It's not too late for a Cop28 deal but urgency is needed

Although disagreements remain over fossil fuels, the summit's early win on a loss-and-damage fund is an example of what can be achieved

These last few days of Cop28, which is being held in Dubai's Expo City, are a final chance for the world to come up with a realistic plan to change the worrying course humanity has embarked upon. WAM
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When Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber yesterday urged delegates from the almost 200 countries taking part in the climate change summit in Dubai to "break out of silos", he was articulating the urgency many people feel about the need to save our planet’s environment.

“We are making good progress,” Dr Al Jaber added. “Am I satisfied with the speed and the pace? No.”

It is not hyperbole to suggest that the final few days of Cop28 are a historic moment for the international community to come up with a realistic plan to change the worrying course humanity is embarked upon. The UN has already suggested that we are headed for a catastrophic 3°C temperature rise, a development that Secretary General Antonio Guterres described as a “dead end” for our environment. In this context, Dr Al Jaber’s exhortation for greater focus and effort is of high importance.

Many challenges and no little tough talk can be expected as delegates thrash out the details of a final communique. Fossil fuels have taken centre stage, with significant differences remaining about the future of this energy source. It is understandable that many climate campaigners and representatives of developing countries want to see immediate action to reduce or entirely phase out fossil fuels – many countries in what is sometimes referred to as the “global south” are bearing the brunt of climate change, despite not being responsible for the advanced industrialisation that is causing it.

Nevertheless, among the five options produced by a draft global stocktake on Friday are a range of approaches that include different ways of reducing fossil fuel consumption. This provides a platform upon which to hone and refine a final agreement. Although it may be alarming that so many divergent approaches are still in the mix this late into the summit, one positive to be taken is that the issue is not whether fossil fuel use should be curtailed, but rather how this can be done in a way that is realistic and sustainable.

The world’s economy still largely depends on fossil fuels and most responsible scientists and engineers recognise that it will take time to switch to renewable energy on a mass scale. Opec, whose members were reportedly advised this week by secretary general Haitham Al Ghais to push for an omission of references to fossil fuels in any final summit deal, has previously warned that leaving oil in the ground would lead to “energy chaos on a potentially unprecedented scale, with dire consequences for economies and billions of people across the world”. Calls from global powers to increase output in the wake of the Ukraine war last year are an example of such "chaos".

That such differences of views are being aired reflects Cop28’s inclusivity. One of this summit’s strengths has been its range of voices, including those of energy producers, superpowers as well as climate activists and developing nations. This diversity of voices and interests is something that can slow progress – something we have repeatedly seen in other major international forums, such as the UN. However, approaching deadlines have a way of focusing attention and it is in no one’s interest to end this summit without an agreement.

Luckily, the precedent for consensus and alignment has already been set – it is time to build upon early wins, such as the loss-and-damage fund agreed upon in Cop28’s first days. For years, a loss-and-damage fund was considered an intractable issue, but countries got there in the end. A similar spirit will hopefully prevail in the days ahead.

Published: December 11, 2023, 3:00 AM