The Guardian • Issue #2082

GREEN NOTES

  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2082

The UN’s 28th annual climate conference, COP28, being held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December to the backdrop of rising global emissions and the hottest year on record. It is chaired by Sultan Al Jabar, chief executive officer of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which has raised questions of a conflict of interest.

On the first day UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, warned delegates that “If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline … we choose to pay with people’s lives.” He continued, “If this transition isn’t just, we won’t transition at all. That means justice within and between countries.”

2023 will likely be the hottest in 125,000 years. “More destructive storms, unpredictable rains and floods, heatwaves, and droughts are already causing massive economic damage and affecting hundreds of millions of people … costing them their lives and livelihoods,” Stiell wrote in an opinion piece.

The key agenda item for COP28 is a stocktake of action on climate change since country commitments for emission reductions were made when the Paris agreement was adopted at COP21. It is also the beginning of new negotiations around increasing (ratcheting up) existing commitments. There is a strong push by developing and vulnerable countries for a decision to phase out, not just phase down, the world’s use of CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas which are the main sources of warming emissions. This is the most contentious issue before COP28. With consensus required for all decisions it is also the most difficult. It is an urgent requirement if global temperatures are to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as the science demands. The earth is hurtling towards a catastrophic 2.8°C by the end of the century and has already reached 1.2°C.

The conference got off to a promising start on the first day, with an agreement for a Loss and Damage Fund to be managed by the World Bank. Developed countries will help developing ones cope with the most devastating effects of drought, floods, rising seawater and other impacts of climate change. Initial commitments were made for more than US$420 million. Developed countries have failed to honour previous commitments to fund and provide technology transfers for adaptation and mitigation programs for vulnerable developing states. It remains to be seen whether they honour these latest commitments.

“The fossil fuel taps can’t be turned off overnight but there are a lot of opportunities for action not currently being taken. For example, in 2022, governments spent over [US]$7 trillion in taxpayers’ money or borrowings on fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidies fail to protect the real incomes of the poorest households and divert money that are increasing developing country debt burdens, or could have been used to improve health care, build infrastructure – including renewable energy and grids – and expand social programs to alleviate poverty. Done responsibly, a phase-out of such subsidies would actually help the poorest and improve the economies of the countries now dependent on them,” Stiell wrote.

Australia is bidding to host the COP meeting in 2026 despite being the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal, the second largest exporter of thermal coal and one of the largest exporters of liquefied natural gas. Australia boasts that it will achieve a 42 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, when scientists say wealthy countries should be cutting their emissions by 50 per cent to 75 per cent for the Paris Agreement goals to be met.

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), for every tonne of climate pollution that will be reduced by Albanese government climate policies to 2030, more than seven tonnes of additional pollution will flow from new government approvals. They’re blunt about this: “The government might say it’s not responsible for the emissions when Australian coal and gas is burnt overseas, but the fact remains Albanese government decisions are fuelling global warming.”

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