Ken Silverstein Senior Contributor
Roughly 150 nations have joined forces in Abu Dhabi to keep temperature rises in check to avoid a climate breakdown. Progress abounds, especially since the Paris climate agreement in 2015. But the world is dangerously close to exceeding the 1.5 degree Celsius CEL +3.3% benchmark. Is a course correction possible?
That’s the purpose of COP28 in Dubai in November 2023. To that end, the World Future Energy Summit hosted 30,000 attendees, bringing together the globe’s foremost experts. On Monday afternoon, current and former COP leaders and heads of state shared ideas. But COP28 is focused on the so-called “global stocktake,” which takes stock of national actions and assesses the collective progress — a way to ensure countries fulfill their promises.
“The only way we get every sector aligned with 1.5 is to have those with expertise involved to drive the change. Since 2015, we have known that COP28 will be momentous — the year of the first global stocktake,” says Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Commitments are meaningless without a plan. We will enable actions and hold all actors to account,” creating a paradigm shift — “sector by sector and region by region.”
Paris aims to keep temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century compared to pre-industrial levels to mitigate such things as droughts, floods, and food and water shortages. Scientists say we are nearing the 1.2 degrees mark and on track to hit 2.7 degrees. Before Paris, the trend was 4 degrees Celsius.
COP27 took place in Egypt, concluding in late November 2022. A key highlight is a loss-and-damage fund, which will compensate less developed nations. Indeed, 138 countries with less than 1% of annual CO2 emissions are at the mercy of 20 nations that make up 80% of those releases. While the agreement is historical, it is still determining what countries get funded and who contributes.
“COP27 delivered against all odds. Those who contribute the least bear the brunt” of climate destruction, says Sameh Shoukry, COP27 president. “We elevated finance, food and water security, and vulnerable communities.” Future success, he says, “is contingent on listening to and heeding the calls from frontline communities” whose lives are upended by severe weather.
“But climate finance remains an area that is most disconcerting,” adds Shoukry, who is also Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs. “Developing countries have promised to deliver” — a vow they must keep to maintain trust and commitment among partners.
The ‘Global Stocktake’ Will Take A Deep Dive
COP28 will dive deep into where countries are falling short on emissions reductions and what they can do to change that. Francesco La Camera, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, says the key reason the global community is off track is that the legacy energy infrastructure — built over more than a century — favors the production of oil, gas, and coal.
But wind and solar prices have fallen drastically. That’s why 80% of the installed electric generation capacity has come from renewables in the last four years. La Camera says we need to triple those investments — from the existing installed base of 260 gigawatts to more than 800 gigawatts by 2030. That will require $5.7 trillion, returning 85 million new jobs by 2030.
“For us, the main action is to build an arc, which can change the course,” says La Camera. “If you add more renewables, there will be more demand for them” — made possible if the infrastructure to produce and deliver those resources is built.
Electric utilities are at the vanguard of this mission, and the ones leading the decarbonization effort include Spain’s Iberdrola, Électricité de France, Italy’s Enel, NextEra Energy NEE -8.7%, and Xcel Energy XEL +0.3%.
Suppose the monies are to flow into new projects. In that case, governments must reward innovation by creating tax incentives for renewables and designing transition plans. The aim is to scale up, which leads to new jobs and greater economic productivity — a payback of three-to-seven times the initial investment.
Take Kazakhstan, which says climate action cannot come at the expense of economic development. However, a failure to act puts more than 5 billion people at risk of water shortages that will undermine ecological systems.
President Kashmir-Jomart Tokayev told us that his country was among the first to ratify the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Yet, he acknowledges the challenges ahead, noting that Kazakhstan now depends heavily on coal. But it passed an environmental code to change that dynamic. It is on track to meet its 2030 goals — policies to build infrastructure and encourage using the best-available technologies.
It has an abundance of wind and sun and has large plots of land, allowing it to plan for 6.5 gigawatts of renewables. It is investing in hydrogen and houses one of the largest uranium deposits in the world — the fuel that runs carbon-free nuclear power plants. Planting 2 billion trees by 2025 is also part of its climate plan.
“The global stocktake will show us how to close the gap in 7 years” and look closely at facilitating the financing necessary to adopt renewables and build out climate-resistant infrastructure, adds Laurent Fabius, COP president during the famed Paris agreement. “If you want to have trust, you speak to all — the big, small, and poorest. You must bring all governments to the table.”
‘Fossil Fuels Are Ripe For Destruction And Replacement’
COP28 takes place in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has earned great wealth from selling its oil and gas on world markets. But for two decades, its leaders have planned for the “last barrel of oil,” working hard to transform the economy from one centered on fossil fuels to one that is clean.
To that end, oil comprised 70% of its economy in 2009; today, it is 30% and is home to global enterprises, world-class hospitals, and international tourism. It builds out wind and solar facilities while also pursuing advanced hydrogen.
For example, the UAE’s Masdar will produce hydrogen, potentially exporting to SkyNRG, Evos Amsterdam, and Zenith Energy in the Netherlands. It is also working with Egyptian-based organizations to develop green hydrogen projects. The company’s goal is 100 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity and 1 million tons of green hydrogen development annually by 2030. The country has billions invested in renewable energy projects on six continents.
“Fossil fuels are ripe for destruction and replacement. Climate change brings that narrative to light with a sense of great urgency,” says Ryazan Al Mubarak., the UAE’sUAE +0.4% UN climate change champion for COP28. “The goal of 1.5 degrees is ambitious and hard, but it is achievable.”
One of her central drives is nature-based solutions, such as preserving the rainforests in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific. Indeed, such a strategy is here-and-now and the least expensive climate combatant.
The goal of the Paris agreement is carbon neutrality by 2050 — to ensure that emissions and removals offset each other. Annual CO2 emissions are roughly 50 gigatonnes. But rainforest nations have offset 9 gigatonnes of CO2 since 2005.
The Global South needs $100 billion, so the trees are not cut down and used for farming or timbering. The carbon markets will raise some of that money. As such, the developing countries fought to include the REDD+ mechanism in the final COP27 agreement. Under that plan, governments account for their forest lands and set targets to stop deforestation — all monitored by the UNFCCC.
Limiting temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius remains paramount — enabled by more renewables and saving rainforests, and facilitated by innovative financing, loss-and-damage funds, and sovereign carbon credits. The “global stocktake” is a report card and a guiding light.
“The science tells us that 1.5 is possible, but the window is closing fast and we are off track,” says the UNFCCC’s Simon Stiell. “The global stocktake will inform us how to move forward, sector by sector and actor by actor, providing a blueprint on how to course correct.”
Failing to find endurable options leads to unlivable conditions for many worldwide. Witness devastating floods last summer in El Salvador and Pakistan — circumstances that cause mass migration and affect every person on the planet.