The world faces a scathing verdict on its efforts to tackle climate change after talks ended on Tuesday on an appraisal that the designate UAE presidency says will “frame all of our work” at the Cop28 summit in Dubai.
The host will oversee the first five-yearly “global stocktake” ordered by the Paris Agreement, the deal that set the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
With the next progress report not due until 2028, the stocktake in Dubai is considered a key moment for countries to rethink their national go-green plans.
Hana Al Hashimi, the UAE’s chief climate negotiator at Cop28, said it would be a milestone moment to “course correct for 2030 and beyond, for the future we all want”.
Talks on the “technical phase” of the stocktake ended in Bonn, Germany on Tuesday, clearing the way for a “political phase” at Cop28 where leaders and policymakers could issue a joint call to action.
The two scientists tasked with reporting back on the talks, Farhan Akhtar from the US and Harald Winkler from South Africa, have made clear they see global emissions as “not in line” with the 1.5°C goal.
“It’s clear that we’ve made significant yet inadequate progress,” Mr Akhtar said.
Negotiators and lobbyists who spoke to The National said the stocktake should call for urgent emissions cuts to keep 1.5°C within reach – preferably without overshooting the target first and trying to claw temperatures back later.
“We think that 1.5°C is where we should focus our attention. It is still feasible,” said UK negotiator Iliana Cardenes on the sidelines of the talks in Bonn.
The stocktake is a “vehicle for action” that can “set out really clear next steps for climate action in the critical decade that we have left”, she said.
Carlon Mendoza, a negotiator from Trinidad and Tobago, argued that any delay in phasing out fossil fuels would be unfair to future generations.
“We should be focusing on pathways to 1.5°C and not an overshoot,” he said.
Events involving high-ranking figures are planned in the first week of Cop28 to address the stocktake, said the summit’s chief executive Adnan Amin.
Those talks could produce “key political messages and recommendations” that inform a final decision or declaration on the stocktake, he said. The summit starts in Dubai's Expo City on November 30.
The talks in Bonn were mired in familiar climate controversies, with rich countries urged to shoulder the burden of a crisis that poorer countries did little to bring about.
Cuban diplomat Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, speaking on behalf of 134 developing countries including China, piled pressure on rich countries to lead the way in emissions cuts.
“Historical emissions are unequal. The impacts and risk associated with warming are also unevenly distributed,” he said.
India said it did not want to see “prescriptive messages” in the stocktake that order developing countries down a path of “constraining energy consumption and income growth”.
Some ways of getting to 1.5°C modelled by scientists “project a future for us that we do not want”, said the Indian delegation, which succeeded at Cop26 two years ago in securing committments to phase down coal.
The US hit back by saying development needs “cannot be an excuse” to delay emissions cuts.
Washington believes that “collective progress” is not on track and that the stocktake should stress the need for everyone to ditch fossil fuels, end deforestation and cut methane emissions, US diplomats said in Bonn.
Mr Akhtar said parties had expressed a wish to “convey both hope and urgency” and deliver a report that could inspire further action.
Experts warn that missing the 1.5°C target by even half a degree would bring a higher risk of floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, melting of ice sheets and a devastating rise in sea levels.
The top UN science panel advising on climate change said in a March report that humans had unequivocally caused about 1.1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels already.
Small island states want the report to stress that the threat of rising sea levels is already hanging over them.
Activists in Bonn said the stocktake should include “strong political signals” about a switch to renewable energy.
Fernanda Carvalho of the World Wildlife Fund said countries should be asked to rethink their 2030 targets and given a “strong call” to phase out fossil fuels.
“We have two elephants in the room. One is ambition – the targets are not going to get us to where we need to be – and the other is implementation,” she said.
“We don’t have the right targets, but even the wrong targets are not being implemented.”
Another key question is finance, which India described as “nowhere near” the desired scale, and several countries said should figure prominently in the report handed to politicians.
Canada and Germany have expressed optimism that a promise of $100 billion in funding for global climate action will finally be ready this year after it was promised in 2009, a delay the UAE presidency has described as a distraction.
The total cost could run into the trillions and Algeria, speaking on behalf of a group of Arab countries, said the stocktake “needs to identify solutions” to put more money in reach for developing countries.
Lidy Nacpil, a campaigner from the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, said the stocktake should also address progress on adapting food production to warmer temperatures.
Ms Nacpil acknowledged that demands for a total end to fossil fuels might seem unrealistic at present.
“We’re working very hard to make sure that what we actually get in the end is not what is realistic now,” she said.
Mr Amin promised diplomats on Monday that the stocktake “will frame all of our work” when the UAE assumes the summit presidency.
The global stocktake “is a critical moment for us to embark on a new and ambitious pathway to a sustainable future”, Mr Amin said.
“The stocktake must drive systems transformations that enable us to collectively meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement and to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach,” he said.
A formal report on the Bonn talks is expected to be published in September, before Cop28 starts on November 30.
The response in Dubai could include a joint call to action, or a formal decision of the 194 parties to the Paris Agreement, that sets out plans for key sectors or identifies good practices.
There is a 2025 deadline for countries to hand in an updated climate plan and they are expected to take the stocktake into account.
The UN’s top climate official Simon Stiell has said the stocktake “must be a turning point”.
While scientists have called for drastic emissions cuts by 2030, the stocktake “will show that we are not yet on that path”, he said.