👀 OK now it's really on. COP28 we mean. Let's dive in with a Smart Brevity count of 1,186 words, 4.5 minutes.

🛢️ Situational awareness: Saudi Arabia has won "provisional backing" for further OPEC+ oil production cuts ahead of today's meeting, the FT reports.

🌍 Axios will have great events at COP28, including interviews with Al Gore, Microsoft sustainability boss Melanie Nakagawa & more. Full agenda and registration.

🎶 Happy birthday to genre-busting rock great Shuggie Otis, who has today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Climate pledge pros and cons

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

COP28 talks in Dubai spotlight a tricky question: whether ubiquitous calls for greater "ambition" can drive faster on-the-ground action to slash emissions, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The summit's "global stocktake" will set up the next national, non-binding pledges covering 2025-2035.

  • Look for more ad-hoc target-setting around clean energy, forests and more alongside the formal talks.
  • Also, you'll hear more about the importance of 2050 net-zero goals.

The big picture: How strong is the link between pledges, targets and actual deployment progress?

  • The voluntary 2015 Paris architecture has produced results.
  • Per UN analysis last week, policies when Paris was signed would have brought a 16% emissions rise by 2030. Today's projected rise is 3%.

Yes, but: It's tough to tease out precisely how Paris pledges, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), are changing emissions trajectories.

  • And most nations aren't on track to meet existing 2030 pledges, despite some promising signs.

What they're saying: "My view is that the overall ambition has become disconnected from reality," David Victor, a UC-San Diego climate policy scholar.

  • He argued the world will not hold warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. Victor said firms and governments are doing a lot, and must do more.
  • Still, "setting targets to align with 1.5°C doesn't help them do more because those targets are no longer economically and politically feasible," Victor said via email.

The intrigue: Tufts University's Kelly Sims Gallagher argues action under NDCs has helped lower projected warming levels from a 4°C-5°C range.

What's next: Sims Gallagher, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, said stronger pledges can work in concert with tangible steps.

The bottom line: "We need both: increased ambition and a greater focus on implementation," Gallagher said.

Go deeper

2. Bonus: Charting the pledge ecosystem

Share of CO2 emissions covered by government net-zero pledges, by type of pledge
Data: IEA; Note: "Asia Pacific - AE" includes Australia, Korea, Japan and New Zealand. Graphic: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

Over 85% of global energy-related carbon emissions are subject to some kind of government net-zero target as of September, Ben writes.

The big picture: This chart via International Energy Agency analysis shows that while ambition is broad, many targets aren't codified in law.

Go deeper: Getting clarity on the pledge universe is tricky, so for another look, the research consortium Net Zero Tracker slices it up.

3. COP28: "Loss and damage" fund passes on day 1

Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber speaks Thursday during the opening ceremony of the COP28 Climate Conference in Dubai. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

COP28 climate summit head Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber notched a win on the first official day of talks in Dubai, with the adoption of an agreement to set up a "loss and damage" fund, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: This fund, which would take contributions from countries and direct funds to developing nations to help them withstand climate impacts, has been highly contentious and a longtime goal of developing nations.

The big picture: The adoption on Thursday afternoon in Dubai establishes the "Climate Impact and Response Fund" within the World Bank. Many developing countries opposed it during multiple rounds of negotiations, in part because industrialized nations like the U.S. exert more influence over that institution.

  • The U.S. has emphasized all contributions to the fund are voluntary and not an admission of legal culpability for causing climate-related damages.

What's next: Attention now shifts to securing loss and damage funding pledges, some of which are expected later Thursday. Developing countries want at least $100 billion per year, but figures of this scale are not yet on the table.

  • Other hot button issues lie ahead in the talks running through Dec. 12, including new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris targets, rules governing carbon markets and a reckoning over how to grapple with fossil fuel production and use.

The bottom line: "If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline," said the UN's chief climate official, Simon Stiell, in a COP28 address.

4. Catch up fast on COP28

Illustration: Axios Visuals

📊 A major new analysis sees Earth heading for much more harmful warming, but it could have been far worse, Ben writes.

  • Driving the news: The Rhodium Group finds the world is "very likely" to breach the 2°C Paris target, but "we've avoided the most catastrophic projections."
  • Why it matters: This is the respected research firm's first long-term, detailed temperature outlook using their own emissions modeling methods.
  • The big picture: They see a likely rise of 2.3°C to 3.4°C above preindustrial levels by century's end, with a mean estimate of 2.8°C.
  • Threat level: Policy and tech progress warded off UN estimates that, eight years ago, had considerably higher upper ranges. But even these safer projections still mean a "dire climate future."

🥵 2023 has "shattered climate records" and is slated to be the warmest on record, the World Meteorological Organization said in releasing its annual state of the climate report this morning.

  • Why it matters: The UN weather agency's release is timed to the opening of COP28, underscoring the urgency of the talks.
  • The big picture: Data through October shows this year about 1.4°C above the pre-industrial 1850-1900 baseline, making the record basically inevitable regardless of November-December conditions.
  • What they're saying: That's just one milestone tallied, and the overall report shows a "deafening cacophony of broken records," WMO head Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

🧳 Exxon boss Darren Woods is likely to attend COP28, Reuters reports, noting it would mark a first for a CEO from the oil giant. Go deeper on Woods' goals for the summit.

5. COP28 brings AI-infused plan to verify emissions

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Microsoft and UN officials have a new partnership that promises to use AI to accurately track emissions progress under the Paris Agreement, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The tech giant will build an "AI-powered platform" and data hub that will "dramatically simplify" analysis and validation of info countries submit under the 2015 pact.

Why it matters: "Trust but verify" is a thing in climate diplomacy. And granular info is needed to assess emissions trajectories and future warming.

How it works: The announcement notes that aggregating and analyzing data today is time-consuming and often done manually.

  • The idea: Microsoft's analytics will help the UN and countries do this better and faster.
  • It applies to transportation, agriculture, industrial processes, and other CO2 sources.
  • It will support the UN's formal "Enhanced Transparency Framework" under Paris.

What we're watching: Designers hope it also helps countries cut emissions by aiding with simulations and other tools to inform policy.

6. Breaking: the new push to boost CO2 removal buying

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Online payments giant Stripe just unveiled a new offering to broaden the pool of companies paying to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Ben writes.

Why it matters: Scaling removal into a weapon against global warming will require expanded market demand, which helps provide investors confidence.

Driving the news: An early mover in backing carbon removal, Stripe launched "Climate Orders," which enables businesses to "pre-order" a specific amount of tons of CO2 removal.

  • Services are routed through Frontier, the consortium Meta, Google, Stripe and other heavyweights that works with a suite of removal startups.

State of play: Several companies in the climate space are already using the new offering, per Stripe, including Watershed, Patch and the nonprofit Terraset.

Catch up fast: It dovetails with an existing Stripe offering called "Climate Commitments," which lets businesses devote a fraction of their revenues to help startups get tech from the lab into the field.

The bottom line: It's unclear if removal will ever reach truly consequential amounts, but the thousand-flowers-bloom approach could help.

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🙏 Thanks to Chris Speckhard and Javier David for edits to today's edition, along with the talented Axios Visuals team.