Comment and recording: COP28 – what’s at stake?

Today, participants at an ECIU media briefing heard from experts about the key issues and expectations for the next UN climate summit, COP28 in Dubai.

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By Patricia Curmi

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This briefing considered

  • What the key issues and expectations are for COP28, how likely it is that the Presidency will deliver on them, and what might derail the process;
  • What impact ‘real world’ momentum outside the formal UN climate process is having on reducing emissions and speeding the low-carbon transition, and;
  • What impact recent rollbacks on net zero measures has had on both the UK’s credibility and its reputation for climate leadership.

A recording of the briefing is available here, and comments from the panellists are below; if you have any questions about these or would like to get in touch with any of the speakers, please do let us know.

Dr Marina Romanello, Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown [1,2]- “The health focus at COP28 provides an unprecedented opportunity to secure climate action that protects health. As heating increases, we are already seeing our health-supporting systems becoming more and more strained, and our capacity to adapt increasingly limited, while health harms increase in the face of extreme heat, dangerous weather, food insecurity and the spread of infectious diseases.

“To truly protect health – both from climate change impacts and from harms like those from air pollution – it is essential to dramatically and immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions; phasing out of fossil fuels while securing a just and equitable transition to renewables. If COP28 fails to deliver on this, the conference’s health focus will have been entirely hollow, and a liveable future will edge further out of reach.”

Lord Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission [3]: “If we are to achieve the targets set out in the COP21 Paris Agreement, COP28 must achieve a resounding commitment: a swift and resolute global phase-down of fossil fuel use, ensuring any remaining usage is offset by CCUS and carbon removals. Time is running out, this decline must start now. Nations and fossil fuel-producing companies must commit to a significant reduction in coal, gas, and oil consumption by 2030.

“A global target to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 can act as a beacon, signalling the need for unprecedented renewables deployment to replace carbon-emitting energy. To fuel this transition, we need to more than double investments in clean energy within the next two decades, from today’s $1.5 trillion per annum to $3.5 trillion annually between now and 2050. Finding consensus at COP28 is critical in addressing the urgent challenge of climate change.”

Rachel Kyte, Dean Emerita of the Fletcher School at Tufts University: “With global poly-crisis the current norm, the geopolitics hardly help the job ahead as world leaders gather in Dubai for COP28 in a few days. But even as 2023 continues to batter us with ever more dangerous climate impacts, it’s worth remembering the scale of global momentum that is underway on clean transition, pushing against international turmoil and political timidity. With the US pumping billions to compete with China’s leading role in clean tech investment, and the EU racing both as a means of ending reliance on Russian oil and gas, we’re now looking at the very real possibility of China peaking its emissions as soon as next year.

“Leading ambition and market momentum amongst big emitters not a bad backdrop for COP28 to have a serious discussion about phasing out fossil fuels in the face of some of the usual blockers. But finance will be key to the trust that unlocks these talks – not just whether wealthy nations have yet delivered on the delayed promises of the $100bn, but whether there is serious commitment to ramp that up in the very near future.”

Professor Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Cambridge Zero, at the University of Cambridge: “This year has provided us with stark evidence of what the IPCC made clear in their assessment – even at 1.2°C of temperature rise, worsening climate impacts are becoming more dangerous, threatening lives and livelihoods everywhere. We live in a globalised world, and climate change respects no borders. Impacts far from home threaten food supplies and prices here in the UK, where we import half of what we consume, and half our food supply chains are in climate impact hotspots. UK climate finance and aid remain vital not just in supporting people hardest hit by climate impacts, but also in protecting the UK’s own critical security interests.

“Rishi Sunak joins other world leaders in Dubai at the end of what is likely to be the hottest year on record. Worrying new assessments show we’re on track for nearly 3°C of warming this century if those leaders don’t heed the need to act faster and with more determination to cut emissions this decade. The UK has played an important leadership role in past UN talks; many of the most vulnerable nations will hope we return to that role at COP28, at this crucial moment of need.”

Notes to editors:

1. The latest report from Lancet Countdown warns heat-related deaths could rise sharply, and if temperature rises breach 2°C, climate change will cause more than half a billion additional people to experience food insecurity from 2040. It also showed that loss of labour caused by heat-stress wiped out some 4% of the continent of Africa's GDP in 2022. And small island developing states saw 103 days a year of health-threatening temperatures in the five years to 2022.

2. Dr Romanello’s piece in The Lancet (November 22, 2023): ‘Further delays in tackling greenhouse gas emissions at COP28 will be an act of negligence

    3. Energy Transitions Commission has just published its analysis that, without rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions to net zero by 2050, the Paris goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C will not be achieved. The report sets out feasible and required demand reductions across sectors, and the policies required to deliver them.

    Expert panellists:

      • Rachel Kyte is Dean Emerita of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, former CEO of the UN's Sustainable Energy for All initiative, and former World Bank Group vice president and special representative for climate change.
      • Lord Adair Turner is Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, Senior Fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, former Director General of the CBI, and first Chair of the UK Climate Change Committee:
      • Professor Emily Shuckburgh is Director of Cambridge Zero, at the University of Cambridge and one of the world’s leading climate scientists, and one of a group of leading climate experts who serve as ‘friends of COP’:
      • Dr Marina Romanello is Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown, climate change and health researcher at UCL, led development the NHS’ net zero commitments, and works on health co-benefits in climate mitigation for Italy's Superior Health Council: