Oct 30, 2023 - Energy & Environment

A critical meeting before the big COP28 summit will tackle thorny issues

Photo illustration of a meeting table over a photo of the Dubai skyline, with circles and lines around them

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Set against the backdrop of heightened Middle Eastern tensions, the United Arab Emirates is hosting a series of key meetings this week to prepare for the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Dubai.

Why it matters: Known as the Pre-COP, the meetings are attracting more than 50 senior government ministers and delegations from around the world to Abu Dhabi, including U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

The big picture: Major agenda items remain to be settled ahead of the summit, ranging from the basic workings of a fund to compensate developing nations for climate damages to commitments from the oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions.

  • The "loss and damage" fund, agreed to at COP27 in Egypt after years of wrangling, is supposed to be operational or close to it post-COP28 in Dubai, which begins Nov. 30.
  • Deep divisions exist over the basic architecture, including where the fund would be located and who would be responsible for putting money into it. After countries deadlocked on these negotiations, the talks will go into overtime in a hastily scheduled, multiday committee meeting this week.

Of note: Loss and damage talks will take place without one of the most experienced and dogged advocates for climate justice, Saleemul Huq, who passed away over the weekend.

  • A climate scientist from Bangladesh, he had attended every previous COP and was on COP28's advisory committee.
  • A forceful advocate for developing country perspectives, he advanced the topics of climate resilience, adaptation and loss and damage.
  • Climate advocates, scientists and diplomats paid tribute to him on social media.

The intrigue: The Middle East conflict threatens to make consensus-based decision-making at the summit more difficult. It also casts doubt on how many world leaders will descend on Dubai on Dec. 1 and 2.

  • A regional crisis could place more of an emphasis on energy security compared with emissions reduction, which could scuttle a push for fossil fuel phaseout language in any agreement.

What they're saying: Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, who will preside over COP28, nodded to the regional discord in opening remarks this morning.

  • "In such challenging times, with tension and discord between countries and within countries, our responsibility is only greater," he said. "There are too many things dividing our world at this moment. Let this process prove that multilateralism still works."
  • "I know there are strong views about the idea of including language on fossil fuels and renewables in the negotiated text," al-Jaber said, calling for "common ground" and "consensus" on this and other issues.

The bottom line: The Pre-COP is policymakers' last chance to pave the way for a productive COP28.

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