and encourage countries to commit to the “phase down” of all fossil fuels.

However, coming in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, this suggestion failed, given that European countries were buckling under the pressure of natural gas shortages and, consequently, with some even increasing their dependence on coal-powered electricity. Russia, too, has announced it will oppose the complete phasing out of coal. Balancing vying interests and promoting the adoption of carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technology, Jabar has suggested that the UAE would push for the phase-down of fossil fuels, as it was inevitable.

The reality remains that the COP28 presidency is merely going to define the agenda and steer the conference. What outcomes come of it, remains a question of diplomacy and political manoeuvring, rather than being something the UAE could enforce. This is already evident, given that Jabar’s hopes for the operationalisation of the COP27-produced loss and damage fund have already been crushed, with the transition committee’s recent meeting in Egypt ending in failure with the Global North and South unable to find a middle group.

With all of this painting a bleak picture, the question that than arises is: what is the way forward?

While technological progress is slow in comparison to the narrow timeline countries are working within, promising initiatives have emerged, such as the Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre under the purview of the International Solar Alliance. A Global Biofuel Alliance has also been launched by the G20. Enterprises like this could help promote international cooperation in the production, trade, and utilisation of low- or zero-emission fuels in the long or medium term.

To this end, the G20 made significant progress in New Delhi, noting the need for $4 trillion annually for clean energy technologies by 2030 and the need for $5.8–5.9 trillion in the pre-2030 period required for developing countries to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions. This association of nations, which accounts for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, reaffirmed their intent to achieve global net-zero GHG emissions by or around mid-century and vowed to pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity.

At the crux of it, climate finance and energy transitions remain key focus areas for the upcoming climate conference. One could list countless such statistics which need to be met to stay on course to prevent irreversible damage. Over the past 27 years, commitments have been made, missed, met, and forgotten. Diplomacy will be central to securing these targets, which remain irrefutably crucial and must not be discounted. Yet, it is important to acknowledge that there are also intangible factors that play a role in securing consensus on outcomes.

While young people and marginalised individuals are increasingly getting greater representation at global fora, there is still a long way to go. The larger issue, however, is that such groups must not just get a seat at the table but also a say at the table. COP28 might well be the most inclusive COP so far, but its success should not be measured by the diverse attendance but by how diversity is championed and provided a platform: are policymakers and politicians of the world listening to young and marginalised representatives? Or are they making their addresses and leaving the room owing to their ‘busy schedules’ before the underrepresented get to say their piece?

As different stakeholders gear up for the upcoming conference in less than four weeks, we must ask the question: Is the yardstick of success defined by commitments made at these conferences? Or by the fulfilment of the aforementioned commitments?

(Abhiir Bhalla is a youth advisor to the Governing Board of the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council.)