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The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) is taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates Image Credit: Reuters

As discussions continue at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, there is a blend of high expectations, urgency, and realism.

The context is challenging: 2023 is potentially the hottest year on record, marked by extreme heatwaves, devastating storms, and melting glaciers, highlighting a full-blown climate crisis. The stakes at COP28 are substantial, and so are the challenges.

The alarming climate trends we are observing are undeniable. 2023 might become the hottest year on record since 1850, surpassing the previous records set in 2016 and 2020. The decade from 2014 to 2023 is the warmest decade ever recorded.

The levels of key greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — reached new highs in 2022, with continued increases in 2023, leading to severe consequences.

There is an urgent need for a course correction in global climate action. Seven years after the Paris climate agreement came into force, where nations committed to limiting global warming, reports indicate the world is off track.

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Fossil fuel subsidies

COP28’s primary aim is to evaluate progress towards the 2030 climate goals. However, energy security concerns and disputes over compensation for climate-related damages complicate emission reduction agreements.

The global stocktake at COP28 reveals that despite actions spurred by the Paris Agreement, current policies are inadequate. Projections suggest a likely temperature rise of 2.5°C by the century’s end, far beyond the 1.5°C target.

Even a small difference in temperature can have major impacts, with a 1.5°C limit potentially saving over US$20 trillion in global benefits and helping to avoid catastrophic natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, drive the temperature rise. Despite the climate risks, fossil fuel subsidies remain prevalent, with top countries providing about US$1.3 trillion in 2022. The UN Secretary-General and African countries have called for an end to these subsidies.

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In the Energy Hub at the Cop28, visitors get a look into the wonder of the Ghaf tree with the help of an AI-powered interactive digital art installation called “The Tree Of Life”. It is a contemporary symbol of environmental sustainability, showcasing the benefits of the the tree that is known to being an intricate part of the UAE wildlife and habitat. Photo taken on 2nd December, 2023. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Paris Agreement’s goal

The Paris Agreement’s goal to cap the global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius is slipping away, as carbon emissions show no signs of peaking. COP28 faces the daunting task of aligning global ambitions with actionable commitments.

Discussions in Dubai has already moved to phasing out fossil fuels and boosting renewable energy. Though 118 countries have committed in Dubai to tripling the global renewable energy capacity by 2030, China and India have refrained from signing that pledge.

Considering the history of climate negotiations and current global conflicts, it is unrealistic to expect spectacular success. Additionally, the disparity between developed and developing nations’ needs and demands complicates negotiations.

A major challenge in climate negotiations is financial. COP28 aims to address the disproportionate impact of climate change on poorer and more vulnerable countries, emphasising the need for equity and justice in our response to climate issues. Developing nations, having contributed least to the crisis, are bearing its greatest impacts.

The establishment of a “loss and damage fund” at COP27, which became operational on the first day of COP28 with a pledge of $429 million from various countries, has been highly praised. On the second day, France committed an additional €100 million.

The UAE announced a major $30 billion fund for global climate solutions. Furthermore, the World Bank group has pledged to raise its climate finance target to $40 billion by 2025, allocating half to mitigation and half to adaptation.

Securing sufficient contributions remains complex, as developed countries have to balance supporting climate-risk nations with their own domestic agendas. At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, wealthy countries promised to provide $100 billion annually to developing countries for climate adaptation and mitigation.

In 2020, the total climate finance reported was $83.3 billion, increasing to $89.6 billion in 2021. However, Oxfam estimates the actual value of financial support for climate action to be only between $21 and $24.5 billion, citing misleading accounting practices and a lack of adequate grants as exacerbating factors.

Immediate action is needed to restore trust and provide necessary finance, including fulfilling this goal and compensating for past shortfalls.

Delegates attend COP28 in Dubai

“Underfinanced. Underprepared”

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in its recent report “Underfinanced. Underprepared” declares the climate adaptation gap a critical emergency. Adaptation measures are not progressing at the necessary speed. COP28 in Dubai presents a crucial opportunity to address this effectively.

Developing countries require annual adaptation investments between $215 to $387 billion this decade, but current international finance falls significantly short.

In Dubai, the US has made a new $3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund. Even if developed countries fulfil their promise to double adaptation finance by 2025, the financing gap will decrease only marginally. Alarmingly, adaptation funding by many developed countries has decreased in recent years.

The significant shortfall in climate finance commitments from developed countries undermines trust in climate talks and impedes efforts to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

Adaptation is now a matter of survival. Climate negotiation has been primarily concerned with energy transition, but the mitigation process is slow, and keeping global warming within the 1.5-degree limit seems increasingly unlikely.

Climate change has already significantly impacted the world. World leaders must treat climate adaptation as an emergency and mobilise finance and support to address climate-related losses and damages. This approach is crucial for making COP28 a pivotal event for the future.

The success of COP28 is vital — it’s about securing a sustainable and liveable future for all. As the UN Secretary-General states, there’s no room for hesitation or excuses anymore.