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COP 28: Big policy changes or is it all ‘blah blah blah’ as Greta Thunberg says?

COP28 held in Dubai’s Expo City started on the 30th of November and was set to end on the 12th of December but was extended to the 13th of December. COP meetings are annual United Nations Climate Change Conferences, that include the UNFCCC member states. Around 70,000 participants were expected to attend the conference. The attendees vary from heads of state to climate organisations and indigenous people. The high number of attendees affiliated with oil and gas industries has been particularly prominent at this COP. The Kick Big Polluters Out Coalition have suggested that around 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists are in attendance. The majority of the meetings will be decision-making bodies that are aiming to implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2016 Paris Agreement. However, there are also closed-door negotiations, technical meetings, press conferences and side events that all take place during the conference. 

This year has been a particularly controversial conference due to the location, as well as the appointment of President Sultan Al Jaber. Dubai is one of the leading exporters of fossil fuels and does not seem to be slowing their extraction. Therefore, to host a climate conference where one of the main topics is how to reduce the amount of fossil fuels being used seems rather counterproductive. Al Gore, a former US Vice President, has slammed COP for allowing Dubai to host the conference. He claimed that the UAE had a 7.5% rise in greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 compared to the previous year, whereas the rest of the world only rose by 1.5%. Gore used data from his co-founded company called Climate TRACE to make these claims. He suggested that the UAE was not making any changes to reduce its carbon footprint and therefore should not be given the opportunity to host prestigious climate talks. However, on the other side of the fence, it is important to get countries with higher emissions to commit to lowering their footprints. Hosting may not be the best way of doing this, but it does force an acceptance of the climate negotiations. However, COP seems to run with the idea of major fossil fuel emitters hosting the conference, as Azerbaijan looks the most likely to hold COP29. 

The other major controversy comes from President Sultan Al Jaber, who is amongst other things, the chair of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). The company pumped 2.7 million barrels of oil per day, with plans to double this by 2027. He doesn’t seem like the type of person who would want to broker climate deals that might hinder his oil business. Some have questioned his intentions and asked the question of whether he is aiming to strike oil and gas deals with other nations. Al Jaber himself however has argued that he is trying to bring change to the fossil fuel industry from the inside. 

One of the big events hanging over the conference is the war currently in Gaza, which was referenced by many of the Middle Eastern Heads of State in their speeches. Isaac Herzog, President of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, were both scheduled to address the summit but neither attended due to this war. Joe Biden also decided to not attend the summit as demands over the war and the upcoming election heighten. This will be the first time he has not attended since taking office but Kamala Harris, the vice president has taken his place.

The conference is prominently working towards limiting the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. To achieve this, the main aims of this conference are; countries responding positively to the global stocktake, accelerating the transformation systems, responding to the impacts of climate crises and producing more funds for climate finance. Firstly, this is the first-ever Global Stocktake reflection. The UN’s Global Stocktake synthesis report was released in September 2023. The report shows the progress each country has made since the Paris Agreement and the steps they need to take to reach the Paris goals. The aim of this is to update countries’ climate policies and increase international cooperation for climate action. At COP28, the report will be run through with each country present and the suggestions are then responded to. The transformation systems of global food and land use systems, cities changing to more climate consciousness and the end of fossil fuels will also all be negotiated. The largest debate falls with the end of fossil fuel usage, especially given where the conference is being held. Climate impacts have also been huge in the last year, with a recent study by Rebecca Newman and Ilan Noy finding that climate disasters cost an average of $143 billion per year. Therefore, communities affected by climate disasters need help to overcome these challenges and COP is looking at developing these supports. Lastly, climate finance needs to increase globally to accelerate decarbonisation efforts. A figure of $4.3 trillion in annual climate-related finance flows by 2030 has been floated as the amount needed to tackle many of these issues.  

              As to whether this is all ‘blah blah blah’ like Great Thunberg says, it is certainly up to interpretation. It is interesting that Dubai was the chosen location and that so many of the attendees were in the fossil fuels business. It looks as though the aim is to push back against committing to the reduction of fossil fuel use. However, with the new stocktakes happening at this COP I think that it adds some real value. Hopefully, this will result in some tangible changes in policies for countries and will help with the international cooperation needed to make a real difference. 

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