COP 28: ‘A Litany of Loopholes’

Finally the COP 28 United Nations Climate Conference clinched a deal after two weeks of furious debate over the wording of the text. The summit chair Sultan al-Jaber of UAE hailed it as historic while most diplomats gathered at the venue congratulated him for the ‘success’. But the oil lobby did everything to alter the language of the statement by replacing ‘phasing-out of fossil fuels’ in the original draft with ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels’. For one thing the text does not speak specifically to fossil fuel phase-out and mitigation in a way that is in fact the step that is urgently needed. No doubt 197 nations supported the declaration but many retained their reservation.

Amidst the congratulations and speeches, some countries expressed their outrage at not being allowed to comment on a final text they felt did not go far enough to address the immediate threat from global warming, especially to developing and poor nations. The Alliance of Small Island States [AOSIS] which represents countries that have contributed little to global climate change but are already being overrun by sea-level rise said it saw a ‘litany of loopholes in the final text’.

 In truth the text is somewhat vague. Scientists and environmentalists hoped a clear-cut document with a specific dead line to say ‘goodbye’ to oil and coal would emerge this time. No this didn’t happen. Fossil fuels–Oil and Coal–cause 75 percent of global warming. “It is not enough for us to reference the science and then make agreements that ignore what the science is telling us we need to do”, Anne Rasmussen of Samoa told the delegates as the meeting ended with ‘cheers’. Speaking on behalf of AOSIS coalition, she pointed out that the final deal does not require countries to stop using fossil fuels by any particular date. It’s too optimistic and too early to call the agreement ‘signalling the eventual end of the oil age’. It is one step forward in the sense that the previous 27 UN climate summits failed to come to a consensus.

Scientists say the world has already warmed roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius. Weather it is still possible to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius target alive, the oft-repeated goal of these climate summits is open to question. The only breakthrough of COP 28 is that for the first time, millions of dollars will be disbursed to developing countries that are suffering damage from climate change.

For years, developing countries have argued they’re paying for devastating impacts that rich nations are largely responsible for. As weather extremes get worse and sea level rise, developing countries are shouldering the cost of what is known as “loss and damage”. At climate talks a year ago, parties agreed to establish a new loss and damage fund. Now, more than $ 700 million has been announced for it, most from European countries and $100 million from the United Arab Emirates, the host of COP 28.

Two years ago at COP 26 in Glasgow, negotiators could barely agree on the need to wind down coal power. Now all fossil fuels are unambiguously on the chopping block. Previously they targeted NET ZERO by ‘mid century’ whereas the pledge of COP 28 is to fix the date at 2050. The signed deal also calls on the parties for tripling renewable energy by 2030 and doubling energy efficiency. It also recognises that the costs of renewable are falling fast. Much, however, depends on whether big polluters and users of fossil fuels put their promises into practice. It is still hard to say the international community is taking this enormous challenge as seriously as it should.

Oil and extracting mining industries apart, ‘health care and pharma industries make huge profits at the expense of human health, crop yield loss and other environmental injury due to fossil fuel based power generation. What they are doing is ecocide and genocide’.

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Vol 56, No. 27, Dec 31 2023 - Jan 6, 2024