The central event of COP28 is undoubtedly the first Global Stocktake, an assessment of the progress made towards achieving the Paris Agreement. In addition to presenting the progress made so far, the assessment will also provide guidance for countries to update their commitments on all branches of the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation (including financial support). Therefore, it is clear that the content of the final decision that will emerge from this COP will significantly influence the level of ambition that will be expected from Countries.
As expected, negotiating on the content of a crucial and all-encompassing text is an enormous challenge, which has seen the appearance – already during the intermediate negotiations in Bonn – of that gap between the global North and South which has increasingly worsened in recent years to the point of leading to a real split in many positions.
The hope of civil society and the most vulnerable Countries, such as small island States and least developed Countries, is that of a balanced final text, which underlines the responsibilities of all the major global emitters and provides for an update – in line with the Paris Agreement – of both the NDCs and the climate finance goals. The current financial support is in fact considered extremely insufficient, and the failed promises of the richest Countries are at the basis of the current disillusion of the Countries of the global South.
The big emerging Countries, such as China and India, would rather prefer the budget to highlight the historical responsibilities of the industrialized Western Countries. Although the assessment takes place within the framework of the Paris Agreement, they believe that any analysis must necessarily consider how the current concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was reached. A large part of the responsibility therefore falls on the Countries that began to industrialize earlier and on their failure to reduce emissions well before the Agreement.
Of the same position, with a good dose of opportunism, are the large producers and exporters of hydrocarbons such as Saudi Arabia and Russia. As expected, they also reject the references to the abandonment of fossil fuels in the text, underlining that the assessment must avoid targets that have a specific focus on a determined sector or global emission reduction targets. NDCs should be adapted to the needs of the individual Country, reflecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Equally predictable is their support for new technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
However, these experimental solutions are not opposed even by the United States and the European Union, which, while pushing for a phase-out of all fossils, would prefer the addition of the term unabated, which opens up the possibility of further emissions theoretically recovered in another way. An obviously dangerous insertion, as it would leave room for loopholes. This position reminds us that not even the richest countries seem completely ready to abandon fossil fuels, and indeed continue to approve new projects for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons or sign agreements for their import. These Countries oppose, among other things, a text that urges them to lead mitigation efforts and financial support; beyond the historical responsibilities behind the emissions accumulated so far, the growing emissions of China or India can no longer be ignored. And, on the other hand, the Paris Agreement would represent the overcoming of the Convention’s division between developed/developing countries, instead encouraging everyone to make a collective effort.
It is probably to advance the work as quickly as possible that the Presidency has decided to start negotiations on the Global Stocktake already in these first opening days, corresponding to the Leaders’ Summit, which is usually the calmest moment from a negotiating point of view.
The latest draft text that has emerged so far only confirms how difficult it is to find a compromise between so many conflicting voices. Currently it includes all possible options, for example between phase-out or phase-down of all fossils, or only unabated ones, or only coal; either with a look pre-2020 on the failures of industrialized countries, or a post-2020 look with an overall vision of everyone’s responsibilities.
Settling such divergent points of view will therefore be a test for the Emirates Presidency, which has already demonstrated diplomatic skills at the opening of the conference, mediating between the different parties and pushing them to reach a compromise on the remarkable implementation of the Fund for loss and damage. However, the Emirates are anything but an impartial mediator and there are strong doubts about their ability to push for a decision that truly includes the greatest possible ambition, especially when it comes to abandoning fossils. In this sense, the first signs are not comforting: above all, the recent news according to which the Presidency itself intended to exploit the COP to sign new hydrocarbon agreements.
Article by Teresa Giuffrè, delegate of the Italian Climate Network at COP28.
Cover photo: UNFCCC