Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

COP28: have the climate negotiations entered the era of pure show?

The Conversation 01.12.2023 Luis Rivera-Vélez Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

There is an ever-widening gap between the speeches, promises, commitments, findings and strategies announced at successive COPs over the years and the reality. Are the COPs intended to be nothing more than media circuses? A reflection of the past on the conclusions of the present.

November 30 marked the start of COP28, a new season of global climate negotiations. Despite the growing media attention on this annual event, one question remains: will the excitement succeed in convincing countries to take significant action to protect the climate? Or has the mountain given birth to yet another mouse?

The COPs, or Conferences of the Parties, have played an essential role in bringing together all the countries of the world to commit themselves to the crucial objective of limiting climate disruption. They are based on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and each year opens a round of negotiations where countries are expected to take stock of decisions and decide on future actions.

It was at COP21 in 2015 that the Paris Agreement was reached, committing all countries, for the first time, to limiting global warming to "well below" 2° C above pre-industrial levels and to continuing "efforts to limit it" to 1.5° C.

However, the hopes raised by the Paris Agreement have been tarnished by the extremely pessimistic context surrounding COP28, which was held in Dubai in December 2023.

Three series of weaknesses emerged, concerning respectively the players present at the negotiating table, the subjects discussed, and finally the timetable for the meeting.

Fine words and empty moral commitments

Despite some 70,000 participants at COP28, two major players were absent: US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who reached an agreement on investment in renewable energies a few weeks before COP28. Their absence casts a shadow over the ambitions of the world's two biggest emitters, which together account for 38% of emissions.

According to the scientific literature, these countries, along with the European Union, are seen as leaders in the climate negotiations. This year, however, the main countries are keeping a low profile, and even the European Union will be represented by a conservative Dutch commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra, who has a history of being unsympathetic to climate ambitions.

In terms of ambition, it is the Pope, King Charles III of the United Kingdom and the Secretary General of the UN who will be setting the pace for action. Ethical issues have also enabled Greta Thunberg to mobilise young people giving them a voice at the negotiating table.

But on the climate issue, morality has shown its limits: none of these players has any real decision-making power, and while their presence gives visibility to the negotiations, their power is only moral.

A few weeks before COP28, King Charles III was forced to announce to the British Parliament the government's programme to grant new oil and gas drilling licences in the North Sea. While the King presents himself as a fervent defender of the climate, these measures are in direct opposition to the 1.5°C limit that must be respected to avoid major damage. In other words, fine words are not enough to save the planet.

Sultan Al-Jaber's oil double game

Several UN assessments - such as the 2023 edition of the Emissions Gap Report of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), or even the current commitments made by States under the Paris Agreement - have shown that the current commitments place us on a trajectory of temperature increases of between 2.5 and 2.9°C, well beyond the targets set by the Paris Agreement.

However, the President of the COP, Sultan Al-Jaber, is plagued by major conflicts of interest when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although he is supposed to guide the drafting of the negotiating decisions in a neutral and independent manner, Al-Jaber also represents the host country, the United Arab Emirates, as CEO of the National oil company, ADNOC.

Several investigations have shown that the Emirates are planning to increase oil and gas production, and that commercial negotiations are even taking place during the meetings scheduled for the COP.

According to confidential documents obtained by the Centre for Climate Reporting, the United Arab Emirates prepared private business meetings involving ADNOC with delegations from more than 27 foreign governments prior to the summit.

Other issues will also be discussed. The risks of climate disruption to health and food will feature prominently in the programme, but as this is the first time these issues would be discussed, no major decisions are expected.

Negotiations on the carbon markets, which allow polluters to buy green credits to offset their emissions, will be marred by the scandal that led to the overestimation of avoided emissions calculated within the framework of carbon offset certificates.

Untraceable funding for the South

Finally, the subject of adapting communities to the effects of climate change has given way to equally important, but more pessimistic, issues such as the financing of loss and damage. While adaptation seeks to anticipate problems by preparing for a warmer world, the loss and damage fund acknowledges the fact that someone has to pay for the damage caused by climate change.

But who pays for what? Since last year's negotiations in Egypt, the question of ‘who is responsible for what’ remains unresolved. China, now the world's biggest polluter, does not want to finance the reconstruction of the poorest countries, and is still considered a "developing" country by the UN.

Similarly, during the negotiations, the rich countries make no concessions on the activation of the fund in case of need, the long-term financial objectives, or even the deadlines for implementation.

Moreover, a study of the climate negotiations shows that there are many blocking tactics. They seek to limit the scope of decisions by making the language ambiguous, reducing the transparency of decision-making processes and proposing solutions that cannot be put into practice. It is as if money to finance climate action is always more expensive than money to finance new oil and gas developments.

Climate, war, inflation, from one crisis to another

Finally, the question of the timetable is very important in climate negotiations. A

study of recent history of climate negotiations has shown that the best decisions are taken when there is a convergence of expectations on the part of the various players. However, the war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and even global economic problems are currently monopolising the world's attention and interest, to the detriment of the climate issue.

At the same time, the personalities’ power on climate action is limited. Since taking office in 2017, UN Secretary General António Guterres has been doing his utmost to keep the issue on the agenda, visiting, for example, the places most affected by climate disruption.

After visiting the Pacific Islands in 2019, Guterres visited Antarctica a few days before the start of COP28 to highlight the collapse of the ice pack. But the UN chief's power is limited to showcasing ambitious players, without blaming inactive or penalising polluters. The paradox of this type of approach is that, as happened at the 2023 Climate Ambition Summit, the world is becoming aware of the solutions that need to be implemented, but no one is taking the responsibility to act.

In short, climate ambition needs power, resources and people's attention. We can keep the issue on the agenda, but the real power lies with the governments that make the decisions.

As many of the UN's climate negotiation experts sum up, the COPs are now more like a show than a veritable orchestration of good resolutions. As the example of the bilateral negotiations between the United States and China clearly shows, the major decisions are increasingly taken behind the scenes, outside the UN arena. Yet global climate governance risks losing its importance if it fails to solve global problems.

See, COP28 les négociations climatiques sont-elles entrées dans l’ère du pur spectacle

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