COP28: between historic agreement and conflict of interest

The leaders of 197 countries and the European Union meet at the COP annually, this last edition taking place in Dubai. Photo property: UNclimatechange. Photo Property: UNclimatechange

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COP28: between historic agreement and conflict of interest

Written by Laura Casamitjana

The Conference of the Parties (COP) was held this year in Dubai, an oil-producing country, but it was this year's COP that included in the new text the desire to "leave fossil fuels behind".

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that has sought to alleviate the climate crisis since 1994. With common premises, strategic lines and commitments, it establishes a global cooperation framework that includes 197 countries and the European Union.

The Global Compact was born as one of the outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – better known as the “Earth Summit” – held in 1992 in Brazil. This summit established the so-called “Rio Conventions”, consisting of three agreements: the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and, the issue at hand, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which entered into force in 1994 after receiving sufficient support.

Large presence of the fossil fuel lobby

Known as the “Conference of the Parties”, the COP is an annual meeting of the UNFCCC’s Parties, where progress is showcased and policy directions for the environment are agreed.

Each edition is christened in chronological order, and the COP28 was recently held in Dubai, where a historic framework was established: “progress must be made towards the abandonment of fossil fuels”, the new text states. While this is an unprecedented event, it involved hours of negotiation overtime as countries, lobby groups and activists with disparate positions confronted each other. UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that “to those who opposed a clear reference to the phase-out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that the phase-out of fossil fuels is inevitable, whether they like it or not. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.

For Ecologistas en Acción, the new text is

“a confusing wording that does not establish with the necessary clarity a differentiated end to fossil fuels in line with scientific indications”.

The alleged historic breakthrough coincides with the record presence of the fossil fuel lobby at this year’s COP, according to the Kick Big Polluters Out report. A total of 2456 representatives from this sector were accredited for the meeting. The study also notes that most of the registrants linked to fossil fuel lobbies are from the so-called “Global North” – major economic powers that emit large amounts of pollutants.

Criticism of the attendance of pressure groups at the COP is repeated year after year, and this time, the fact that the meeting was held in the largely oil-producing territory of Dubai, and that it was chaired by Sultan Al Jaber – the country’s Minister of Industry, but also CEO of ADNOC, the eighth largest oil company in the world – has been added to the list of criticisms. The Guardian newspaper published that in an online meeting on 21 November, in the framework of the COP, the president of the summit, Al Jaber, declared that “there is no science” that determines that giving up fossil fuels is favourable to achieving the objective of limiting global warming.

These statements clashed head-on with the mission of the COP itself, because for more than 450 environmental organisations “fossil fuel interests have invaded the UNFCCC and threaten its legitimacy”. In a joint letter they issued before the meeting, they say that “no COP overseen by a fossil fuel company executive can be considered legitimate. COP presidencies must be free of any influence from fossil fuel companies.

The presence of activists is recurrent at the COP, this year with special emphasis on the record presence of pressure groups related to fossil fuels. Photo Property: UNclimatechange

The science behind the need to move away from oil

Scientific evidence, however, is the strongest support for the goal of moving away from fossil fuels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a panel of experts convened by the United Nations to assess the state of the science on climate change. In its 2023 synthesis report, it states that “the burning of fossil fuels and the unequal and unsustainable use of energy and land for more than a century have led to global warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels”.

The objective of the Paris Agreement, which was established in 2015 during the COP21 held in the French capital, is precisely to curb the increase in global warming so that it does not exceed 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels. Regarding the need to stay within this limit, the IPCC report states that “drastic, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors must be achieved. Emissions should already have declined and will need to be reduced by almost half by 2030 if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C”.

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COP28: between historic agreement and conflict of interest

Written by Laura Casamitjana

The Conference of the Parties (COP) was held this year in Dubai, an oil-producing country, but it was this year’s COP that included in the new text the desire to “leave fossil fuels behind”.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a global treaty since 1994 that seeks to address climate change. It is an agreement between 197 countries and the European Union that sets out rules and commitments to work together on this problem.

This treaty grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the “Earth Summit” in Brazil. This meeting created the “Rio Conventions”, which included three important agreements: one on biological diversity, one on combating desertification, and the one that interests us here, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which became operational in 1994 after receiving sufficient support.

Large presence of the fossil fuel lobby

The COP, or Conference of the Parties, is an annual meeting where countries that are part of the UNFCCC meet to review progress and agree on new environmental policies. Each meeting is given a sequential number; the most recent, COP28, took place in Dubai and marked a historic moment by establishing an agreement to move towards phasing out fossil fuels.

However, reaching this agreement involved intense discussions between countries, interest groups and activists with diverse views. UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised that the phase-out of fossil fuels is inevitable, although he faced resistance during the negotiations.

For Ecologistas en Acción, the text of the agreement is not sufficiently clear or aligned with scientific recommendations, which generates confusion about the concrete end of fossil fuels. Furthermore, according to a report by Kick Big Polluters Out, this COP has been the one with the most representatives from the fossil fuel sector, which has raised concerns about their influence on decision-making.

Criticism of the presence of these groups at the COP is commonplace, and this time it was exacerbated by the fact that the conference was held in Dubai, a major oil location, and chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, someone with direct connections to one of the world’s major oil companies. Moreover, as The Guardian newspaper reported, Al Jaber’s statements contradicted the very purpose of the COP, suggesting that there is no scientific evidence that abandoning fossil fuels is beneficial to curbing global warming.

These statements provoked a strong backlash, with more than 450 environmental organisations arguing that the influence of fossil fuels is jeopardising the legitimacy of the UNFCCC. In the joint letter before the meeting, they emphasised that no COP chaired by a fossil fuel company executive can be considered legitimate and that the chairs of these conferences must be free of their influence.

The presence of activists is recurrent at the COP, this year with special emphasis on the record presence of pressure groups related to fossil fuels. Photo Property: UNclimatechange

The science behind the need to move away from oil

The science strongly supports the idea of moving away from fossil fuels. The IPCC, a UN panel of experts on climate change, has pointed out in its 2023 report that the prolonged and irresponsible use of fossil fuels has led to a global temperature increase of 1.1°C since pre-industrial times.

The main objective of the Paris Agreement, established during COP21 in 2015, is to halt global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The IPCC report highlights the urgent need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors. In order to keep warming to 1.5°C, a significant reduction in emissions is required, almost by half by 2030.

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