What’s at stake at COP28 in Dubai | Mint

What’s at stake at COP28 in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates is hosting this year’s climate talks. HOLLIE ADAMS/BLOOMBERG NEWS
The United Arab Emirates is hosting this year’s climate talks. HOLLIE ADAMS/BLOOMBERG NEWS


Negotiations are set to center on a stocktake of progress in reducing global warming, the future of fossil fuels, financing and a fund to pay for climate damage.

More than 190 governments are gathering in Dubai starting Thursday for the United Nations’ annual two-week summit where nations attempt to forge a collective response to the problem of climate change.

This year, four topics are expected to dominate the negotiations: a report on the worldwide implementation of the landmark Paris accord called the “global stocktake," the future of fossil fuels, climate finance for poorer countries and the setting up of a fund to pay for climate damage.

The meeting in Dubai is the 28th conference of the parties—or COP28—to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the global climate treaty signed in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. The conferences operate on the basis of consensus, meaning that all nations must sign on to an agreement for it to be adopted.

What is the global stocktake?

This year is the first global stocktake of the Paris accord, the landmark climate agreement signed in 2015 that calls for governments to limit warming to “well below" 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels and attempt to hold it to 1.5 degrees. The agreement requires the first stocktake in 2023, and then every five years afterward.

The stocktake is supposed to review progress since the accord was signed and make recommendations for the next round of national climate plans, which governments must submit to the U.N. next year. A technical analysis for the stocktake published in September offered a downbeat assessment: There has been some progress since 2015, but governments are far from meeting the Paris agreement’s temperature targets.

In 2010, the world was on track for between 3.7 and 4.8 degrees of warming. With plans submitted in 2015 at the signing of the Paris accord, that range fell to 3-3.2 degrees. Now, U.N.-backed scientists expect warming of 2.5 degrees.

How to respond to that gap will be one of the main topics of the stocktake debate at COP28. The Like-Minded Developing Countries group—which includes China, India and Saudi Arabia—said the first step is to acknowledge who is responsible: the U.S., Europe and other developed countries that haven’t cut their emissions as promised over the past 20 years.

“We need to remind ourselves of the substantive gaps in pre-2020 commitments," Saudi Arabia said earlier this year on behalf of the Like-Minded group. “We are not starting from scratch here."

The debate on fossil fuels

Developed nations are pushing for the stocktake to call for sharp reductions in burning fossil fuels. They were pleased by the language that made it into the stocktake’s technical analysis: “Scaling up renewable energy and phasing out all unabated fossil fuels are indispensable elements of just energy transitions to net zero emissions."

European negotiators say it will be a battle to get that language into the final stocktake agreement.

Countries are expected to debate several variations of the language around fossil-fuel use. Big developing countries want to mention a “phase-down" of emissions, which would be consistent with reducing fossil-fuel consumption to low levels and “abating" the remaining emissions by capturing and storing them.

Developed nations want stronger language that would call for a “phase-out" of fossil fuels.

French President Emmanuel Macron and some other leaders are expected to call for a halt to private financing for new coal-fired power plants, a French official said.

Climate finance

To help poorer countries shift away from fossil fuels, the Paris accord calls for rich countries to help them. The amount of money that needs to move from rich to poor countries is huge. The International Monetary Fund says developing countries need $2 trillion a year starting in 2030 to respond to climate change, with much of that coming from wealthy nations.

At previous U.N. climate talks, wealthy countries agreed to channel $100 billion a year to developing nations by 2020 to help them adopt clean energy and adapt to the effects of climate change. After that goal was missed for several years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of mostly wealthy nations, said it was likely that countries hit the $100 billion target last year, though final data isn’t yet available.

Now governments are debating a new finance goal. The Paris agreement requires them to set it at the COP next year, and negotiations have been under way for some time. A key question is how to define climate finance: Is it money sent from developed governments to developing countries? Is it also money mobilized from private investors that piggybacks onto government funds? Or is it all money, both public and private, that flows from wealthy economies to poorer ones for the purpose of responding to climate change?

If negotiators settle on a broad definition, then wealthy countries might be willing to set a big target of $1 trillion or more, officials say.

Loss and damage

Connected to the finance debate is the issue of loss and damage, which occurs when damage caused by climate change is so severe that communities can no longer adapt. At last year’s COP at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, governments agreed to set up a specific fund to help developing countries facing irreparable harm from climate change. Since then, they have been quarreling over the details, in particular where the fund would be located.

A committee established in Egypt appeared close to a deal in early November. The fund would at first be managed by the World Bank; the bank could be the permanent host, or the fund’s board could choose a different country to host it.

The draft agreement urged all countries with the means, even developing ones, to contribute. That was an important demand from developed countries, which want to see higher-income developing nations such as China and the Persian Gulf states chip in. The U.S., however, objected at the last minute, saying that it wanted more clarity in the text that the contributions are voluntary.

Officials from the U.S. and elsewhere expect that this problem will be fixed relatively quickly at COP. The United Arab Emirates, the summit’s host, aims to raise $500 million in contributions at the conference for the new fund.

Write to Matthew Dalton at Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com

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