Updated Nov 29, 2023 - Energy & Environment

COP28 has high stakes for planet as climate warms, extreme weather surges

Global fossil fuel emissions
Data: CICERO; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals. Editor's note: This chart has been corrected to reflect that COP21 happened in 2015, not 2009.

Each COP summit tends to inch the world forward toward a lower carbon future.

Why it matters: Yet after 27 of these meetings, one thing is abundantly clear: Global emissions, as well as the resulting uptick in worldwide average temperatures, are dramatically outpacing outcomes from the COP process.

The big picture: At the same time, however, the COP rules give economic and emissions superpowers like the U.S. and China the same amount of votes (one each) as nations at the front lines of climate change, like Kiribati, Vanuatu and much of Africa. It's the only process of its kind.

Zoom in: Judging a COP's success or failure depends on the eye of the beholder; coming during the final month of the hottest year in Earth's recorded history, perhaps the climate itself should be the arbiter.

  • UN agencies, think tanks and academic institutions have issued a slew of reports pointing to how severe climate change impacts already are, at a comparatively small amount of warming (about 1.2°C (above 2.34°F) above preindustrial levels.
  • Such a drumbeat of alarm tends to occur before every COP, but this year, it is louder than ever before, and the stakes are higher, given the short timeline countries have to act before the Paris targets slip away.

Between the lines: The evidence of the (high) stakes involved have never been more obvious.

The other side: Negotiators have convened at prior COPs against the backdrop of climate change-worsened disasters, such as deadly Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in 2013.

  • Those events failed to yield breakthroughs in the climate talks.
  • However, the pervasiveness of climate impacts in 2023 plus more conclusive evidence linking disasters to human emissions may move the needle more.

Amid summits scheduled and commitments made, emissions have stubbornly risen.

Yes, but: With China's emissions set to peak before 2030, and the U.S. and EU seeing declining emissions, current projections expect a plateau followed by a decline.

  • The question is how steeply and quickly that happens. It's dependent on government policies, technological developments, and to some extent, COP outcomes.

Context: The role of these summits is not to directly control an emissions knob, but rather to set the terms of debate and help countries determine how ambitious their climate programs should be.

  • But at the end of the day, it's up to each nation, through their voluntary pledges, to decide how to make the energy transition.

The bottom line: No single COP can "solve" climate change. But one test to apply after Dubai is whether this summit helped in bending the emissions curve downward, thus preventing more significant climate-related damage later on.

Go deeper: COP 28: Here are the key developments to watch

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