To the uninitiated, or insiders, this first week of COP28 may have given some dizziness. A rollercoaster of surprise announcements, unclear expectations, statements bordering on the surreal, but above all little (as yet) negotiating progress – and this last fact may be the only ‘normal’ news from Dubai.
The world delegations arrived in the Emirates, a week ago now, with the certainty that in this second political COP after Glasgow something would happen, that the COP presidency would push a few ‘manageable’ (for them) issues. In short, that somehow the system would be self-directed towards the work of the second week, the decisive ones for the decision on the final text, on the decision on the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement.
We have reported in our articles on how the UAE presidency immediately wanted to set an unusual pace at the COP, putting the rules that will determine the governance of the new Global Fund for Loss and Damage on the agenda and having them adopted as early as the first plenary session, rules that we thought would be debated for days here at the Dubai ‘fair’. Instead, immediate adoption of the entire package as it emerged from the work of the Transitional Committee, take it or leave it. A move that had, moreover, been prepared in the preceding weeks, and well: this was clear from the subsequent succession of announcements of contributions to the new Fund the following day, with Italy, Germany and France as the first contributors along with the Emirates themselves. The outcome (positive for us at ICN) of a loss and damage diplomacy that, given the extreme politicisation of the issue of compensation for loss and damage for at least a year and a half, in the intentions of the organisers should have given prestige to COP President Al Jaber. A leadership position compared to the majority of the world’s countries, which certainly did not expect this acceleration. The same acceleration impressed on the agenda of the negotiations, which got off to a flying start while the summit of Heads of State and Government was still in progress, even with some of the speeches taking place at the same time, another unusual circumstance at least in terms of protocol.
Not even 48 hours after the initial surprise in the plenary session, however, a recording emerged, dating back to 21 November, in which the COP President himself, Sultan Al Jaber, declared in an online event that, all things considered, there is not enough scientific evidence to say that in order to keep global warming within +1.5°C at the end of the century it is necessary to abandon fossil fuels and that, indeed, doing so would take us back to cave times.
The publication of Al Jaber’s words, although followed by a half-denial by the President himself, profoundly shook the climate of the COP, with the indignation of civil society and the scientific community, which expects from this COP – we, too, of the Italian Climate Network, are part of the group – a serious commitment by the international community to abandon fossil fuels accompanied by adequate financial instruments for the transition in the most fragile countries, acceptance of and respect for the latest science and, above all, a desire to revive the process in view of the mandatory updating of national emission plans (NDCs) by 2025.
There are those who went so far as to write that Al Jaber’s phrases were so strong, absurd and surreal (given that besides being the CEO of Adnoc, Al Jaber is also the President of a UN climate COP) as to ‘bring down COP28’. Without delving into the realm of narrative exaggeration, we can certainly say that what the COP President expressed certainly did not push the process forward, indeed revealing the true nature of this presidency beyond the muffled declarations on the face of it.
A presidency that could accompany us until the end of 2024, given that to date it seems that it is not possible to arrive at a normal candidature of any country to host the next COP in Eastern Europe, another nodal point of this beginning of COP28. It is in fact the practice that in the first days of the summit the host city of the next one is announced, at the end of the selection and negotiation process among the countries that have offered (according to geographical rotation criteria), so much so that this point was actually on the agenda in the first plenary session on 30 November. Due to the geopolitical rift between the Russian Federation and the European Union over the conflict in Ukraine, however, Moscow is using its right of veto within the Eastern Europe group, thwarting any possible solution (e.g. Poland or Bulgaria, among the most quoted countries until a few days ago), making the unprecedented hypothesis of a ‘technical’ COP to be held in Bonn, at the UNFCCC Secretariat, still under the Emirates Presidency in the transition towards the next Brazilian COP30 in 2025, a reality.
To organise a COP you need money, and money has been much talked about in this first week in Dubai, both in terms of investment in renewables and from the point of view of global climate finance and the new collective goal for the post-2025 period, Teresa Giuffré tells us well in this article on our website.
Discussions are not yet ripe despite the supposed achievement, at last, of the 100 billion dollars per year target to be allocated (by the historically responsible countries) set fifteen years ago in Copenhagen. Achievement that in any case would have left behind billions and billions of undisbursed aid for every year of non-achievement in the eternal wait for a burst of political will on the part of the great historical emitters, first and foremost the United States of America. We will see whether or not the debate on the new global target will move forward significantly in the second week.
From week two, we now expect very political negotiations, particularly in the final days. As we have had occasion to say in several articles on our website and in our COP Bulletin, the real litmus test of this COP28 will be the final decision based on the Global Stocktake. Expectations are low, perhaps very low in terms of ambition, but it will be extremely important to understand, to capture, to intercept the political movements of the various delegations towards possible compromises on every paragraph of that text, trying to understand what the international community will have to say about mitigation, new NDCs, adaptation and climate finance and loss and damage.
It remains to be seen also on the phase-out of fossil fuels, the real negotiating ‘black beast’ for most of the Gulf countries, which really do not want to see that wording in the texts and which instead appeared – it is an attempt – among the options still alive in the draft sent to delegations at the end of the first week.
It’s still going to be a rollercoaster, in short, and we at ICN have deliberately taken our return flights for well after 12 December, the scheduled end date of the COP, because we are anticipating extensions and late-night discussions.
Barring (new) surprises, but by now we are getting used to (almost) everything.
Article by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor EU and Multilateral Climate Policies, UNFCCC Contact Point