We cannot afford to have a bad COP

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We cannot afford to have a bad COP

26 November 2023 Clean energy investing 0

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The writer is chair of the Elders and former president of Ireland

This year will go down in history as the one when global temperature records were not merely surpassed but shattered. There is also a risk that 2023 becomes the year that multilateral co-operation on climate fractures, if leaders do not respond at the scale and with the urgency the science demands. As COP28 starts in Dubai against a backdrop of divisive geopolitics, governments need to demonstrate that working together on our shared challenges is not only necessary but possible.  

The need for collective action is urgent, and the cost of inaction catastrophic. Yet leaders have not done enough. We are well off-track in curbing global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the limit set out in the Paris Agreement. The latest UN assessment shows current climate policies would mean a predicted 9 per cent rise in global emissions from 2010 to 2030, despite scientific consensus demanding a 45 per cent reduction in the same timeframe. Meanwhile, despite projections of global clean energy investments reaching $1.7tn in 2023, oil and gas industry profits soared to an estimated $4tn last year while fossil fuel subsidies hit a record $7tn.   

COP28 will unfold amid intersecting crises: the horror in Israel and Gaza, Russia’s war on Ukraine and the cost of living crisis are all at the forefront of international concern. However, global stability is inextricably linked with addressing the many other grave challenges that humanity faces, not least the climate crisis.   

COP28 presents a pivotal moment for the United Arab Emirates, as it steers these critical negotiations regarding our shared future. The UAE presidency is not without controversy, given the country’s domestic plans to expand fossil fuel production. But if it rises to the occasion with bold leadership, it could convince other major fossil fuel stakeholders to deliver a robust COP28 outcome with enhanced commitments.

The summit’s president, Sultan al-Jaber, has acknowledged the inevitability of a global transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Given his position as the chief executive of the national oil company, he is uniquely placed to chart a path forward — but this cannot be with a slow phase down of fossil fuels. Instead we need a phase out with clear timelines. While a commitment to triple investments in clean energy by 2030 could be significant, the mantle of leadership at COP28 demands more. It is incumbent upon the presidency to raise ambition for an outcome that speaks to the urgency we face.

The burden of delivering a successful COP28 also extends to all governments, particularly those of nations historically responsible for generating most emissions. I am deeply troubled by some domestic policy reversals undermining progress — from tax cuts sparking an increase in emissions in Sweden, to the UK’s new North Sea oil and gas pledges, to the continuing oil and gas expansion in both Brazil and Norway — all moves that contradict their public commitments. While the US Inflation Reduction Act marks a major step forward, the surge in oil drilling permits under President Joe Biden — surpassing those of his predecessor — is worrying. Such inconsistency is untenable; leaders must align domestic policy with the reality of the climate emergency.  

Rich countries need to get into crisis mode, spearheading efforts to drastically curb their own emissions and build resilience, while providing support to the least economically developed nations. Leaders must boost climate finance well beyond the promised $100bn mark, aiming for the trillions now necessary. We need to see the development of new mechanisms, including targeting industries reaping huge profits from climate change.

We cannot afford to press pause on action, or to have a “bad COP”. Amid a global landscape rife with division, the success of this summit is critical — not just for the climate, but for upholding the spirit of multilateral co-operation between countries.