COP28: the four key points of the negotiations and how to beat increasing green gloom and doom

Today COP28 opens in Dubai.

there are four themes we will have to look at in a fortnight' time to see if it was a success or just another talking shop.

1.         Global stocktaking: in 2015 in Paris, countries committed to assess every five years starting in 2023 the actual state of climate change action. This long-standing process of analysis is the most important and extensive assessment ever made, and the synthesis report came out in September, confirming that we are dangerously off track and that much more needs to be done and faster. If we continue at the current pace of climate policies, the planet will be about 2.9° warmer by the end of the century. Against the 1.5° we collectively pledged to maintain.

2.         Funding for the least developed countries most affected by climate change remains insufficient even compared to the pledges developed countries had made to contribute $100 billion per year by 2020, which was the only success of the 2009 COP in Copenhagen. By 2021 we have only reached 89 billion. In Dubai governments

 will at least have to try to decide on an additional and more ambitious fund managed through the intervention of the multilateral banks, which need to be reformed and adapted to the challenge of supporting the fight against climate change. Furthermore, at COP27 in Cairo there was agreement on the principle of the so-called Loss and Damage Fund on which a provisional agreement was reached a few weeks ago. But as Simone Tagliapietra of Bruegel explains, there are still a number of open questions: namely how much and which financial instruments the fund will use, who exactly will contribute to it and how much. Shouldn't China and Saudi Arabia, for example, also contribute since they can no longer be defined as developing countries and are major contributors to emissions?

3.         Moving away from fossil fuel dependency as a real prospect for urgent and global action by 2050 and simultaneously setting precise targets for renewables and energy efficiency. At COP26 in Glasgow there was no more than a generic commitment to progressively decrease the use of coal, and at COP27 there was a generic call to push for 'low emission' energy. The G7 agreed to push for the goal of relying predominantly on renewables by 2035 and to suspend public subsidies for fossil fuel exploitation without CO2 recovery mechanisms (which, however, do not yet exist). The US and EU are pushing for a commitment to move away from fossil fuels and public subsidies to the industries that produce them (even if they are themselves still subsidizing fossil industries). Evidently, Dubai, the Arab countries, but not only them, are pushing and paying handsomely to go in the opposite direction and are talking at best about a phase-down that would only engage the oil and gas producing companies and not also the emissions from oil and gas end-uses. The COP28 presidency pushes not to talk clearly about an exit from fossil fuels by 2050, but “only” to mention the commitment to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030 as demanded by the IEA and the G20. Many believe that this is an achievable outcome of COP28. And it would certainly be positive, but not enough. Especially because since the beginning of Russia's war against Ukraine, investments and resources available for oil, gas have been on the rise again (The International Energy Agency predicts that global investments in oil and gas will increase by about 11%, reaching $528 billion in 2023, the highest level since 2015).


4.         The impact of the agricultural sector on climate-altering emissions. Despite the fact that the European agro-industrial sector is totally refractory to any kind of significant intervention, as demonstrated by the substantial failure of the European Green Deal in agriculture, it is a proven fact that the agricultural and food system is responsible for 34% of global emissions; the COP28 Presidency has taken up this theme in particular to include this sector too in the plans that define each country's contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation (NDC or Nationally Determined Contribution and NAP, National Adaptation Plans, which must be adapted by 2025).


If these are the most important open issues to be decided in the next two weeks of negotiations, we cannot but see that the context in which this COP28 takes place is very negative. Let us see why.

COP28 in Dubai begins in the context of at least three bloody, cruel conflicts with no prospect of a solution in the short term: Sudan (9 million displaced people and thousands and thousands of victims amid general disregard), Russian aggression against Ukraine and the interminable conflict between Israel and Hamas. And in the context also of a determined media counteroffensive, but also a very concrete one, of countries and economic interests that oppose the accelerated exit from fossil fuel dependency; they do so in an unscrupulous manner as shown by the unseemly operation of the COP28 presidency denounced by the BBC to make deals on oil and gas during talks that should instead lead to the open points of negotiation, or by Saudi Arabia, which, in order to increase the dependence of poorer countries, promotes a major investment plan in the oil and gas sectors, as reported by the Guardian; but this is also clearly visible in Europe and Italy despite the fact that at COP28 the EU is nonetheless taking advanced positions on many of the most important issues. It is a fact that we have seen at work in the dismantling of part of the European green deal rules, that agro-industry, part of manufacturing and the fossil sector (read Coldiretti and ENI in Italy) are very active, taking advantage of the eco-scepticism when not denialism and even ignorance of an important part of politics, especially of the right, and of the infinite availability of money to pay for disinformation campaigns and lobbies at every level.

The situation and the 'mood' are therefore very different from that of 2018, of the global movement that managed to bring millions of young people to the streets of the entire world, of the IPCC reports that managed to grab the front pages of all the newspapers with their evidence of the acceleration of climate change and its effects, of the impact on the elections of many countries and the EU of this truly global challenge. Yet, today the situation is even worse, with 2022 and 2023 the hottest years ever and a projected trajectory of a 9% increase in emissions without radical action: despite the fact that to reach our common goal of keeping the temperature rise within 1.5°, we would have to reduce them by 45% globally by 2030.

Of course, all is not lost: but it is becoming increasingly clear that only a massive and renewed mobilization of civil society, media, politicians and, above all, economic actors who have already chosen sustainability (and who need to invest much more than they do to counter the dismantling of climate policies), will be able to reverse a trend that, regardless of how COP28 Dubai goes, will not put us back on the path of keeping global warming within 1.5° by the end of the century and will expose us, all of us, to effects that we cannot even imagine on our lives, despite the evidence that it would still be perfectly possible to turn this risk into an enormous opportunity for a better life.


Monica Frassoni

Brussels 30 November 2023