COMMENT: Governments are failing us on climate change as COP28 nears

COMMENT: Governments are failing us on climate change as COP28 nears
COP28 climate talks president Sultan al-Jaber is also head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. / Arctic Circle
By Roberta Harrington in Los Angeles November 22, 2023

The outcome of COP28 won’t save the world from climate chaos. That much is clear with major economies failing on climate change, the US continuing to drill fossil fuels and China building more coal-burning plants.

The optics of COP28 are also all wrong. The meet will start on November 30 in Dubai in the UAE, an economy driven by oil. The president of the UN conference is none other than Sultan al-Jaber, head of United Arab Emirates oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

Climate experts agree that the burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming.

According to a new UN report, the earth is accelerating to well past the chaos limit as carbon emissions continue to rise, rather than fall as they should. Wealthy countries should act ambitiously and help developing regions, said the UN’s annual emissions gap report.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon a canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives and broken records.” He said that "present trends are racing our planet down a dead-end 3C temperature rise.”

He added: “Leaders must drastically up their game, now, with record ambition, record action, and record emissions reductions. No more greenwashing. No more foot-dragging.”

In fact the world is on track to heat up by 2.5C to 2.9 Celsius by the end of the century, well past the international Paris Agreement limit of 1.5C to 2C above pre-industrial levels, said the report.

This will mean chaos.

At 3C degrees of warming, the world could enter catastrophe, with the Amazon rainforest drying out and polar ice sheets melting and ocean levels rising causing massive flooding of populated areas.

The outlook is also getting worse. According to the last year’s UN report projections, the temperature rise would have been a lower 2.4-2.6C by 2100.

“It’s really an indication that we are already seeing a change, an acceleration,” said report lead author Anne Olhoff of the new report. “Based on what science tells us, this is just like a whisper. What will be in the future will be more like a roar.”

A recent report in the medical journal Lancet cautioned of more food insecurity and heat-caused deaths if temperatures rise by 2C.

Meanwhile a second recent report by NGO Oxfam says the richest 1% of the world’s population generates as much CO2 as the poorest two-thirds of the world.

“The richest 1 percent of the world’s population produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 than the 5bn people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity,” said the report.

The new 108-page UN report found that nations would have to cut their emissions by an eye-popping 42% by 2030 if the world has a chance of meeting the 1.5C 2015 Paris goal. The world needs to cut 2030 emissions by 28% to limit warming to 2C.

The world’s chance of limiting heating to 1.5C is about one in seven or just 14%, said Olhoff. That is “very, very slim indeed,” she said. That is, the goal appears to be dead.

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution increased by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022, said the report.

Countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were assessed. Unconditional pledges would lead to a 2.9C rise in temperature, and conditional pledges would hold it to 2.5C. NDCs must be updated every five years.

"The longer we wait, the harder it's going to be," Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told reporters.

"There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature highs and extreme weather," he said.

“Temperatures are hitting new highs, while extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, developing faster and becoming much more intense,” Andersen said. The new report “tells us that it’s going to take a massive and urgent shift to avoid these records falling year after year.”

Earlier this month, another UN report found that fossil-fuel producing nations still plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 that if the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature rise were adhered to.

Current and planned oil, gas and coal projects would emit more than 3.5 times the carbon than what would be required to limit warming to 1.5C, said this year’s report.

Urgent action is needed at COP28, emissions-gap report author Taryn Fransen told CBC. Nations will need to commit to "transform numerous sectors at a pace and depth not seen before, such as rapidly and equitably shifting away from fossil fuels," she said. 

"If countries achieve their most ambitious targets cutting net emissions to zero by around 2050 we can hold warming to even 2C, but the trouble is, most countries haven't yet underpinned those targets with legislation and implementation plans that will be needed to drive down emissions," she said.

COP28 being held in Dubai is absurd and ironic, say climate activists. New data from the Global Oil and Gas Exit List (GOGEL), a public database that tracks the activities of over 1,600 companies representing 95% of global oi and gas production, found that ADNOC – the company headed by the COP28 president – has plans the largest net-zero-busting expansion of any global company, reports the Guardian.

Nils Bartsch, the head of oil and gas research at the non-profit Urgewald, one of the NGOs behind GOGEL, told the newspaper: “To keep 1.5C alive, a speedy, managed decline in oil and gas production is vital. Instead, oil and gas companies are building a bridge to climate chaos.”

Bartsch specifically criticised the COP28 role of Sultan al-Jaber. “I think it’s ridiculous. I’m not sure how a person that’s responsible for this kind of oil and gas expansion is fit to lead the climate negotiations. It is the most obvious conflict of interest there can be,” he commented.