COP, or the Conference of the Parties, is the annual United Nations conference where world leaders can debate and negotiate efforts to mitigate the climate emergency. COP28 takes place from 30 November till 12 December 2023 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
What are the main issues?
Loss and damage: This is the proposal for developing countries to be compensated for damage they are already suffering from climate change. There has been slow progress on delivering the loss and damage fund agreed to last year.
Emissions reduction: As ever, the key issue. Countries must agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep warming to well below two degrees centigrade compared with pre-industrial levels, and to genuinely work towards that.
Conflicts of interest
There are major concerns that COP28 will not be as effective as it could be, because the UAE is a major oil producer and the COP President is the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). Environmentalists like Caroline Lucas MP are deeply sceptical.
The 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 2°C necessitates an end to fossil-fuel expansion and ADNOC’s own plans are in direct conflict with this. However, the US, Canada, China and Russia all have even larger expansion plans, and Europe has invested heavily in fossil fuels since the Paris accord.
There are fears that other industries which cause significant emissions, like meat and dairy, will also be forcefully lobbying in their own interests at COP.
Many people believe that world leaders are simply not taking climate threats seriously enough. For example, the UK prime minister, foreign secretary and king are each taking their own private jets to COP28. The UK government has announced the UK will ‘max out’ its gas and oil reserves in granting dozens of new exploration licences.
Scientists tell us that climate warming is already having devastating impacts. It’s likely that 2023 will be the warmest year on record. There have been hundreds of extraordinary events: wildfires, flooding, heatwaves and droughts in dozens of countries. Climate warming threatens growth and is punishingly expensive. Extreme heat already costs the U.S. economy $100 billion every year. Floods are also damaging and reducing food harvests.
So we have no choice but to take action. COP can only succeed if governments and industry lobbyists prioritise a sustainable future before their own interests. Disappointingly, no reduction in warming has been achieved since the first COP in 1995. Will this format ever produce progress when individualist thinking prevails? Or is it time to find a different way?