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Analysis | Are the COPs on climate change useful? | COP28: climate summit in Dubai

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Nov25,2023

The fact that the host of the United Nations climate conference is an oil power does nothing to increase public confidence in this grandiose summit. But can we really do without COPs?

Analysis | Are the COPs on climate change useful? | COP28: climate summit at ; Dubaï

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A person walks past a #COP28 sign during the Changemaker Majlis, a one-day think tank for leaders business and climate action focused in Abu Dhabi.

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If the UN authorities wanted to cultivate ambient cynicism towards this major conference, they would not have gone about it any other way . Putting an oil state in charge to host the major annual climate summit seems somewhat paradoxical.

This is all the more true as the big boss of the meeting, Ahmed al-Jaber, wears two hats. It is he who will lead the negotiations and guide discussions on the fight against climate change. The problem is that he is also the chairman of the main national oil company of the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

There is no longer any doubt that the shadow of fossil fuel lobbies will loom even larger over COP28 this year.

In addition, if United Nations climate conferences are often denounced for their theatrical aspect, the fact of organizing the largest COP in history (more than 70,000 people are expected) in the city which symbolizes excess, flashiness and the wealth, Dubai, will only reinforce this impression.

We can already imagine the well-orchestrated ballet of the gleaming Mercedes in front of the entrance to Expo City Dubai, the convention center which will host the conference, located a forty kilometers from the city center.

COP28: climate summit in Dubai

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COP28: climate summit in Dubai

Consult the complete file


It becomes difficult to reproach those who question the usefulness of such meetings. Year after year, these summits bring together more and more people, tens of thousands of people, and produce results that always fall short of what science tells us to do.

The diplomats make their speeches, then they leave, and the climate continues to spiral out of control, as we have recently been reminded by the few scientific reports published each year a little before the COPs.

Despite 27 international climate summits since 1995, greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. And as we learned from a flagship UN report (New window) published on November 20, at the current rate of our pollution, we are on the path to an average warming of 2.5 to 2.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a period that may seem very distant to us but which is in fact very close.

Our adolescents today have a good chance of still being alive at this time.

These scientific facts die hard. And the year 2023 will have reminded us of this brutal reality: it is on track to become the hottest year in history.

However, despite these somewhat depressing and discouraging findings, should we conclude that the United Nations conferences are useless?

Not yet.< /p>

Without being naive, here's why.

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A security staff member stands guard next to the COP27 sign during the summit's closing plenary session on climate COP27 in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 20, 2022.

When people ask me if the climate COPs are useful – and this happens more and more often – it is tempting to say not so much. Global climate action has never been up to the challenge.

Despite everything, to better understand the role of these major conferences, I always invite people to see the problem in reverse: imagine what it would be like if there had been no COP.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">As we said, the emissions reduction targets currently proposed by States lead us on a trajectory of warming which would exceed the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even of 2 degrees, which scientists have established if we want to avoid a runaway phenomenon.

However, what we too often fail to do is put these data into perspective.

In 2010, climate model forecasts suggested warming of 4 degrees by 2100, a threshold whose effects are difficult to imagine.

After 27 UN conferences and the The Paris climate agreement signed in 2015 reduced this potential increase to 2.9 degrees.

The COPs, with the climate action they have generated over the years, will therefore have enabled us to avoid more than 1 degree Celsius of warming.

It's huge.

To get an idea of ​​the importance of this gap, we must return to what we are experiencing today. The planet's average temperature has risen about 1.2 degrees from the level before the coal-enabled industrial revolution of the 19th century.

We are now able to see the consequences of this warming of just over 1 degree: extreme weather phenomena are on the rise everywhere on the planet and the climate balance is already upset.

Imagine with 4 degrees of warming.

We understand this well: every little tenth of a degree counts.

In light of this observation, the IPCC scientists tell us in their latest report that everything is not lost, that it is still possible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, even if the window of opportunity to act is quickly closing.< /p>

Here is therefore a concrete, although imperfect, result of the COPs: they have lit the fuse for climate actions which have enabled us to remain within the range of possibility, even if the margin is very slim and even if the challenge to be taken up gives dizziness.

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French President François Hollande and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the final plenary session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget.

Thanks to the Paris Agreement, all countries now know what their neighbors are doing in the fight against climate change.

Indeed, the 195 countries that signed this agreement are required to transmit their targets and the quantity of their emissions to the UN in a public register. All countries can therefore know who are the dunces in the group and who are the good students.

This transparency creates an absolutely essential element of climate action world: moral pressure.

By presenting themselves every year at the COP, in front of the cameras and microphones of the international press and in front of the representatives of other States, all countries are subject to the weight of #x27;a reputation that they must preserve. No country wants to be seen as standing in the way.

This pressure, which would not be as strong or as visible without the spotlight of the COPs, necessarily encourages the actors present to improve their ambition and raises the bar for action ever higher.

Climate change is unique in that no country can claim to have the solution to this problem.

Let's imagine a country that reduces its GHG emissions to zero tomorrow morning. Despite this virtuous policy, it would no less be affected by the effects of climate change, fueled by emissions from other countries. Climate disruption is a universal problem.

From this arises the obligation to find a common solution, a solution, above all, which must include the countries in development.

Rich countries have developed for more than a century by burning fossil fuels. They therefore bear a heavy responsibility for the phenomenon of climate change. And yet, we see that it is the countries of the South that are suffering the greatest effects of these upheavals.

The 54 African countries emit barely 3% greenhouse gas emissions. For small islands and small island states, it is less than 1% of the total. Tuvalu, in the South Pacific, emits so little GHG that it is not even included in the statistics.

For these countries most vulnerable to climate hazards, the COPs are the only forum where their voice is heard on such a large scale.

During these summits, representatives of Chad or Bolivia have the same speaking time as Chinese, European or American delegates. Year after year, we hear representatives of these small countries describe their reality and tell stories that need to be heard.

For some time now, we have seen the countries of the South unite more. They take up more space in negotiations, they are listened to more, they make gains – however insufficient they may be – and they manage to influence, as best they can, the course of things.

Over the years, COPs have helped amplify their voices. It’s not nothing, even if it’s not enough.

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Brazil's President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends a COP27 meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 17, 2022.

If there is one thing that the United Nations climate conferences have allowed us to better understand over the years, it is that the climate crisis goes far beyond just environmental issues.

It combines public and private international finance, international aid, scientific cooperation, technology transfer, agricultural knowledge, indigenous peoples and multiple other tools that aim to solve a difficult but fundamental problem: how to convince human beings to change their way of life in order to return to a carbon-free planet?

Few current concerns are the subject of such broad and complex negotiation as the issue of climate change. The simple fact of bringing together all the countries on the planet – some extremely poor, others at war, others ruled by dictatorships or populated by indigenous minorities, riddled with debt or enriched by exploitation oil – in a climate agreement is an achievement in itself.

If only for this improbable meeting of such divergent interests, the United Nations climate conferences deserve our full attention.

UN climate conferences have this particularity in that they are also open to civil society, scientists, representatives of local governments, the private sector and to rising youth.

This openness outside the simple official circle of diplomats is to be welcomed.

However, in recent years, the COPs have transformed – alongside the diplomatic work that is done there – into a real trade fair for the benefit of those who want to give a green tint to the products they sell. Thus, during the COP27 in Egypt, lucrative natural gas supply contracts were signed between African and European countries, under the pretext that it is a source of energy. x27;transition energy.

There were more than 600 accredited fossil fuel industry lobbyists at COP27 last year. How many will there be this year in the United Arab Emirates, the seventh largest oil producer in the world?

The president of COP28 defends the idea that we must avoid excluding representatives of fossil fuel companies from the meeting, under the pretext that they are part of the solution. Many are accredited under the banner of national delegations, which gives them the right to pink accreditation, which gives access to negotiation sessions.

Their presence is far from trivial. At COP28, discussions will revolve around the idea of ​​including in the final decision a sentence that would indicate in black and white the need for countries to move away from fossil fuels.

Can we imagine for a single moment that the representatives of this industry, duly accredited, will not lobby to defend their interests?

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COP28 President-designate Ahmed al-Jaber and UN Special Envoy Michael R. Bloomberg as they announce the holding a local climate action summit at COP28 in Dubai in December 2023, alongside local leaders.

There are several things the United Nations can do if it wants to restore some credibility to the COPs in the eyes of the public.

The first would be to limit the presence of lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry. That seems to me a minimum if we want to hope for better results in terms of climate.

We could also limit the number of participants. Let's be honest: many delegates go there to parade or take a trip. With a limited number of accreditations, governments and organizations would be forced to make choices.

The UN could also reward countries that provide evidence of respecting their commitments. We could decide, for example, to give speaking privileges and more important diplomatic roles to countries that arrive at the COP with firm commitments to improve their climate action (no false promises or recycled announcements) or with the evidence that they respected their targets. Giving pride of place to countries that act for real and meet expectations would be a way of making these summits more effective and more relevant.

However, the COPs are only one driver of action among several others. The G7, the G20, the new BRICS Plus, the Asia-Pacific countries, the European Union and its partners – and so on – are all forums for leading the fight against climate change.

COPs have many flaws. However, so far, no one has come up with a better way to contain this uniquely complex problem.

And I repeat: what would the climate situation be if there were not these meetings?

To ask the question is to answer it.

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  • Natasha Kumar

    By Natasha Kumar

    Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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