• The plenary that divides the two weeks of COP28 is perhaps revealing of internal rifts within the Secretariat itself, the developments of which we will only be able to see at the end of the negotiations.
  • States continue having different priorities with respect to the phase out of fossil fuels, i.e. their definitive abandonment.
  • Environmental NGOs have expressed discontent with the governance of COP28 which is still much discussed.

“This COP is actually different”. This is how President Al Jaber made his debut at the plenary session which, on Friday December 8th marked the reopening of the COP28 proceedings after a short one-day break.

In his speech, which kicked off the plenary, Al Jaber set out the agenda of the work planned for the session and closed with the hope: “let us ensure that this COP is remembered as the COP of collaboration, which changed the rules of the games, which has transformed the way COPs are conducted. Please, let’s get the job done.”

We are halfway through COP28 and one thing is certain: the President wants this to be remembered as an unprecedented conference, as a COP that revolutionized the way these types of summits are held, a COP “like no other”. But also a COP that arrives at the expected decisions, without postponing, a clear reference to the (increasingly concrete) possibility of extending the works beyond the expected closing date.

On a practical level, it was discussed the subsequent organization of the work for the second week of the three governing bodies that formally make up the COP: CMP (the Countries that ratified Kyoto), CMA (the Countries that ratified Paris) and COP, precisely.

During the plenary, three aspects in particular emerged which are interesting to focus on.

The role of Simon Stiell, UNFCCC Executive Secretary

Stiell in fact, seems to increasingly distance himself from the positions of the COP28 presidency, and underlines the importance of a phase-out from fossil fuels (i.e. their complete abandonment), reiterating the scientific evidence that supports their necessity and effectiveness in fighting the climate crisis.

Furthermore, in his speech to the plenary, Simon Stiell warned that “if we want to save lives now, and keep the 1.5°C target within reach, the COP’s most ambitious outcomes must remain up front and in the center of these negotiations.” Stiell also made it clear that during this second week of negotiations he would not like to see distractions or political tactics that hold back climate ambition.

The rift between States

During the discussion session, a strong split emerged between the Countries that are pushing for the phase-out without compromise and are evidently animated by a feeling of urgency and excitement, those that instead have a more neutral or at least less ambitious position, and finally those who demand simple compliance with the international agreements already settled in Paris.

It is not difficult to imagine that the most concerned Countries, which use strong and politically “empowering” words and which animate the negotiating room with their discontent, are also the most vulnerable ones, already suffering the most dramatic effects of climate change and yet, often, they are excluded from relevant meetings and negotiations.

Cuba‘s intervention opened the discussion session. After an initial embarrassment and tumult due to the delegates’ rush to the headphones to translate the speech from Spanish, the Cuban delegate asked for greater clarity on the ministerial and facilitator consultations, and access to the latter. Furthermore, the delegate asked what the intention was regarding communicating the results of these consultations to interested parties.

Then it was the turn of Samoa (which requested a total phase-out of fossil fuels, after having joined in recent days the proposal for a Treaty against the proliferation of fossil fuels), Australia (which pushed for a strong and substantial result on the first annual decision under the Mitigation Work Programme), the European Union (which advocated achieving the Paris goals, citing a fair and just transition and the need to change global financial reference systems), Switzerland and Bolivia.

The speech of the Bolivian delegate was the first to stress the importance of remaining faithful to the agreements already made in Paris and not focusing on continuous changes to processes and mechanisms. The delegate also cited the need for an initiative from developed Countries to provide means of support for implementation to developing Countries. Closing his speech, he added that Bolivia has no intention of compromising its right to development.

This speech was the first to receive applause since the beginning of the plenary, and it seemed to unblock the reticence of the delegates in demonstrating consensus that had existed up to that point.

Successively, representatives of Guatemala, Zambia, the Marshall Islands (who cited a gradual phase-out of the consumption and production of all fossil fuels), Senegal, Chile, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Colombia spoke.

Among these, Colombia certainly stood out, whose speech received applause lasting about forty seconds and would probably have continued for longer if the presidency had not called attention to adherence to the pre-established times of the agenda.

The Colombian delegate was the only one who did not read a pre-written speech, and the only one who addressed the audience of delegates directly with eye contact and firmness in her words. Resolutely, she underlined how scientific evidence clearly shows that 1.5 degrees is not a goal, but an environmental limit to avoid a disaster. In fact, once that threshold is exceeded, we will be forced to deal with the loss and damage caused by the most disastrous effects of the climate crisis. Colombia, she said, would like to respectfully invite the parties to commit to addressing the transition away from fossil fuels towards the 2030 goal, but also to agree on the universal right to early warning systems for the entire population.

The latest to intervene were India (which remained vague on its position), Israel (which spoke of “phase out of the inefficient fossil fuel”) and Nepal.

The dissent regarding Al Jaber’s presidency.

During this plenary, a theme was given voice, that of the presidency driven process.

A ‘silent’ theme, and a problem, which during the first week of negotiations had already made its way into the informal circles of COP28 and then in a more manifest way after the publication of the video from last November in which the President questioned the anthropic origin of global warming. On Friday in the plenary this skepticism was ‘thrown in the face’ of President Sultan Al Jaber by the representative of an environmentalist non-governmental organisation, whose intervention met with the support of those few who tried to start applause which however dissolved into very short times and with a slight embarrassment in the room.

Therefore, as desired by COP President Al Jaber, it will certainly be a COP that will be remembered, but probably not for the reasons he hoped for and mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Article by Cecilia Consalvo, delegate of the Italian Climate Network at COP28.

Cover image: photo by Cecilia Consalvo

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