After a fast start, COP28 climate talks now in murky middle of hope, roadblocks
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After a first-day blur of rare quick action and agreement, negotiators at a critical United Nations (UN) climate summit (COP28) Wednesday finished up their first week in a more familiar place for them: the murky middle where momentum and roadblocks intertwine.
“Negotiations, as are often the case, are a mixed picture right now. We see big differences between individual states in some areas,” German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan said, “but there is a will to make progress.”
US special envoy John Kerry said, “We have done a lot in this first week and we’ve accomplished real things.”
Proponents who are calling for a ground-shifting phase-out of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal have hope for the first time in years, but also see where it could be torpedoed. Key issues of financial help for poor nations to decarbonise and how to adapt to warming need much more work, officials said.
That is in contrast to the first day when the conference put into effect a climate compensation fund — called loss-and-damage — and started seeing its coffers grow to more than US$720 million.
UN Climate Secretary Simon Stiell on Wednesday warned against putting “a tick on the box” for that victory and think it solves the multi-trillion-dollar problem of financial aid that’s needed to help cut emissions worldwide.
“We need COP to deliver a bullet train to speed up climate action. We currently have an old caboose chugging over rickety tracks,” Stiell said.
Adnan Amin, a veteran UN diplomat, was a bit more optimistic, saying all negotiations have both an up period and depressing times. This one, he said, is in that time where “there’s still a buzz. There’s still positivity.”
Discussions have been focused on the so-called Global Stocktake — a status of where nations are at with meeting their climate goals to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times and how they can get there. On Tuesday, negotiators produced a new draft of the text, but it had so many possibilities in its 24 pages that it didn’t give too much of a hint of what will be agreed upon when the session ends next week.
Negotiators for 197 countries are going over the document word by word to see what they can live with and what they can’t, Amin said: “They have so many demands and needs. But I think it provides a very good basis for moving forward.”
Cedric Schuster, the chair of the Association of Small Island States, said failing on the global stocktake would “make it significantly more difficult to leave this COP saying we can achieve the 1.5 °C limit.” He said major emitters and developed countries need to take the lead and ramp up efforts to phase out fossil fuels.
“If we fail, the consequences will be catastrophic,” said Schuster.
While United Nations officials highlight worries about finance and adaptation, many at the Dubai conference are focused on language about what to do about fossil fuels. Burning coal, oil and natural gas are the chief causes of climate change. For the first time in nearly three decades of talks, the idea of getting rid of all of three of them is on the agenda and a serious possibility.
But issues about language, timing and meaning — especially defining terms — are far from settled. Some are using phase-down as less stringent, along with the term “unabated” tossed in front of fossil fuels. When asked to define “unabated,” Stiell said that’s up to negotiators.