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As Cop28 enters its final days, Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, is among the officials calling for more concerted efforts to protect the environment.
She also stressed the “really positive” work done by the UAE's Presidency of Cop28 so far.
Speaking to The National during her participation in Cop28, Ms Andersen lauded the efforts of the Presidency in getting the global summit off to a strong start with the capitalisation of the loss and damage fund on the first day.
“It is massive, it's absolutely massive, and we have to say 'chapeau' to our UAE hosts here”, she said, adding the feat was “not easy… and usually these things would come at the last day or 2am. This was a major win”.
She said the “first win was the agenda got agreed so fast” and then loss and damage received funding.
"This was really smart from a strategic point of view that the Presidency saw that they could get this win and lift the spirits a little bit. So that was really good," Ms Andersen said.
With more than $725 million committed to the loss and damage fund, and that amount continuing to grow during Cop28, she said it was "really positive and bought a lot of trust”.
However, the work is not yet complete and in Ms Andersen’s assessment “the big issue on the table is, of course, will we agree or will we not to phase out fossil fuels? And that's still very much in discussion”.
The success of Cop28 will rely in large part on the agreement to reduce emissions, which includes tackling the energy transition, in addition to ensuring the protection of nature.
"We understand that without nature we cannot make it, especially the high forest, the tropical forests, the Borneo Mekong Basin, Indonesia plus the Congo Basin, the Amazon Basin – these are critical, they are the lungs of the world," Ms Andersen said.
"Forests alone will not do the trick, we must decarbonise our economies … right now we are going in the wrong direction."
According to UNEP, the world is heading to 2.9°C increase in temperatures by 2100. But based on non-conditional commitments for countries to take climate action, known as NDCs, if there is the right financing, then the figure drops to 2.5°C by 2100.
"That is still not a place we want to be at, therefore we need to see decarbonisation happen much speedier," Ms Andersen added.
"That means finance on the table for that energy shifts, it means that the G20 – the largest 20 producers and emitters, which are the key to the land, which are responsible for 75 per cent of all emissions – they have to lead.
"But everyone, all producers, all coal producers, all gas producers, we need to lead on this matter."
One matter that Ms Andersen said was vital was the capturing highly potent, but short-lived climate polluting gases.
"That is where methane comes in, that is where fluorinated gases that we use for cooling come in. And that is where nitrous oxides, the gases that are released from fertiliser making and so on, come in," she said.
She stressed the importance of limiting methane emissions and gas flaring, two matters that the Cop28 Presidency has been advocating.
“The focus is on avoiding and eliminating, flaring, venting and leakage from oil, gas and coal infrastructure, and honestly, tightening a few screws," she added.
"If we do that, it buys us time that we stop flaring, we capture that wealth instead and sell it and we stop venting and leakages. And we then reduce that dimension … methane is more than 100 times more potent a gas than CO2, one tonne of CO2 to one tonne of methane is 100-fold more the same perfluorinated gases. And the same for nitrous oxide.
"That's why the methane story here is very big. We run the international methane emissions observatory and we've just launched the methane alert reduction system ... telling you that your methane emissions are way high on your particular infrastructure."
At the Cop28 Global Methane Pledge Ministerial, countries pledged to cut methane at least 30 percent by 2030, a target the UAE presidency had championed.
UNEP also hosts the Climate and Clean Air Coalition “because when we take methane and nitrous oxides, and fluorinated gases out of the system, it's also good for us”.
"These kinds of opportunities are real. It will buy us a little period of time, while we do the real hard work of decarbonising our economies," she said.
While Ms Andersen is appealing to all countries to act, she says there are developing countries for which “it's a difficult thing to leave [fossil fuels] in the ground, unless there's finance that can have an able and just transition getting that country out of energy poverty. I say that because we have to have solidarity towards the Global South”.
She used South Sudan as an example. “It's a country that has 7.9 per cent access to modern electricity and it is a country that is an oil producer. So the world has to ask itself, what is the world going to do for that country?”
Ms Andersen has called for solidarity in understanding the needs of developing countries, in addition to “the real opportunity” of technological advancements in renewable energy.
She also referenced the fact some countries, such as Kenya, can produce clean and green energy, which can help to decarbonise industry.
“Many African countries are saying we would like to produce excess [clean energy], because OECD countries cannot decarbonise without African help," she said.
"They say, 'You should move your industries and your jobs to our countries where we have renewable energy, you are all relying on coal and oil and gas, move it to these countries in the Global South, where we can rely either on green nitrogen, or we can rely on renewable directly, so that you can produce clean and green and at the same time produce jobs.'"
She stressed “it is a very interesting proposition and something the world should really look at”.
With the opportunities being presented with technologies and renewable energy “the early bird really will get the worm here”.
"That's why we're really encouraging countries to lean in on renewables, on the technologies that do exist," she added.
"And we are encouraging those that can make more R&D to do so. The price has already dropped a lot and it's very competitive”.
She added with optimism “there's some real good news here”.
In her role at UNEP, Ms Andersen is Undersecretary General of the UN and plays an instrumental role in working on the processes that allow for climate actions across countries.
In 2022, the UN asserted it was a human right to live in "a safe, clean and sustainable environment”. Ms Andersen said this right was "now beginning to emerge into courts where it's been quoted by judgments or, indeed, into where new constitutions are being framed”.
The UNEP has an environmental law division that provides technical support for countries as this issue grows in significance.
While Ms Andersen stressed the rights and voice of all people, she spoke of the importance of the inclusivity of Cop28.
“Indigenous people are taking care of 80 per cent of the world's biodiversity ... so we need to make sure we hear their voices, and that there's prior and informed consent to anything that might happen in their territories," she said.
She added it was important to hear from other belief systems, indigenous people and “some powerful belief systems there that actually find its way into nearly every religion, irrespective of where it comes from”.
"This understanding that the duty to care for the planet is enshrined in most holy books and is something that I think everyone understands," she added.
The Faith Pavilion at Cop28 “is another powerful example of the world's faiths coming together and speaking of taking care of the planet. And every living being on it”.
Ms Andersen said she was “ever the optimist” and expected action at Cop28.
“In Paris, we were heading towards a 5°C to 6°C world. Today, we are heading towards 2.9°C. Well, neither is good enough. But we're making progress," she added.
“Our children deserve it and we cannot not do this. The Secretary General [Antonio Guterres] has made it very clear. We are facing an existential crisis. And we have to decarbonise and we have to do it now”.