COP27, COP28 to see climate stocktaking, more focus on developing world, renewed fossil fuel debates
While COP26 saw no shortage of headline-grabbing pledges, the countries hosting the next two UN climate summits are promising to focus on implementation of nations' current GHG-reduction commitments, evaluation of decarbonization progress, aid for developing countries, and even a rethinking of fossil fuels' role in the energy transition.
In the lead-up to and during the Glasgow summit last November, dozens of countries made fresh emissions reduction commitments that could keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, partially meeting the Paris Agreement's goal of averting climate catastrophes.
Senior government officials reflected on the earlier round of negotiations while plotting the ways forward for COP27 and COP28 in some events during the 15-19 January Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).
While all UN member states agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets for 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in 2022, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry suggested countries should prepare to elaborate on how to reach their goals.
"What the world needs today is to focus on implementing commitments outlined in NDCs conclusively and expeditiously," said Shoukry, also the president-designate of COP27, scheduled to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt between 7 and 18 November.
During COP26, delegates in principle agreed to reduce global CO2 emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and to achieve net-zero goals by mid-century, which are essential to limiting the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
"COP27 will be very important in terms of setting the stage and direction for global climate action in this critical decade leading up to 2030," Shoukry said during a virtual forum 18 January. "Egypt will focus on achieving progress on the mandates emanating from COP26."
Aside from climate change mitigation, adaptation, and associated funding, the diplomat said an evaluation of how countries are collectively implementing the Paris Agreement—known as global stocktaking—will be high on the agenda.
"The global stocktaking is also an important part of the process … for assessing where we are, and where we need to be in achieving [the Paris Agreement's] goals," he added.
The stocktaking procedure aims to review global rather than country-specific climate efforts. The first stocktaking began during COP26 and is due to conclude in November 2023, when COP28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
"COP28 is going to be a crucial one … The first ever global stocktaking will show us how we are tracking towards the Paris goals," said UAE's Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Al Jaber. "Typically, it will also set the roadmap for 2030 and beyond."
Countries are required to submit new or updated NDCs by 2025 to lay out their decarbonization targets for 2035. The findings of the global stocktaking are expected to serve as reference points for climate officials.
Al Jaber said he hopes countries' decarbonization efforts can start to bear fruit on the climate front by the time COP28 is held in his country.
"We want COP28 to be defined by … practical outcomes. We want countries to turn pledges into concrete results," he said, adding: "We have already started working very closely with our colleagues and friends in the UK and Egypt, to make sure that all countries continue the momentum of COP26, especially on aligning the international community around net zero by 2050."
Words into action
When COP25 was held in Chile in December 2019, only 30% of the global economy was covered by commitments to reach net-zero emissions later this century. By the time COP26 was over, the figure stood at 90%.
Speaking during the same forum, COP26 President Alok Sharma said climate negotiators should be "very proud" of the progress, but admitted this is "a fragile win."
"We now need to be [in] the coming years ensuring that all of these commitments are translated into action," he said.
Sharma is visiting Egypt and the UAE this week to enhance the partnerships among the COP hosts.
"We will work together in 2022 and beyond to drive ambitious implementation of … the Paris Agreement," Egypt and the UK said in a joint statement 15 January. "We emphasize the urgency of action required to address the gaps in ambition across mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance, and the importance of responding to the best available science."
The last summit saw some climate coordination projects launched by some countries and private sector players on the sidelines, including the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use, the Global Methane Pledge, and some coal phaseout compacts.
US Special President Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who was the driving force behind some of the partnerships, admitted there had been insufficient progress in the decarbonization progress.
"No one is moving fast enough. We literally are way behind in our retirement of coal powered plants, in our efforts to stop leakage of methane," Kerry said during the ADSW summit. "We need to do a lot more, a lot faster, and I think that is going to be the center of the debate going forward."
Focus on Africa
As an African country, Egypt has promised that COP27 will have a strong focus on the continent most heavily exposed to climate change-related risks like droughts and food shortages.
"We believe it is our responsibility … to highlight the priorities of the continent which has suffered the most, and which has contributed the least to the problem," Shoukry said. "Hosting the COP in Africa represents an opportunity to frame the impacts of climate change as well to promote and support the exemplary efforts African countries have taken to address climate change."
Despite being blessed with abundant renewable energy resources, Africa has seen a slow expansion of wind and solar power due to limited investment. The African Union is currently developing a single electricity market for Africa and a long-term plan for continent-wide power systems that some hope can prompt greater installation of renewable capacity.
"We believe there is a great potential to take advantage of the resources that are available to provide green jobs" and to promote socio-economic development, Shoukry said.
The European Commission (EC) plans to assist in the development of a common policy framework among African countries, which could improve the investment climate across the continent.
At the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly last week, EC Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said many in the developing world are suffering the worst consequences of climate change. "Let me be very straightforward in my answer: major emitters need to do better," Timmermans said. "They should do that job and take the lead."
Inclusion of fossil fuels
Al Jaber also said the views of developing countries will be well represented at the UAE summit. But he added that the same should apply to fossil fuel-related interests.
"We want COP28 to be as inclusive as possible … And what I mean by being inclusive is that the hydrocarbon industry will have to be included as part of the mix," said the official, who also serves as CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
During the last summit, a group of 25 countries and development banks said they will end public financing of overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022, the first such pledge that covers oil and natural gas investments.
This followed falling investment in fossil fuel production in recent years amid climate and environmental concerns. However, OPEC—of which the UAE is a member—believes this phenomenon is contributing to a winter energy crisis as low-carbon alternatives are not yet available.
"If we want to successfully transition to the energy system of tomorrow, we can't simply unplug from the energy system of today," Al Jaber said. "We need to … make the current system work more efficiently with much less carbon."
Having established net-zero targets for later this century, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are both planning to continue with oil and gas production to generate revenues while reducing emissions with deployment of carbon capture and storage technology on a vast scale.
During the ADSW summit, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said his country will simultaneously ramp up renewable power generation capacity due to its ability to access low-cost solar and wind resources.
"[The dual approach] is not trying to take Saudi Arabia to a beauty shop. It has more to do with a conviction … because there is a solid economic case," he said.
More money wanted
In 2009, wealthy nations committed to providing $100 billion in climate finance per year from the public and private sectors to developing countries by 2020. The money was meant to be spent on measures that can mitigate climate change, such as low-carbon energy projects, or those that help adapt to climate impacts, like infrastructure enhancement.
However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimated the goal will not be reached before 2023. Delegates at COP26 said the funding level will increase past 2025 but did not agree on a specific amount. They promised to double the financing for adaptation measures from 2019 levels by 2025, bringing it on par with that set aside for mitigation.
During the IRENA Assembly, Antigua and Barbuda's Minister for Health and the Environment Molwyn Joseph said rich nations should show "a greater sense of responsibility" as developing countries have yet to receive the financial resources required to counter climate change.
"They have made major contribution to the pollution of the atmosphere, hence they should accept the responsibility that they must pay for the damage," Joseph said.
During COP26, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ)—a network of more than 450 banks, insurers, and asset managers across 45 countries—said it had secured $130 trillion in private capital commitments to facilitate the energy transition. But Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, one of the participants, cautioned that there is no existing mechanism to rapidly deploy private capital to the emerging world.
Kerry told the ADSW summit he hopes the GFANZ funds can help unleash the transition to a low-carbon world, and that he is seeking some ways to initiate fund flows.
"We have to do some de-risking. We have to do some blended finance," he said. "We have to be creative about how we deploy that money."
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