COP28 opens in Dubai with landmark Loss and Damage Fund, setting an ambitious agenda for climate talks

Finance, adaptation, and fossil fuels are in focus, as countries strive to reach a comprehensive, impactful Global Climate Agreement.

Published : Dec 01, 2023 12:47 IST - 6 MINS READ

An environmental activist display a placard at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023.

An environmental activist display a placard at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: KARIM SAHIB

On November 30, Dubai launched the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with a landmark move: operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund. The fund aims to help vulnerable nations cope with the impacts of climate change. COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber declared this decision a “historic” occasion, marking the first time a resolution was adopted on the opening day of a COP.

However, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) journey to COP presidency has been tumultuous, marred by accusations of prioritising commercial interests over climate action. Critics question the suitability of a major oil producer, the seventh largest in the world, to host the largest climate change conference. Also, concerns arise from COP President Al Jaber’s dual role as head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, a perceived conflict of interest. Calls for his resignation from the oil company have even emerged.

Despite the controversies, Al Jaber declared COP28 “the most important COP after Paris” and “the most inclusive COP ever” at a press conference on November 30. While dismissing allegations of using the summit for oil deals, he pledged to hold all countries and stakeholders accountable in achieving the critical 1.5°C target. With nearly 70,000 participants expected, this annual conference aims to solidify international plans to combat climate change.

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In his opening address, Al Jaber emphasised the need to bridge the historical gap between developed and developing nations. Climate negotiations have long been marred by tensions between these two groups. While developed countries push for ambitious emission reduction targets from developing nations, the latter criticise the former for exceeding carbon budgets and failing to acknowledge their responsibility for past emissions.

This year is likely to witness similar dynamics. The fight for adequate climate finance is expected to take centre stage over the next two weeks, with experts predicting this issue will dominate the negotiations.

With the COP28 agenda now adopted, here are the key issues poised to take centre stage at the conference, which will end on December 12.

Accessing the Loss and Damage Fund

The Loss and Damage Fund was established at the end of COP27, adopting recommendations from a technical committee. On the first day, countries like the UAE, the UK, and Germany contributed approximately $400 million.

Loss and Damage refers to irreversible damages caused by climate change. Vulnerable nations like small islands and African states have long demanded a dedicated fund to support recovery from extreme weather events (cyclones, floods) and slow-onset events (rising sea levels). At COP27, with strong backing from developing countries, parties finally agreed to establish this landmark fund.

Developing countries envisioned an independent fund to address the colossal damages they face. They hoped it would ensure quick and adequate financial assistance, unlike existing mechanisms like the Green Climate Fund (founded in 2010) and the World Bank, which have fallen short.

However, five rounds of technical meetings this year revealed challenges. Developed nations insisted on the World Bank hosting the fund, citing concerns about speed and efficiency. This arrangement will hold for the first four years.

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Harjeet Singh of Climate Action Network (CAN) International says that while operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund within a year is historic, addressing underlying concerns remains critical. He believes that rich nations have pushed for the World Bank’s involvement under the pretence of faster response while attempting to dilute their financial obligations and avoid defining clear funding scales.

A new goal for climate finance

For a long time, academics and activists have questioned the effectiveness of the current USD 100 billion climate finance goal, which countries were supposed to meet by 2020. Critics argue that the goal lacks scientific grounding and lacks a proper mechanism to measure progress.

Two weeks ago, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) claimed that the $100 billion target had not been met by 2021. However, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann suggested that the goal might have been achieved by 2022. Experts countered that this figure was inflated by “greenwashing” (repurposing development funds as climate spending) and increasing the debt burden of developing nations.

Event banners at a food court in the Green Zone ahead of the COP28 climate conference at Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on November 29, 2023. More than 70,000 politicians, diplomats, campaigners, financiers and business leaders are attending the event to talk about arresting the world’s slide toward environmental catastrophe.

Event banners at a food court in the Green Zone ahead of the COP28 climate conference at Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on November 29, 2023. More than 70,000 politicians, diplomats, campaigners, financiers and business leaders are attending the event to talk about arresting the world’s slide toward environmental catastrophe. | Photo Credit: ANNIE SAKKAB

Negotiations are currently underway to establish a new “New Collective Quantified Goal” (NCQG) on climate finance, anticipated to be finalised in the next year. These discussions aim to rectify past mistakes in setting the new goal and establishing a framework for monitoring its progress. While wealthy nations advocate for including loans and private investments in the goal, poorer nations want richer countries to provide funds without increasing the debt burden of poor countries.

Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA)

Disappointment clouded discussions on the GGA last year as developed nations stalled progress. This initiative, established in 2015 under the Paris Agreement, aims to assist countries in formulating strategies to adapt to climate change impacts. Despite calls from developing nations, led by African countries, for a framework at COP27, developed nations resisted, proposing a delay until COP28.

Adaptation, long sidelined, is crucial for countries to confront the changing climate. Recent reports by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlight a significant gap between necessary adaptation actions and actual implementation. Further, funding for adaptation falls woefully short of the required amount.

Tripling renewable energy

First mentioned in the G20 declaration under India’s presidency this year, the COP28 decision is expected to reflect this commitment. Encouraging reports of several nations exceeding their renewable energy targets fuel UAE’s hopes for a positive outcome.

The G20 declaration stated that it “will pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally through existing targets and policies”. The UAE has vowed to collaborate with other countries to ensure this commitment is adopted at COP28.

Experts are curious to see the language around fossil fuels at COP28, considering the media’s portrayal of a potential conflict of interest for the current president, the UAE, due to their dependence on the resource. In 2022, India proposed a phase-out of all fossil fuels, not just coal, reflecting their significant reliance on coal (over 50 per cent of energy needs). However, this proposal was not included in the final agreement.

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This year, the European Union has announced its intention to push for the phaseout of all fossil fuels at COP28. Notably, India has reportedly reversed its earlier position on phasing out fossil fuels.

COP28 also coincides with the Global Stocktake (GST) process, a critical element of the Paris Agreement that occurs every five years to assess countries’ progress towards their climate goals. A recent UN report on the GST concluded that the world is far from achieving its climate targets. At COP28, countries are expected to release a GST decision that will guide them in developing a plan to accelerate climate action.

The COP28 presidency stated that the launch of the Loss and Damage Fund “sets a clear ambition for us to agree on a comprehensive, ambitious GST decision over the next 12 days”.

Mrinali is Climate Change Research Lead with Land Conflict Watch, an independent network of researchers studying land conflicts, climate change, and natural resource governance in India.

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