Time to read: ~10 minutes
The following is updated version of an account previously published in the Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign Newsletter, OCEC Connections, Dec. 2023. (Dollar amounts are USD unless otherwise stated.)
On GHG Emissions:
Controversy erupted early at COP 28 as one last attempt to question whether the science is clear that fossil fuels and their GHG emissions must be phased down/out to achieve Net-Zero emissions by 2050. The President of COP 28 and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Dr. Sultan Ahmed al Jaber himself lit the match. Watch this clip of his exchange with former President of Ireland and Elder, Mary Robinson. The good news – scientists from multiple fields quickly responded – the science is completely clear!!!
Phasing out Fossil Fuels?
COP 28 may rank as the largest ever, with 80,000 to 100,000 in attendance, including national delegations of the Parties in the blue zone and, in the green zone, all those from international financial, health, business and trade organisations, environmental and other NGOs trying to have their voice heard. Almost 3,000 attended from the oil and gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS) industries, and more from the pharmaceutical and agribusiness industries.
The issue placed on the agenda of COP 28 by the Global Stocktake, the first report on Paris Agreement progress, was whether the Parties to the UNFCCC would agree, as the EU proposed, ‘to [phase down] or [phase out], [unabated] fossil fuels.’
In the end, even the qualified version was too much for most oil and gas producing countries, OPEC lobbyists, and some mid-level developing countries, putting pressure on the conference President, secretariat, and national delegations. Small island states stated that no mention of fossil energy as the main source of global warming causing their countries to sink below the waves would be signing their own death warrant. Finally, with yet another draft of the final conference agreement, ‘The UAE Consensus’, negotiations far into the night, and extending the conference by a day, all parties agreed to:
“…transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly, and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”
It’s so vague – transitions don’t necessarily end – it amounts to a greenwash. (Bill McKibben says Canada’s Minister of the Environment Stephen Guilbeault drafted it!)
But it had to be said – fossil fuels are named for the first time in a formal COP agreement, and adherence to the science is now required. And Canada tried to prove to the world it is onboard by at last announcing a framework to cap greenhouse gas pollution from the oil and gas industry.
Methane: COP 28 may impel real action to reduce methane emissions. Methane is the GHG with the most potent heat trapping power for the first 20 years of its life in the atmosphere. Fifty of the largest oil companies, responsible for over half of world production, committed to nearly eliminating methane emissions by 2030. There was justifiable scepticism this was just another smokescreen to avoid fossil fuel phase-out language in the conference agreement. Still, the Global Methane Pledge made at COP 26 in Glasgow for a reduction by 30% by 2030 now has pledges from 155 countries. Canada announced its own new methane regulations at COP 28, with a ‘high ambition’ pledge of a 75% reduction from 2012 levels by 2030. It includes CAD 30 million to establish a measuring and monitoring agency. That is key because industry self-reports of methane emissions regularly underreport by 50%.
Renewables and Energy Efficiency: This year marked a significant milestone for renewable energy: Globally, more money (1.7 trillion) was invested in the various forms of renewables than in the fossil fuel industry (1 trillion). At COP 28 a pledge was made by 130 countries to triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030 and to collectively double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around two per cent to over four per cent every year until 2030. And this was adopted in the final COP 28 agreement. This reflects a major change underway in energy markets and has implications for net zero by 2050. In the International Energy Agency’s forecast, in a net-zero global economy, the volume of oil consumed would fall from over 100 million barrels per day in 2023 to 24 million barrels by 2050. Natural gas demand drops just as precipitously, from 4,150 billion cubic metres per day to 900 billion in 2050.
Nuclear: Classified as a renewable source of energy because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases while generating electricity, nuclear also found 22 powerful countries as proponents in a new side deal at COP 28. Is the renewable claim warranted when uranium itself is a finite resource, when nuclear power is not without GHG emissions if the whole supply chain scope of emissions and radioactive pollutants are considered, and when global warming is affecting the amount and temperature of water available to some reactors? That is now a pressing issue for the environmental movement and governments. Especially in Ontario and Canada. We will need to consider the uncompetitive, extreme cost of nuclear energy to rate and taxpayers – in the time needed to design, construct, maintain and refurbish it, in the disposal of radioactive waste for hundreds of generations, and in the risk of military proliferation. Together they constitute a major opportunity cost given available, cheaper forms of renewable energy.
Climate Finance: Hints of progress but still miles off the mark
1) Loss and Damage Fund
‘Countries pour money into new loss and damage fund in a stunning achievement for the first day of UN climate conference’. Actually, an incomplete business plan for the new fund was rushed through COP 28 to have a ‘win’ on opening day. Still, the Fund now formally exists. Funding pledges made headlines, but by the end of the conference just 750 million had been pledged when the estimated need is 450 billion – yes, with a ‘b’. Canada’s contribution? USD12m.
2) The Green Finance Fund
Just a couple of weeks prior to COP 28, it was announced by the OECD that this main climate finance fund for mitigation and adaptation, promised in 2009 to reach 100 billion a year by 2020, probably met that goal in 2022. An estimate released prior to COP 28 by the Grantham Institute states that 2.4 trillion is needed annually. Plans for a larger more effective financial facility are to be outlined next year with pledges to meet a higher target, the New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG), at COP 30 in 2025 in Rio de Janeiro.
3) Adaptation – The Climate Finance Orphan.
Adaptation finance is bedevilled by both public and private lenders’, including international financial institutions’, preference to provide less developed countries with climate finance through loans rather than grants, for obvious reasons. Adaptation measures, such as early warning systems or strengthening infrastructure with mangrove seawalls or storm sewage systems, don’t tend to generate income streams to pay off loans. Also, many LDCs are deeply in debt and being hit ever more frequently by steep emergency costs from extremely damaging global warming impacts. Funds for adaptation have yet to reach even the 35 billion tagged from the 100 billion Green Finance Fund. Yet the Global Stocktake report calls for adaptation financing of 194-366 billion.
4) Carbon Offset Markets.
The working groups tasked with clarifying and tightening the rules of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to ensure credible carbon offset markets made no progress at COP 28. Discussion was stymied by discredited Private Carbon Markets.
5) Restructuring Finance and the Economy
Still outside the main negotiations, but ‘emphasized’ in the final COP 28 agreement, were proposals to reform the world’s financial structure, particularly politically polarized international financial institutions and multinational development banks, but also the climate finance funds’ structure, operation, funding, instruments, and access. Voicing the critique and proposing alternatives are some LDC and Small Island States, including Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her delegation, and notable economists such as Mariana Mazzucato.
Alternatives were also presented to the current structure of production and consumption of the world economy which depends on levels of extraction and planet and life destroying amounts of GHG emissions, other pollutants, and waste. The agenda of one NGO proponent of a circular economy – recycle, regenerate – was extensive, for example.
Formal COP final agreements by consensus are filled with ‘recognizing’ and ‘emphasising’ rather than policies for action or plans for their implementation. Again this year it was ‘emphasised’ that deforestation must cease and be reversed by 2030 or the Paris Agreement goals cannot be met.
COP 28’s agenda gave special focus to health systems, agriculture and food, and the relation between the crises in climate and nature. Various declarations, pledges, high ambition goals and initiatives received commitments from parties to the UNFCCC convention and from civil organisations. Some go beyond aspiration to commit resources to implementing specific programs. For example: 141 countries signed the UAE Declaration on Climate and Health and 200 ‘non-party stakeholders’ signed a parallel call to action. 134 countries covering 70% of the land in the world supported the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, They committed to include agriculture and farming, responsible for 30% of global emissions, rising costs, and nutrition issues, in their annual national climate action plans. The UAE and China issued a statement on the interdependence of climate and nature. “There is no Paris without the ocean.” was one refrain. 1.7 billion was committed to addressing areas of intersection. On a smaller scale, the UAE, Canada and 10 other countries formed a Cement and Concrete Breakthrough group to speed up decarbonization in the industry. Over 170 announcements of various kinds were made at COP 28.
Alberta received a ‘coveted’ award at COP 28: Fossil of the Day!! Action cited: Alberta’s ‘temporary’ ban on clean energy projects. Quebec was appointed co-chair of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, a group of countries led by Denmark and Costa Rica and other stakeholders whose mission is to build support for a real phase-out of oil and gas. Quebec’s special responsibility will be promoting that mission to subnational governments, particularly municipalities.
Gail Greer is a Sociologist, former personal investment manager, a member of SCAN!’s Education and Campaign and Platform Committees, and a member of OCEC Connections editorial board.
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