COP28: A critical moment for climate action or a greenwashing spectacle?

The COP28 climate change summit is underway in Dubai, where world leaders are expected to discuss how to limit and prepare for the impacts of a warming planet. However, some critics have raised concerns about the credibility and effectiveness of the conference, as well as the role of the host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the world’s top oil producers.

The stakes are high for COP28

The COP28 summit follows a year of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves, that have shattered many climate records and caused widespread devastation and displacement. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world is on track for about 2.5°C of warming by 2100, even with the current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This would have severe and irreversible consequences for humans and ecosystems, such as rising sea levels, melting ice caps, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, and increased conflicts and migration.

To avoid the worst-case scenario, the COP28 summit aims to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, as agreed by nearly 200 countries in the Paris Agreement in 2015. This would require a rapid and deep transition to clean energy sources, as well as enhanced cooperation and solidarity among nations, especially between the developed and developing countries. The summit is organized around four cross-cutting themes: mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration.

The challenges and controversies of COP28

However, achieving the ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement is not an easy task, as it involves complex and contentious issues, such as:

COP28: A critical moment for climate action or a greenwashing spectacle

  • The gap between the pledges and the actions: Many countries have announced new or updated commitments to cut their emissions, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), ahead of COP28. However, these pledges are still insufficient to meet the 1.5°C goal, and some countries are lagging behind in implementing them. For instance, the US, the second-largest emitter in the world, has rejoined the Paris Agreement under President Joe Biden, but faces domestic opposition and legal challenges to its climate agenda. China, the largest emitter, has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, but has not provided a clear roadmap on how to do so. India, the third-largest emitter, has announced a new target of 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030, but has not committed to a net-zero emissions goal.
  • The question of climate justice and equity: Developing countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, are demanding more support and compensation from the developed countries, who bear the historical responsibility for causing the climate crisis. They are calling for the fulfillment of the promise made in 2009 to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to help them cope with the impacts of climate change and transition to low-carbon development. However, this goal has not been met, and the gap between the needs and the available funds is widening. Moreover, developing countries are also seeking recognition and redress for the loss and damage caused by the climate change, which goes beyond adaptation and resilience.
  • The role and influence of the fossil fuel industry: The COP28 summit is being held in the UAE, one of the world’s top 10 oil producers, which has appointed the chief executive of the state-owned oil company, Sultan Al Jaber, as the president of the conference. This has raised concerns about the potential conflicts of interest and the greenwashing of the host country, which plans to expand its oil production capacity, despite its investments in renewable energy and clean technologies. Furthermore, the fossil fuel industry has a strong presence and lobbying power in the COP negotiations, as well as in the national and regional policies of many countries. This poses a challenge to the phaseout of fossil fuels, which is essential to achieve the 1.5°C goal.

The opportunities and hopes for COP28

Despite the difficulties and doubts, COP28 also offers some opportunities and hopes for advancing the global climate action, such as:

  • The momentum and pressure from the civil society: The COP28 summit is taking place amid a growing public awareness and mobilization for the climate cause, especially among the youth and indigenous groups. They are demanding more urgency and ambition from the political leaders, as well as more participation and representation in the decision-making processes. They are also showcasing their own initiatives and solutions, such as the grassroots movements, the citizen assemblies, the climate litigation cases, and the climate education programs.
  • The innovation and collaboration from the non-state actors: The COP28 summit is also witnessing the involvement and contribution of various non-state actors, such as the private sector, the subnational governments, the academic institutions, and the civil society organizations. They are demonstrating their commitment and innovation to reduce their emissions, enhance their resilience, and support the climate action in different sectors and regions. They are also forming coalitions and partnerships to scale up and accelerate their efforts, such as the Race to Zero campaign, the Global Covenant of Mayors, the Climate Action 100+, and the Climate Pledge.
  • The vision and leadership from the emerging actors: The COP28 summit is also an opportunity for some emerging actors to showcase their vision and leadership in the global climate arena, such as the small island states, the African countries, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. They are pushing for more ambition and action from the major emitters, as well as setting an example for others to follow. They are also proposing new ideas and initiatives to address the key challenges and opportunities of the climate change, such as the carbon markets, the nature-based solutions, the green recovery, and the climate adaptation.

COP28 is a critical moment for the world to decide its future course of action on the climate change. It is also a test of the credibility and effectiveness of the multilateral system and the global solidarity. The outcome of the summit will depend on the political will and the moral responsibility of the world leaders, as well as the pressure and the support of the global citizens.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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