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Climate Talks Ahead of COP28 Raise Concerns of Weak Outcome – Bloomberg (podcast)

  • Familiar fights over emissions cuts and climate financing left some negotiators worried about progress before the year-end UN summit in Dubai.
Participants at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany on June 8.  Martin Meissner/AP
Participants at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany on June 8. (Martin Meissner/AP)

John Ainger and Akshat Rathi, Bloomberg News

BRUSSELS/LONDON
Energiesnet.com 06 16 2023

Diplomats pushing for stronger climate action walked away from a two-week preparatory meeting for COP28 disappointed by inter-country bickering and what some said was a lack of ambition from the United Arab Emirates, this year’s host nation. 

Negotiators from Europe and climate-vulnerable nations were looking for two things at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in Germany: A spot on the agenda to discuss accelerating emissions cuts and a clear message from the UAE on how it would go beyond promises made at past COP gatherings. The outcome of the talks, which ended on Thursday, raised concerns that efforts to slash carbon emissions and boost financing for developing nations will fail to progress this year, according to interviews with more than a dozen delegates. 

The event began on a promising note when Sultan Al Jaber, the COP28 president who has faced a barrage of criticism for his other role as chief of state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., told participants that the phase-down of fossil fuels was “inevitable.” But nearly two weeks of negotiations didn’t yield concrete results that would set the stage for a strong outcome at November’s summit in Dubai.

“We’re supposed to have leadership for a clear conversation, but we do not have a clear roadmap to have those complex conversations,” said Sebastian Carranza Tovar, head of Colombia’s delegation. “The COP28 presidency should create good conditions to reflect all views.”

The annual Bonn meetings are an important halfway point in the climate diplomacy calendar, and past COP presidencies have used the gathering to set out their agenda. Two years ago, for example, the UK made clear at Bonn that it would push for strong language on ending support for fossil fuels at COP26, paving the way for a landmark deal on phasing down the use of coal. Egypt, last year’s host for COP27, made finance a priority and ultimately delivered an agreement to start a fund to address damages caused by extreme weather.

Part of the proceedings at COP28 will include all participating nations publicly tallying their progress in meeting climate goals. The result of this global stocktake isn’t in doubt — it will show almost every nation is behind on their commitments to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. But the national self-assessments are only a preliminary step meant to set up a consensus-building statement that reflects an official global response to continuing carbon pollution.

Clear Framework

The fear now coming out of Bonn is that there won’t be time left before COP28 to set up a clear framework and arrive at an ambitious agreement. Because COPs are run by consensus, any single country can derail the final outcome. That’s why carefully setting priorities ahead of time is crucial to push more than 190 countries in one direction.

“The COP28 presidency should have a stronger leadership,” said Camila Zepeda, head of Mexico’s delegation. “Yes, this is a party-driven process. But over and over again we’re shown that if it’s just left to us parties, we can never agree on things.” Zepeda said she was still looking for the UAE to produce “a roadmap.”

Pushback against Al Jaber has been a constant since his appointment to lead this year’s climate talks. In the weeks before the Bonn summit, more than 100 US and European lawmakers called for him to be removed as president. Outside Bonn’s World Congress Center, where the meeting took place, environmental activists plastered mugshots of Al Jaber that dubbed him the “Fossil Fuel King.”

Al Jaber has so far retained the public support of COP heavyweights from developed nations, including US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and his European Union counterpart Frans Timmermans. But there have recently been some signs of unease. Two European delegation heads earlier privately expressed concerns over the host nation’s handling of the talks, and Kerry has objected to the UAE’s invitation to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to attend COP28. 

Listen to the Zero podcast episode where Bloomberg Green’s Aaron Rutkoff and Akshat Rathi discuss how Al Jaber came to lead COP28.

Podcast

In-fighting is common at Bonn meetings, but this one ended with a particularly unusual twist: countries only managed to agree on an agenda for the two-week talks on the second-to-last day.

The most noticeable omission was the “mitigation work program,” which would have opened discussions on how best to speed up emissions cuts and raise money to help developing countries deploy clean energy. A group including China, India and Saudi Arabia would only agree to the item after the issue of scaling up funding from rich nations to achieve those goals was also added to the agenda. 

Divergent Views

The COP presidency acknowledged that there had been divergent views on the emissions mitigation program, but urged all parties to come together.

“We must move past our differences, look beyond narrow interests and deliver for those who face ever-increasing risks with every fraction of a degree of warming,” said Adnan Amin, chief executive officer of COP28. “Failing to do so will undermine the credibility of our collective response.”

The UAE will likely come forward with a more consolidated plan for what it wants to achieve in the next couple of months, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Speaking at the conclusion of the Bonn talks, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appeared to push back on Al Jaber’s earlier suggestion that the focus of COP28 should be on fossil fuel emissions — through carbon capture and other abatement technologies — and not fossil fuels themselves.

“The fossil fuel industry is at the heart of the climate crisis,” he said in a virtual address. “The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels—period.”

Some observers have been hoping to see the UAE mobilize oil and gas companies to commit to more aggressive emissions cut or activate billions of dollars of climate financing via its sovereign wealth fund. So far, however, no formal initiatives have been announced. A previous attempt to corral oil and gas companies, under the so-called Global Decarbonization Alliance, came under criticism after its plans leaked for missing more than 80% of the emissions the industry is responsible for.

In the aftermath of Bonn, a senior developed country official said what UAE wants to achieve within the United Nations process to bring the oil and gas sector along for the transition remains vague.

As the Bonn talks wrapped up even last year’s Egyptian hosts, who are expected to support the incoming presidency throughout the year, admitted that things could have gone better.

“The UAE are excellent at organizing events, but our advice to them is always to remain cognizant of the reality that this is a party-driven process,” said Wael Aboulmagd, special representative for Egypt’s COP27 Presidency. “Try to get 190 of your friends in one room and tell me how easy it is to decide where we’re going to dinner.”

(Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News, is the UN secretary general’s special envoy for climate ambition and solutions. Bloomberg Philanthropies regularly partners with the COP presidency to promote climate action.)

— With assistance by Jennifer A Dlouhy

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