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Purpose on Payday October 2023: COP28 Special

By Sophie Morello
27 October 2023
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

With just a little over a month to go until COP28, we’re dedicating this Purpose on Pay Day to everything you need to know about this critical UN climate summit, including insights from our team at the heart of the action in Dubai.

COP28 UAE, which opens on 30 November, is unlike no other for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it will be a milestone moment when the world will take stock of its progress on the Paris Agreement. The first Global Stocktake (GST) will be announced and it will provide a comprehensive assessment of progress since adopting the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Evidence suggests we’ll reach a 1.5C temperature rise within the decade, and decarbonisation efforts have been patchy, so we won’t be surprised when the GST shows that the world is a long way off from meeting the commitments made in Paris 2015.

The GST report will set the scene for the whole Conference, and will no doubt emphasise the need to align efforts on climate action and put meaningful measures in place to bridge the gaps in progress. It remains to be seen if it mobilises collaborative action on the scale needed.

Secondly, the need for agreement is greater than ever, as the GST will no doubt highlight.

According to the International Energy Association, there are a number of vital actions for scaling up clean energy and improving energy efficiency that must happen to provide 80% of the emissions reductions needed to put the energy sector on a pathway consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 ºC. These points provide a key benchmark for the success of COP and include.

  • Tripling the installed capacity of renewables
  • Doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvement
  • Reducing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations by 75% by 2030
  • An agreement on financial mechanisms to support clean energy financing in developing economies

Will the grip of fossil fuel interests be too strong to move the dial on the global energy transition?  With COP28’s president Sultan al-Jaber also head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, the ambition and expectations of this COP have been and continue to be approached with caution by some commentators. There are always high hopes for a breakthrough agreement to phase down fossil fuel extraction, for example, but regardless of what damning conclusions the GST reveals, there is scepticism whether this COP will be able to bring the global political will to make a breakthrough on fossil fuel use.

Finding agreement at COP is always going to be tough and hard won. We got a sense of how challenging it is earlier this month, when diplomats from all European countries met and debated their COP28 negotiating position on fossil fuels. Final agreement was made that the 27-member bloc will push for a world-first deal to phase out the "unabated" global use of fossil fuels, triple production of renewable energy and stop the building of coal power plants. It was reported that there were tensions between wealthier EU states able to implement change more quickly, and poorer states concerned about the cost of ditching fossil fuels.  But despite this, the resulting agreement makes Europe the most ambitious voice at the COP table so far.

The EU is going to have a tough fight. COP talks will take place against a backdrop of ongoing energy security issues and geopolitical tensions, with new exploration contracts being issued all over the world, the UK included. Perhaps the biggest differentiator for this COP is that it will be the most challenging yet, while the costs of inaction are higher than ever.


The view from Dubai

By Katja Novakovic, SEC Newgate Middle East

While political decisiveness on fossil fuels may be lacking, Dubai's hosting of COP will bring all key stakeholders, including the all-important oil and gas companies, to the table. Like it or not, beyond the limits of government consensus, it's ultimately industry players who need to get on board for net-zero to happen.

On the skepticism surrounding this year's host country, we may recall COP's last visit to the Middle East in 2012. COP18 in Qatar, another petrostate with global industry interests, led to the adoption of the Doha Amendment, establishing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

So there may be reasons for optimism yet. Dubai's unique scope for COP is perhaps best exemplified by Dr Sultan Al Jaber's dual role as the Summit's President-Designate and Group CEO of the UAE's state-owned oil company, ADNOC. With the Global Stocktake looming over key decision-makers this year, some backtracking on where economic ambition has taken us since Paris is, arguably, called for.

As of October, the COP team has accredited 353 out of close to 700 submissions of expressions of interest. Preparations at Expo City Dubai are in full swing to establish what will be the first physically connected COP Green and Blue Zones, enhancing accessibility for delegates. The publicly-accessible Green Zone is set to offer a full programme of events throughout the COP days, from art shows, cultural and youth performances, to panels, leadership talks and exhibitions.

Dubai, a top winter destination with or without COP, stands to draw additional footfall to the Summit, including from those are “just in the area”. This can diversify the COP crowd beyond the usual suspects of climate delegations and industry representatives. This year's unofficial theme may well be, the more voices, eyes and ears at COP, the higher our chances of success.