Oct 18, 2023 - Energy & Environment

COP 28 agenda to focus on emissions cuts pre-2030, and money

Illustration of a pen and notebook surrounded by abstract shapes and a photo of the Earth's atmosphere.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The head of the upcoming U.N. climate talks in Dubai sent world leaders a comprehensive plan for the two-week gathering, which starts in about 40 days.

Why it matters: The agenda includes everything from details on the world leaders portion of the summit to potential landing zones on climate emissions reduction targets by 2030.

Yes, but: The letter comes amid instability in the Middle East, which could sap leaders' attention and raise tensions between delegations at the summit.

Zoom in: In the letter, Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the president-designate of the summit, presents the summit as an "inflection point" and a "test" of the willingness and ability of the international community to dramatically speed and scale up its actions to combat climate change.

  • The first sentence references the "climate shocks" around the world in recent months, using them to create a sense of urgency.
  • Al-Jaber pushes for countries to step up with new pledges and plans to address a lack of funding for aiding hard-hit countries, and for the need to commit to more ambitious emissions cuts by 2030 along with other steps.

Between the lines: The report amounts to a road map for the climate summit, starting with the world leaders portion at the beginning and proceeding to the more tension-filled, backroom talks that typically characterize the second half of these gatherings.

  • Al-Jaber puts forward the goal of achieving "a responsible phase down of unabated fossil fuels," with a specific emphasis on halting new approvals of coal-fired power plants beyond 2030.
  • However, this goal may be criticized as tepid, especially by more vulnerable countries concerned about global average surface temperatures exceeding 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels.
  • This week the EU, for example, also agreed to negotiate a phase down of "unabated" fossil fuels, though some member states would prefer a more aggressive target.
  • While there are different interpretations of "unabated," it is generally taken to mean the use of technology, such as carbon capture and storage, to trap and store greenhouse gas emissions before they are emitted at the power plant level.
  • However, carbon capture has not yet been demonstrated to work for this purpose at scale.

The intrigue: The letter repeatedly refers to the need for more money to flow from industrialized countries and multinational development banks to combat future climate change and help developing nations withstand climate impacts.

  • Countries throughout the tropics and across Africa, for example, are being hit the hardest despite contributing relatively little to the buildup of greenhouse gases that have caused the present-day problem.
  • Al-Jaber has been criticized as the president-designate given his position atop the UAE's national oil company, though he also serves as the head of the country's renewables venture and has experience as a climate envoy at previous climate summits.
  • The letter lays out his expectations for the energy industry, including a commitment to zeroing out methane emissions by 2030, and "dramatically increasing their investments in clean energies."
  • In what may be a reference to past disinformation and lobbying tactics of some fossil fuel companies, al-Jaber's letter calls on the energy sector to "collaborate with policymakers to advance, and not impede, progress" on decarbonization.

What they're saying: David Waskow of the World Resources Institute said al-Jaber's missive strikes many of the right notes, though there are some things missing.

  • "Transformation has to be the central thrust of COP28 — we're past the point of incremental change," Waskow told Axios.
  • "And that's true across emissions, reductions, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance. The COP president's letter fortunately leans into a narrative of significant change. But the specifics will matter enormously."
  • He said one category that goes unmentioned in the letter is fossil-free transport, which is significant considering petroleum's dominant role in powering cars and trucks and the recent growth in EVs.

What we're watching: One of the contentious topics during the past two climate summits concerns the creation and operation of a fund for industrialized nations to contribute to compensate developing countries for the damage climate change has already caused.

  • This is known in climate diplomatic language as "Loss and damage."
  • On this topic, al-Jaber sets a high bar for COP28: "We need to ensure the new fund for addressing Loss and Damage and funding arrangements are up and running as soon as possible, as a priority," the letter states. "We cannot delay this by having a multiyear process to agree on governance."
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