“The focus should be put on preventing the release of CO2”

COP28 Cristina Campos
The ESCI-UPF's UNESCO Chair researcher Cristina Campos at COP28 held in Dubai. / Photo: Cristina Campos

Cristina Campos, the researcher at the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change of ESCI-UPF, is in Dubai from the 30th of November to the 6th of December as a COP28 observer. In this article, she discusses the highlights of the first week of the Conference.

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference is being held from 30th November to 12th December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and it will be attended by 199 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Due to the disturbance in the days leading up to COP28, where the leader of the summit is also the CEO of the Saudi National oil company, all eyes are on the measures that will be taken this time around.

On the first day of COP 28, member countries agreed to create a loss and damage fund to compensate nations facing the effects of climate change. The fund, aimed at addressing the effects of climate change, has secured commitments of at least $450 million. All developing nations can apply for funds, and all countries are encouraged to contribute. Although $450 million has been pledged, billions more will be needed to meet its targets. Prominent contributors have included the UAE, Germany, the US, the UK and Japan.

The World Bank will act as interim host for four years, operating in line with the principles of the Paris Agreement. Climate-related losses amounted to $1.5 trillion in 2022, but the long-term sustainability of the fund raises concerns due to undefined replenishment cycles and the reluctance of rich countries to make clear financial commitments.

Over the next four days, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber has claimed that there is no scientific evidence to support the need to phase out fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Al Jaber also argues that phasing out fossil fuels would not allow for sustainable development and would take the world «back to the caves». These statements have raised concerns among scientists and are at odds with the position of the UN secretary general, who emphasises the need to phase out fossil fuels completely.

More than 100 countries support phasing out fossil fuels, but the position of Al Jaber, who also heads the UAE’s state-owned oil company Adnoc, creates conflicts of interest. COP28 faces key decisions on this issue, and the lack of consensus could significantly affect efforts to address the climate crisis.

The importance of respecting the science of climate change has also been highlighted, stating that 43% of global emissions must be reduced by 2030, equivalent to 22 gigatonnes, with the aim of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C. It also highlights an unprecedented commitment between the US and China to comprehensively reduce emissions of methane and other non-CO2 gases, which are more than 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

From my point of view and from that of many people present at COP28, the response of climate leaders to the COP28 President’s apt statement is disheartening. To limit warming to 1.5°C, it is crucial to reduce the use of fossil fuels and permanently eliminate carbon dioxide.

Contrary to the belief that the cessation of fossil fuel use is necessary to stop global warming, the focus should be on preventing the release of the generated carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scenarios that allow the use of fossil fuels to reach the 1.5°C target extend beyond 2100, as efforts involve sequestering CO2 underground. There is consensus that we will eventually move away from fossil fuels, but the challenge is whether we can do so fast enough to avoid exceeding the 1.5°C carbon budget by reducing CO2 production alone. It is recognised that we cannot achieve this, so it is necessary to eliminate excess CO2, as science dictates.

I’d like to emphasize the significance of incorporating the health sector into the areas addressed, building on the discussions of the last COP27. However, I can’t help but ponder when the spotlight will shine on the tourism sector, considering its relevant environmental impact and continued rapid expansion. Could we anticipate the analysis and enforcement of more sustainable tourism measures in discussions from COP29 onward? Fingers crossed for positive developments in that regard.

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