The international climate change conference, COP28, concluded in Dubai on December 13th — one day later than its scheduled end-date. Negotiators went into overtime to hammer out an agreement that for the first time addressed the politically fraught question of phasing out fossil fuels.
Not long after the final gavel-bang, I caught up with Vice President for Climate and Environment at the United Nations Foundation Pete Ogden for a quick breakdown of the key outcomes of this COP. We kick off discussing why this particular meeting in Dubai was an important moment for the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to at least 1.5 degrees celsius. We then discuss the contentious politics and diplomacy around an agreement to phase out fossil fuels and other important takeaways from this UN Climate Conference.
Here’s an excerpt. The full transcript is available here.
Why Was COP28 Different From All Other COPS?
Excerpt edited for clarity
Mark Leon Goldberg Pete, before we discuss what happened at COP 28 can I have you set the scene a little bit and explain why even prior to delegates arriving in Dubai, this COP was imbued with a particular significance?
Pete Ogden There were three main storylines heading into the COP this year. At the macro level, this is the hottest year on record. We are ever more severely impacted by climate change. And there’s just more and more political attention, popular attention to the issue. Accordingly, this was going to be the biggest, most widely attended COP in history — far bigger in terms of the number of participants than even the Paris COP where the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015. By some counts, more than 70,000 people participated. Having been there, I suspect that estimate is probably a little bit low. So there was an incredible amount of energy and interest around the issue and seeing what countries could get done.
The second theme had to do really with where we are in the Paris Agreement cycle itself. This is the year of the first “Global Stocktake” under the Paris Agreement.
Mark Leon Goldberg You’ll have to explain what that is to those who are not familiar with the “Global Stocktake,” which is embedded in the Paris Agreement.
Pete Ogden So the Paris Agreement has in it a couple of critical elements. One is that every five years, starting in 2015, countries would set new national targets. At the midpoint of those five years is a Global Stocktake where countries would come together to evaluate where they stand and how the adequacy of their actions to date measure up with the stated goals of the Paris Agreement.
2023 is a midpoint year. So what this COP initiates is a year of very intensive introspection by countries who are going to have to formulate now what they want their 2035 national greenhouse gas target to be. It doesn’t take a lot of expertise to know that they are not on track. Question is, how can you come together to give the political steer necessary that when countries go back into their target setting mode next year do so with the right ideas in mind? And hopefully in a year’s time they’ll have new targets that will be more aligned with the science.
Mark Leon Goldberg And the third key theme heading in?
Pete Ogden The third big theme really is about fossil fuels. This was sort of elevated by the fact of the United Arab Emirates is the host. This is obviously a country thats political economy is built around fossil fuels. Then they’re appointing as the top president the head of their national oil company. So it was really foregrounded right there. There was a lot of controversy over the course of the year about what role fossil fuel industry would have, what role they would play.
The truth is that the COP process has really not waded into the issue of fossil fuels explicitly very much until a couple of years ago when there was an agreement to reduce pollution from coal specifically. It had been avoided because at the end of the day, you need a consensus outcome. And these are issues that really are highly divisive, with some countries having deeply entrenched fossil fuel interests. So instead, a lot of the focus had been on the clean energy side of the equation and largely having to be sort of silent about coming to consensus about what to do about the fossil fuel side of the equation.