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Make or break climate summits

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

Failure to meet emission targets adds urgency to the next two international conferences in Egypt and UAE.

As we speak, world leaders have gathered in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt to negotiate, monitor progress on climate targets, and ‘implement’ global climate action.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 27th session of the Conference of Parties, called COP27 for short, will have to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions even as the global economy is hit by the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Across the world, unprecedented climate disasters such as record-breaking heat waves, forest fires and floods are occurring sooner than what was predicted by scientists in previous climate summits.

Paul Watkinson, the current advisor to UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and former chair of UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, emphasizes that climate action cannot take place in a silo. “Finding synergies among actions to tackle climate change, dealing with other global challenges and strengthening sustainable development for all will be vital.”

The problem now is to acknowledge that the pace of climate change is accelerating, and how to get governments to agree on mitigating the causes and implementing measures on climate adaptation as well as loss and damage before it takes on even more catastrophic proportions. “COP27 has to deliver a strong political message on strengthening climate action across the board – we are still doing too little on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and transforming and delivering finance,” emphasized Watkinson.

The COP27 Egyptian presidency has prioritized the agenda to operationalise climate commitments from previous summits for this year’s annual conference. Because most implementation takes place at the local and national level, COPs throughout the years have multiplied spaces “that is close to actors, and more focused on delivery, sharing experience, developing new partnerships,” remarked Watkinson.

The UAE, scheduled to host the next summit (COP28) in Dubai in 2023, has forged a close partnership with Egypt to ensure the success of the UNFCCC process.

The 2020’s has been called ‘the decade of action’, and the next few years will be critical in determining the magnitude of the consequences of the climate crisis.

The most recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR6 WGIII) indicates that global greenhouse (GHG) emissions need to be reduced by 43% by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C. At the previous climate summit in Glasgow last November (COP26), it was agreed that countries need to update their nationally determined commitments on reducing emissions by September 23 before COP27 to ensure emission targets are in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

There is likely to be pressure during COP27 to bring forth results, although workstreams of many agenda items only expect final outcomes in a year or two. One of the key outputs will be to deliver an agreed plan for the mitigation work programme.

Erica Wu at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh

While national commitments have clear metrics for emission targets, measurements of the need for adaptation are yet to be agreed upon. COP27 will build on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GlaSS) established in Glasgow to enhance the planning and implementation of adaptation measures. At COP27, countries are expected to agree on adaptation targets, which will be a major mandated outcome for COP28.

Specifying progress on adaptation goals is also essential as it provides a measure of progress every five years after the Paris Agreement. This first stocktake consists of ongoing information collection and preparation, technical assessments, and consideration of outputs, or presentation and discussion of the findings and their implications, and will happen in Dubai during COP28.

While finance is the key to implementing many of these strategies, developed countries have so far failed to deliver the promised annual $100 billion goal by 2020. However, to maintain trust in this international process, COP26 President Alok Sharma previously requested Canada and Germany to take a lead on the Climate Finance Delivery Plan, which will guide developed countries to reach the annual $100 billion goal by 2023. If this $100 billion goal is not delivered, Watkinson comments that it is likely to create significant tensions and hamper the trust towards developed countries.

In late October, Canada and Germany published a progress report on the plan, detailing four key collective actions: enhance transparency for doubling adaptation finance, strengthen climate finance accessibility, highlight contributions from multilateral development banks, and explore mobilisation of private finance.

However, the Global South calls for progress on new climate finance goals beyond the $100 billion goal, and also wants rich countries to address ‘loss and damage’ from climate-induced disasters. Starting this year, discussions are already underway for a collective quantified goal on climate finance.

Climate finance is also a priority for the UAE, and it recognizes the need to build capacity for climate change mitigation. As the president of COP28, the UAE is investing $50 billion towards renewable energy in 40 countries and says it will invest another $50 billion over the next decade. Strengthening renewable energy capacity is crucial because currently, most countries are still dependent on fossil fuel imports.

The most recent IPCC report indicates that the lifetime GHG projections of existing and currently planned fossil fuel infrastructure already exceed the 1.5°C goal and would reach 2°C warming. This means that to stay at least within the 2°C goal, there should be no more new fossil fuel investments and existing ones should be gradually phased out to tackle the climate crisis.

The UAE’s work as the presidency for COP28 will go hand in hand with its domestic climate ambition. The UAE is still producing oil and exporting them to supply other countries’ energy demands. The recent energy crisis signals countries to depend less on fossil fuels by shifting their dependence to renewable energy sources. However, before the shift happens, the UAE will continue to export oil to other countries because many countries’ economies are still dependent on oil. This again shows that combatting the climate crisis requires ambition and collaboration between all countries to shift away from the dependency on fossil fuels.

The UAE is the fifth largest crude oil exporting country after Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada and Iraq. To support the international process, the UAE submitted its updated second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in September. The most notable update is its commitment to reducing 31% of GHG emissions by 2030, compared to its previous pledge of reducing 23.5% by 2030.

This target will bring the UAE closer to its goal of reaching net zero by 2050. This on its own will not meet the global 43% reduction target of 1.5°C as indicated in the latest IPCC report. Nonetheless, this update is significant and a breakthrough in the region, which can inspire more countries to commit to more ambitious targets. To raise ambition even further, the UAE plans to release its third version of NDC in 2023.

There are other critical issues also on the table in Sharm el Sheikh, including operational matters on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which relates to international carbon markets, and loss and damage. Watkinson stressed that loss and damage will be a sensitive topic, given developing countries’ stance of not accepting further delays as stated a year ago in Glasgow. While loss and damage has historically been assumed as part of adaptation, ongoing disasters have proven that there is a need to address the consequences of climate change separately.

In past climate negotiations, the Global North and Global South have been deeply polarised. With the ongoing global economic crisis, it is unlikely that there will be a positive outcome for this topic. Nevertheless, it gives a lot of room for progress in the climate summits this year in Egypt and next year in UAE on issues like establishing a financial mechanism.

As the climate crisis accelerates global impacts, time is running out. Countries thus need to scale up their climate ambition to move the negotiation forward on addressing the climate crisis. Watkinson adds that “civil society has a key role in creating pressure on participants, giving the ordinary citizens a voice, helping determine how a conference is perceived by the public, holding the results up to scrutiny.”

This includes abiding by agreements in past COPs and making progress between each COP to support the international process. Different topics of discussion are at different stages of progress and this progress takes place separately in meetings throughout the year.

With various ongoing discussions taking place, leadership to support this overall process of addressing climate change is essential. The UAE is supporting the Sharm el Sheikh summit to prepare for next year’s COP28 and to play a leading role in averting the climate crisis.


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