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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  CoP-28 diary: We must learn to distinguish signal from noise at climate summits
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CoP-28 diary: We must learn to distinguish signal from noise at climate summits

A noisy parallel track of panel discussions and pledges has arisen at CoPs over the years but we should stay focused on the real deliverables to avert catastrophic outcomes for the planet.

Decarbonizing land transport made its way to the CoP agenda through a ministerial level gathering and a transport-energy forum issuing a call to action aimed at doubling the share of energy efficient and fossil-free forms of land transport by 2030. (AFP)Premium
Decarbonizing land transport made its way to the CoP agenda through a ministerial level gathering and a transport-energy forum issuing a call to action aimed at doubling the share of energy efficient and fossil-free forms of land transport by 2030. (AFP)

After over 20 years dedicated to the business of climate change and following CoPs, I am often asked about expectations of these meetings—the latest of which is underway in Dubai. It is difficult to give a single answer to the question because the CoPs appear to have changed. There are multiple agendas on the table these days.

Let me explain. There are two big tracks, the first of which is a multitude of pledges and announcements from philanthropies, private companies and countries. In Dubai, these were loud and splashy, made at venues with heavy attendance (and catering). The other is the traditional formal diplomatic talks that typically bring about some drama towards the end and culminate with a compromise at the eleventh hour. Though more sedate, this track is where legally binding things like treaties are born.

The CoP this year had a particularly strong presence of oil companies. Its president invited the world’s biggest producers to a so-called ‘decarbonization charter.’ Members signed up for it, but attracted criticism from activists who pointed out that mitigating climate change meant moving away from fossil fuels like oil, not just investing in cleaner production of it (for more). But a push from activists is no indication that Big Oil will back down; oil producers may put themselves on mute for a while.

The presidency of CoP-28 also made some big promising moves, announcing a $30 billion climate fund with partners BlackRock, Brookfield and TPG. This fund is supposed to focus on improving access to finance and also direct private markets towards climate investments. Its activities will supposedly centre around the world’s energy transition, industrial decarbonization and climate technology—all of which are essential to decarbonize modern economies.

There were many other announcements too, including one by US Vice-President Kamala Harris, pledging $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. Over 100 countries pledged to triple their renewable energy capacities. There were two ‘breakthroughs’ announced—a ‘cement and concrete’ breakthrough’ and a ‘buildings’ one—that aim to mobilize governments to finance solutions for healthier human settlements. A tool for tracking methane emissions from waste was announced; this pioneering global platform uses satellite-monitoring to track and measure methane emissions from waste. Decarbonizing land transport made its way to the CoP agenda too—through a ministerial level gathering and a transport-energy forum issuing a call to action aimed at doubling the share of energy efficient and fossil-free forms of land transport by 2030.

Whether these initiatives will come to fruition is yet to be seen, as none of these pledges forces anyone to act. However, at least they raise hope.

On the diplomatic side, the formation of a Loss and Damage Fund announced earlier got activated this year, a longstanding sore point among countries most vulnerable to climate change and those with the most to lose whilst having caused it the least. But it is hard to celebrate the $500 million odd it has got in contributions, as it will probably take tens of billions to relieve losses and damage inflicted by global warming and its fallout.

Given a supersized CoP of almost 100,000 people and much fanfare around panel discussions and other events, one must recognize the phenomenal growth of a universe parallel to the diplomatic track and learn to pick signals from the noise.

Over time, we must also find a way to monitor the noise-to-outcome quotient as a measure of success. A global ‘stock-take’ of sorts.

Real world developments, advances in technology and the growth of developing countries suggest that parallel efforts have indeed taken off. While participant nations have teams inside negotiation rooms, many countries have gotten savvy about seizing opportunities presented by their transition to cleaner economies. Some of this change in attitude comes from cynicism over the UN process and all the historical baggage, but a lot has to do with changes in the economy, marketplace and popular perceptions.

Decarbonization is happening at a domestic level, one step at a time. India has steadily demonstrated remarkable progress on this front. From renewable energy to electric buses at scale, India has a $10 billion programme that may be the biggest after China’s. Domestic efforts are underway, and their success depends on costs, technology and the availability of finance, apart from functional supply chains. India is among the few countries that are ahead of their national determined contributions and the green agenda is an important part of the Indian discourse, with the financial sector studying how to align its incentives with green goals.

Amid all the flashy announcements, some parts of the world are taking serious action to mitigate climate change.

As annual events, CoPs bring the international community together to discuss a crisis common to all. While these gatherings are no longer only about diplomacy, this track is still extremely important—it is necessary for us to address climate change meaningfully in the little frame of time that we still have left to avoid catastrophic outcomes ahead. And while negotiations are increasingly overshadowed by the showbiz of the parallel universe, these talks must continue and result in proper agreements.

The parallel track must flourish but also result in concrete outcomes—and not be forgotten once CoP-28 is over.

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Published: 11 Dec 2023, 09:29 PM IST
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