The Conference of the Parties (COP) forms an integral part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was established in 1992 with the purpose of bringing together countries and organisations around the world to discuss and negotiate in combating climate change.
Illustration by Team Geostrata
Such gatherings have been referred to as COP, which provides a platform for climate negotiations and subsequent climate agreements. The last COP summit was COP 27, which was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in 2022. The summit was criticised for not fulfilling the aspirations of climate activists as it did not add anything new to the existing agreements and was not given much attention due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
This year, COP 28 will be held in UAE, such transition in presidency depends upon the the established rotational presidency system. This means that COP presidencies rotate among regional groups across the world, and this time it was the turn of the Asia-Pacific group to host this conference.
These global summits are intrinsically political in nature, as they bring countries with varied interests and concerns to the table and together aim to fight global climate change. This results in difficulties in reaching negotiations and unified conclusions. Every other COP had some kind of controversy, failure, and success, and so can the upcoming host UAE.
UAE AS A PROBLEMATIC HOST
The selection of the UAE as the host for COP28 carries both opportunities and challenges. While the nation offers a strategic location and financial resources for the conference, it also faces scrutiny related to its carbon emissions and environmental sustainability, given its dependence on fossil fuels.
The decision to host COP28 in the UAE reflects the complex interplay of regional representation, diplomatic negotiations, and the evolving geopolitical dynamics in the climate change arena.
Its opportunities range from being at a strategic location with a good amount of financial resources to an experienced host who can help bring negotiations to the table and make up for last year's gaps and failures towards a successful conclusion. However, the challenges and concerns at hand are more visible to countries.
The politics of COP 28 began with the UAE's presidency and the exchange of emails. A hacker group called "GlobalLeaks," operating from a Russian email address, claims to have acquired emails from the UAE's Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al-Otaiba. They threaten to reveal the entire email database, alleging that it exposes the UAE's lobbying efforts and their impact on U.S. interests abroad. The hackers say they received the emails from a paid informant linked to a D.C.-based think-tank and have already shared some with the media as evidence.
Furthermore, the facade of the whole problem is its presidency, which is under Sultan Al Jaber. Al Jaber is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s National Oil Company - Adnoc. Critics claim that the presidency of the climate summits should be free from oil companies. In response, Al Jaber suggested that this would further encourage other oil companies to negotiate for the current climate crisis.
Furthermore, the UAE's economy relies heavily on oil and gas production, and the country has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world. Hosting a massive international conference like COP28 in a nation with high carbon emissions raises questions about the sustainability of such an event and depicts climate hypocrisy.
UAE has also faced scrutiny for its involvement in regional conflicts and its relationships with countries involved in the fossil fuel industry. Thus, hosting COP28 might attract scrutiny and criticism related to these geopolitical issues as well.
THE POSSIBILITY OF WAR EFFECT
The Russia-Ukraine war had adverse consequences for the COP27 meeting. War reduces available resources through the destruction of infrastructure, diversion of resources to military needs, and displacement of populations. It disrupts agriculture, trade, and production, leading to shortages. Additionally, war often escalates demand for resources, further depleting them.
This results in scarcity and economic instability, notably casting a shadow of geopolitical tension over the negotiations, experts familiar with pre-summit discussions express uncertainty about consensus-building efforts and a potential reduction in available resources due to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Such conflicts divert attention, resources, and diplomatic efforts towards addressing the crisis which in turn hinders the progress of climate discussions. An assessment conducted by Lennard de Klerk and others suggested that greenhouse gas emissions attributable to twelve months of the war totaled 120 million carbon dioxide emissions. This is equivalent to the total GHG emissions produced over the same period in a country like Belgium.
The ongoing conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas has raised concerns regarding the proximity of the COP28 climate summit's venue in the UAE to the conflict zone.
COP28 aims to reach a consensus on reducing emissions by at least 43% within the next seven years to achieve the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. COP28 officials have emphasised their commitment to delivering the summit's mandate and have dismissed security concerns.
They anticipate a high level of attendance at the conference. The crisis in the region could hinder global efforts to combat climate change, particularly support for developing countries in their green transition and climate resilience. The UAE’s COP28 team is focused on the summit's mandate and hopes for a de-escalation of the violence, even though this stance differs from that of some Western countries supporting Israel's response to Hamas attacks.
COMMON BUT DIFFERENTIATED RESPONSIBILITIES
AND RESPECTIVE CAPABILITIES
One of the main principles of UNFCCC, Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC), was adopted by developing countries like India in 1992. Since then it has been the bone of contention in negotiations for climate change. As the term explains, it is the common responsibility of all countries to protect the environment while understanding that different countries have different capabilities and duties to address climate change.
Countries like the US - which has historically been involved in emissions - emit 15.5 per capita tonnes of carbon per year. While India emits 1.9 per capita tonnes of carbon per year, which is below the global average in per capita terms. This puts the developed world, which produces 70% of the global CO2 at the centre of the negotiating table and gives developing countries leeway towards development and sustainability.
CBDR-RC aims to seek equity within universality by putting the onus on the developed world, as these countries were historically involved in heavy emissions of CO2, to bring down their levels of pollution and provide resources, technology, etc to the developing countries.
This will help the developing world in negotiating with the new negotiating measures for climate change. It is here where the problems arise, developed countries like the US are not ready to negotiate to these terms and they bring in countries like China and India to pay equally for their carbon emission.
China is the world's largest carbon-dioxide emitter, producing 11,535 megatonnes per year and India is the third largest emitter. As a result, the major points in the negotiations are left asunder and are not met, which also include the finances to tackle climate change, limiting the global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and others.
GEOPOLITICS OF GREEN FINANCE - POWER POLITICS AT PLAY
David Ryfisch precisely stated, "Climate finance, in general, is a big trust enabler or also trust eroder when it comes to the climate negotiations." Trust deficit is a major issue for climate change negotiations between developed and developing countries.
Through the proper functioning of finances, trust can be built among the parties for the negotiations. However, questions come up, exactly whose responsibility is it?
Green Climate Fund was aimed at raising $100 bn by 2020 but it was neither a success in COP 27 and is speculated to not be fruitful in this summit as well due to the pattern going on among powerful countries versus developing countries in establishing a global consensus and the finances. The fund aims to help vulnerable countries cope with climate change.
However, the funds raised so far are only $9.3 bn and not even close to $10 bn because wealthy nations failed to contribute towards it. So how can one talk about equitable distribution of green finances when even one-fourth of the target is not met?
Wealthy countries who have been historically responsible for large-scale climate damages, continue to ignore their duties and responsibilities towards climate disaster-prone countries. They refuse to take liability for climate destruction caused by their modernization and development over the years.
Countries like the US are one of the most difficult parties to negotiate with, for climate change responsibilities. It claims that countries like China, which is the highest emitter today should contribute towards the fund too.
Both countries averted the terms of negotiations as a result not coming out with a conclusion has become routine. For example, COP 27 aimed to establish the Glasgow Facility for Financing Loss and Damage. It was to provide finance for loss and damage (L&D) to vulnerable developing countries, however, the negotiations failed. Similarly, the host continent of Africa, which is prone to climate disasters but least responsible for the climate crisis was given no attention.
PAROCHIAL VISION OF NATIONAL INTEREST
Countries at the negotiating table prefer national interest over any united decision to manage the climate change crisis. Powerful countries like the US and China, always prefer to put their needs first before coming to any conclusion.
The last COP was disrupted by the Russia-Ukraine war as countries producing and demanding oil became more influential. Similarly, the upcoming summit can also be overshadowed by the unfolding of the Israel-Hamas war. As a result, it will become difficult to phase out gas and oil and take it as one of the essential issues to be dealt with during the summit.
Wealthy countries whose voice is heard prefer to put their economic and defence interests first. While the voices of small island nations are not even heard making it an existential crisis for COP negotiations.
Countries see climate change negotiations as a zero-sum game, they measure the negotiations in terms of relative gains, and if they relatively gain more, then they agree to it. Hence in COP 27, the decision over Pakistan’s recovery from last year's climate disaster was left for COP 28, even though the matter was of priority.
Similarly, the host country UAE prefers the climate adaptation approach over climate mitigation i.e. adjusting to the effects of climate change than working towards making its impact less severe. This difference in perspective can lead to tensions in negotiations. This leads to a lack of trust among developing countries, who then prefer to focus on their development and other national interests.
As a result, countries prefer to join bilateral agreements rather than multilateral agreements for a global common issue. These countries have uncertainty about the net benefit of climate change policies too and hence even the NDCs are not met by these countries.
COP 28 has not yet happened but one is supposed to learn from history, looking at the failures of COP 27 suggests the inherent challenges to consensus-making at COP summits. All these challenges will be reflected in COP 28 as well the agenda of COP 28 must be to delicately bind the national interest with collective action towards combating climate change.
Climate change is a global commonality that calls for all countries to work together to mitigate its adverse effects and help control it.
BY NAUSHABA AND SOMYA MAAN