The 28th iteration of the annual mega “Conference of the Parties” (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is well on its way in Dubai. President Ali, VP Jagdeo and a large delegation are in attendance. Since 1994, the UNFCC has been ratified by 198 countries whose leaders’ movers and shakers are supposed to hone in on the goals and gaps in the seminal 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement. There is wide agreement that we have reached an inflexion point for global climate action, and COP28 is supposed to inform us on what has been done to tackle climate change to date, and what is still left to do before we go over the tipping point. This is called a “Global Stocktake”, which began in COP26 and will conclude at COP28.
In the Paris Agreement, the announced critical goal was to hold the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Subsequent COPS presented a plan to reach the goal and then how to implement the plan. We have reached a stage where there has to be agreement on what to do, and also how to do it utilizing the data that countries have compiled on their efforts towards achieving their specific goals. It is unanimously accepted that, overall, not enough has been done to date, and new “assignments” would have to be undertaken. And this is where the finger-pointing will inevitably surface.
Visiting Antarctica ahead of COP28, the very involved UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that “an area roughly the size of Portugal, Spain, France and Germany combined” has melted. He warned: “All of this spells catastrophe around the world. What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica. And what happens thousands of miles away has a direct impact right here.” Global warming is already 1.1°C over pre-industrial levels. We are experiencing more extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, flooding, storms etc. 2023 has been the hottest year on record, and Mr. Guterres warned that if action is not taken now, we are heading towards a catastrophic 3°C temperature rise. With our coastland being below sea level, Guyana is at severe risk.
It was agreed there has to be a 45 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels; Achieving global net zero emissions by 2050; A “just and equitable transition” from fossil fuels (oil and gas) to renewable energy sources, and Increased investments in adaptation and resilience to the climate disruption. But the Secretary-General has already clashed with UAE host Dr. Sultan al-Jaber, who is presiding over the negotiations at COP28. Dr Sultan’s mandate was fast-tracking the energy transition, and slashing emissions before 2030; transforming climate finance by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal; putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action. Instead, he proposed embracing the continued use of fossil fuels, to which Guterres retorted: “We cannot save a burning planet with a fire hose of fossil fuels. The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate.”
As pointed out by PM Modi of India, there is also the failure of the developed nations – which played an inordinate role in creating global warming – not fulfilling their financial commitments, such as the US$100B in climate finance annually to developing countries. After Paris, countries were supposed to craft nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to indicate their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, figures released last November indicate there is a serious lag in fulfilling commitments; hence the need for the Global Stocktake.
With the Paris Agreement, countries established an enhanced transparency framework (ETF) by which they had to report transparently on actions taken and progress made in climate change mitigation, adaptation measures, and support provided or received. Without getting into the gory details, as stated earlier, we have lagged, and COP28 should be in a position to be much more precise in identifying countries that are “free riders”.