World leaders and experts are meeting to discuss rising greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on climate, as the annual United Nations climate change conference kicks off on Thursday in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and an international fund to help in climate adaptation would top the agenda at the summit officially known as the UN Conference of the Parties (COP28).
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COP28 will require states to adjust their climate plans based on anticipated reviews of their progress toward the Paris Agreement 2015 – a binding international treaty on limiting global temperature increase by 2030 to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels.
But the summit has been embroiled in controversy over accusations of “greenwashing” by the UAE – a charge the Gulf Emirates has denied. Greenwashing is a process of promoting misleading or false information about the environmental benefits of a practice.
Environmentalists and experts have questioned the decision to hold the world’s biggest climate summit in a country where oil and gas production is the mainstay of the economy. The UAE government’s decision to appoint Sultan al-Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, has also not gone down well with critics.
The latest summit starts against the backdrop of broken promises as efforts to address climate emergency have stalled amid divisions. The global south has been demanding that industrialised countries do more in the fight against climate change.
Here is all to know about what happened at the last five climate summits and their impact:
COP27 in 2022
Where: Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Presidency: Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry
Main outcome: Loss and damages fund
Climate finance was a major point of contention at COP27, where a loss and damage fund, meant to support developing countries ravaged by climate impacts, was established.
This year a wave of flooding, wildfires and record droughts across the world has cost billions of dollars in damages. Just three major global weather events – hurricanes and droughts in the US and Europe – cost over $150bn last year, according to Yale Climate Connections. Last year, Pakistan was hit by its deadliest flood disaster, costing damages worth an estimated $15bn.
Yet, countries have failed to reach consensus on who all will put cash into the loss and damage fund and by what amount. It is expected to be operationalized at COP28.
In September, a coalition of developing countries proposed that industrialised nations should pledge at least $100bn for the loss and damage fund by 2030. They say that since developed countries have contributed the bulk of carbon emissions, they should take the lead in addressing the climate crisis.
“The COP summit is the one place where governments from the global south get to eyeball the developed world and are treated as equals. Last year’s agreement on Loss and Damage is a very good example of that,” said Deborah Ramalope, head of climate policy analysis at Climate Analytics.
However, outside the negotiation rooms of the climate summit, things have not progressed as promised.
COP26 in 2021
Where: Glasgow, Scotland
Presidency: British Member of Parliament Alok Sharma
Main outcome: Glasgow Pact, agreement of the Paris Accords Rulebook
The Glasgow Pact of COP26 set out to build on the Paris Accords by laying out how to tackle climate change. They agreed on common timeframes for emission reduction targets and standards for global carbon markets.
Carbon markets essentially put a price on emissions, allowing emitters to offset them. They can make up for their unavoidable emissions by funding projects that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
A 2022 analysis by Climate Analytics’ Climate Action Tracker found that although global warming has decreased since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, progress has stalled in the last year.
The conference also witnessed the formation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. Under this, 450 corporations with over $130 trillion of private capital agreed to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy.
While companies tout net-zero progress, this sometimes excludes carbon emissions from the entire life cycle of their operations, such as third-party suppliers. Faced with such loopholes, climate advocates have pushed for stronger action against what they call “greenwashing”.
COP25 in 2019
Where: Madrid, Spain
Presidency: Chilean Minister of Environment Carolina Schmidt
Main outcome: Settling elements of the Paris Agreement Rulebook
No major new agreements were announced at COP25. However, countries refined their commitments toward the Paris Agreement on emissions.
Leading up to the summit, millions across the world protested demanding urgent actions to address the global climate crisis. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who organised strikes to press the international community to do more, was declared Person of the Year in 2019 by Time magazine.
Leaders at COP25 tried to set up an official global carbon market for emission reductions but failed to agree on a robust set of rules.
COP24 in 2018
Where: Katowice, Poland
Presidency: Polish Energy Minister Michal Kurtyka
Main outcome: Gender Action plan
Countries agreed that they would assess their progress on the Paris Agreement every two years starting in 2024. This “global stocktake” is now taking place at COP28.
The summit reiterated a pledge made at 2009 COP15 and still not fully actualised – that every year until 2020 industrialised countries would give developing states $100bn a year for climate change adaptation.
States also could not draw a consensus on carbon markets and emissions trading despite agreeing to the measures when they first started signing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.
Emissions trading involves using economic incentives such as tax cuts to reduce companies’ emissions of carbon.
However, one major source of emissions has been the fossil fuel industry, which contributed to 89 percent of global emissions in 2018, according to ClientEarth. Climate advocates say that when oil and gas leaders are included in negotiations such as COP, their economic interests hold back robust progress on climate change strategies.
“The problem with oil and gas leaders in these discussions is that our experience is that many of them are not willing to grapple with the reality the science demands,” said Ramelope. “That to limit warming to 1.5C, we have to decarbonise our societies and that means we have to drastically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”
Instead, carbon capture and storage have been promoted as solutions, despite being ineffective, she added.
Carbon capture and storage is a method to curb emissions by storing carbon dioxide released from industries underground or by treating them, reducing their impact on the environment.
COP23 in 2017
Where: Bonn, Germany
Presidency: Government of Fiji
Main outcome: Adaptation Fund for the Paris Agreement, Gender Action Plan
As climate actions moved towards inclusivity, this conference presented a first for small-island developing states with Fiji’s presidency. As one of many such states facing the threat of rising sea levels, Fiji used the opportunity to launch the Ocean Pathway strategy to address the relationship between oceans and climate change.
For the first time at COP, all UN members had ratified the Paris Agreement. This was accompanied by some regression, however, as five months before the summit the then US President Donald Trump announced his country would withdraw from the Paris Accords.
The UNFCC also adopted its first-ever Gender Action Plan to facilitate more inclusive monitoring, policies and climate action.
COP23 participants decided that the Paris Agreement would be served by the Adaptation Fund – established by COP7 in 2001 to support developing countries in adapting to the negative impacts of climate change.