Since the 2015 Paris Agreement countries have collectively faced a series of crises, each one more intractable than the last. Pandemics, autocrats, wars, supply chain disruption matched with economic and ecological crunches have all spannered efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
In turn, political and policy responses have become ever more erratic, raising risks of a disorderly energy transition — hiking the cost of capital and sparking scrambles for secure fuel supplies.
2023 promises much of the same. Brutal wars rage in Ukraine, Yemen, Somalia. The IMF projects global growth will fall to 2.9% over the year — higher than expected but below the historical average.
Climate impacts are biting globally, shaving increasingly higher percentage points off countries GDP, trapping developing nations in poverty, causing misery as drought, intense heat, flooding wrecks homes and livelihoods.
Collectively countries are well off cutting emissions 50% by 2030, which is roughly what scientists say we need to do to keep the 1.5C warming limit in sight. Worse, we’re currently on track for a 10% emissions hike in 7 years.
But, but, but…
Still, amid the gloom, it’s worth considering an alternative take.
Since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the EU radically pivoted off Moscow’s gas, investing heavily in wind & solar and cutting emissions 2.5%. The $369bn US Inflation Reduction Act is already stimulating shifts in CEO decisions as billions are unlocked for clean energy investments.
India and China are piling into the mix, the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit’s Big 4 report said late 2022. That’s key to maximising emission cuts and bang for your buck: the average cost of reducing emissions in emerging markets is around half that in advanced economies, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Renewable electricity capacity additions have outpaced fossil fuels since 2014, says the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Wind turbines and solar panels now generate 10% of the world’s electricity, but current growth rates will take us to 40% by 2030. The IEA reckons renewables will become the world’s largest electricity source within three years.
Slow, late, weak…
And yet it’s not nearly enough, as the world’s top climate scientists will underline when they present their synthesis of the IPCC’s last 3 blockbuster studies on 20 March. Another UN-led review called the ‘Global Stocktake’ reports back later this year. Expect a familiar “do your homework” message as collective efforts since 2015 are assessed and presented.
So what next? March is typically the month when climate envoys emerge from hibernation and embark on a series of global meets to thrash out a ‘package’ for the annual UN climate summit (the COP), set to be held this year in the United Arab Emirates.
While the shape of the final deal at COP28 is far from clear, five themes appear to be emerging that could form part of what observers call the ‘political deal’ to be reached in Dubai this November.
#1 — Fossil fuel phaseout.
Last week the EU signalled it will “promote and call for a global move towards energy systems free of unabated fossil fuels well ahead of 2050” by COP28, building on India’s push at COP27 and the support of an estimated 80 countries. Given the severity of the IPCC’s AR6 Synthesis report, it’s likely the only credible response to the repeated warnings from scientists.
Allied to this, a recent commentary from Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy points out the ratio of clean to dirty energy investments are currently 1.5 to 1, and they need to be 9 to 1 by 2030. Agreeing a plan to reverse this by the end of the decade is the kind of technical yet market-shifting deal governments could sign up to.
#2–2030 & 2035 climate targets.
It’s clear the range of 2030 national targets (NDCs in the lingo) are not up to scratch, leaving us on track for warming above 2C, according to Climate Action Tracker (+2C is very bad news ICYM). G20 countries account for over 75% of global emissions, but are well off the pace and all need to reconsider their targets.
A COP28 deal could encourage all countries to re-submit better 2030 climate plans and ensure that 2035 goals (due 2025) from all countries bar the poorest are ‘economy wide’ touching on all key sectors and are in line with the 1.5C warming limit.
#3 — Money, money, money.
As Covid and Russia’s war on Ukraine demonstrated, governments can find cash when they need to. 2023 is the year when the famed $100bn should be met, but as the LSE’s Nick Stern warned at COP27, $1 trillion a year is required by 2030 for developing & emerging economies other than China.
The UN’s proposed loss & damage fund is still a shell. Cash is required for this and the 2021 commitment to raise adaptation funding to $40bn a year. A balanced COP28 package will need clear, measurable assurances on financial assistance. John Kerry's "we don't have the cash" is not going to cut it.
One suggestion doing the rounds is that COP28 hosts UAE and neighbours Saudi Arabia — both basking in multi-billion 2022–2023 oil revenues, may stump up in 2023 to prompt others to follow suit.
#4 — Nature’s 30%
It’s often easy to forget the role global forests, farmlands and the oceans play in making our planet a safer and better place to live. A COP28 deal should be able to build on the historic UN nature deal landed at COP15 in Montreal last December.
This sought to tackle rampant deforestation across the Amazon, Congo, Borneo, pollution of the seas and an industrial farming sector addicted to chemicals and fertilisers promoted by oil giants.
With an “OPEC for forests” mulled by Brazil, DRC and Indonesia, forest protection (and yes, funding for it) could be a key pillar at the Dubai talks.
#5 — Cut the bulls**t
The ambition of the COP28 package should be measured against the UN’s High Level Expert Group on Net Zero’s report, released late 2022.
It could not have been clearer: in order to avoid the 1.5C warming limit, national and business leaders must embrace a new era of accountability. No greenwashing, no false solutions, no recooked plans.
That’s the demand from UN boss Guterres ahead of his NY climate summit in September — don’t bother turning up unless you’re prepared to be honest. Corporations who want to be seen as climate leaders have to show the proof, especially on how they are actively reducing emissions.
Envoys now face a hectic few months to build momentum behind a political deal in Dubai.
Tokyo, Copenhagen, the G7 climate ministerial in Sapporo (April) and Petersberg Climate Dialogue (May) are all key venues for meetings before the UN climate conference in Bonn (June).
Few reckon it will be easy wrapping up the COP28 package and what exactly Adnoc CEO & COP boss Sultan Al Jaber sees as a realistic landing zone is unclear.
But the UAE's desire to be seen as a global leader, friend to the climate vulnerable and differentiate themselves from the Saudis suggests an ambitious deal serves their interests. Buckle up.