Photo: FILE – Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and president of COP28, speaks during the World Government Summit in Dubai, UAE, on Feb 14, 2023. The COP28 conference will be held in late November in Dubai.

BERLIN — Debates over the phasing out of fossil fuels and a new climate damage fund for the Global South are expected to take center stage in the climate negotiations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP28, in Dubai, UAE, later this month, experts say.

This follows the release of the first Global Stocktake report in September. The “stocktake,” to be conducted every five years, is designed to evaluate the world’s progress toward meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and recommend steps to address shortfalls.

The report shows alarming results: Countries are far from reaching the Paris Agreement goals, and the window within which the world can still limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels is “rapidly narrowing.” To reach that goal, nations would have to slash global greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 compared with 2019 levels.

This year is set to be the hottest on record, with historic heatwaves hitting the United States, China and southern Europe this summer. Leading climate scientists attribute their intensity almost entirely to the burning of fossil fuels.

The World Meteorological Organization called in July for governments to adopt heat action plans to “protect hundreds of thousands of people dying from preventable heat-related causes each year.”

Climate change “is an existential threat,” said Niklas Hohne, founder of the climate NGO NewClimate Institute and a former member of the secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“But the warming alone doesn’t make people move. … What makes people move is that we can do it, we have the options and that’s actually the case … It’s not hopeless at all,” he told VOA in a video call.

Phase out or phase down?

Countries are divided, however, over the rate at which the use of fossil fuels should be reduced. At COP27 in Egypt last year, some countries pushed for a complete phasing out of fossil fuels but were left disappointed by a final text that called only for a “phase-down.”

Hohne suggested two scenarios that might play out at COP28: In one, the final language on phasing down may remain essentially unchanged from COP27; in the other, negotiators might agree on phasing out “unabated fossil fuels” — meaning fuels whose emissions are allowed to enter the atmosphere rather than captured in some way.

The European Union, United States and the United Arab Emirates are pushing for a global deal at COP28 to triple renewable energy by 2030, according to Reuters news agency.

But for the effort to succeed, work will have to be done to get more countries on board, said Shafqat Kakakhel, board chairperson of Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute and the country’s former climate negotiator.

Loss and Damage fund

Kakakhel said that while efforts to slow the rate of climate change — referred to as “mitigation” — are important, there also should be more attention paid to preparing societies to live with the consequences of warmer temperatures, or “adaptation.”

“The focus of developed countries is on mitigation, but [developing countries’] concern is adaptation,” he said. “They want a balance in the allocations from the Green Climate Fund — a better one between mitigation and adaptation.”

At COP27, a Loss and Damage fund was established to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change. This followed a hard-fought battle led by Pakistan, which had recently suffered devastating floods that inundated one-third of the nation.

FILE – Saito Ene Ruka, right, who lost 100 cows to drought, and neighbor Kesoi Ole Tingoe walk past carcasses in Ilangeruani, Kenya, on Nov. 9, 2022. A fund to be discussed at the COP28 conference is intended to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change.

The fund is meant to supplement the Green Climate Fund — a previous commitment by the developing countries that historically emit the most greenhouse gases to generate $100 billion a year after 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in less-developed countries. Those contributions have consistently fallen short, however, totaling $83.3 billion in 2020.

The World Bank is set to be the host and trustee of the new fund for the next four years, despite opposition from the Global South.

“The U.S. led the campaign that this fund should be managed by the World Bank, but developing countries don’t want that. They want an independent management of the fund,” said Kakakhel.

“The second point is money: Where will the money come from and how much?” he asked. “[Global South countries] say this should come from the public sector, but developed countries like the U.S. are talking about charities should be allowed to contribute. But developing countries see this more of a question of climate justice.”

Details regarding who will pay how much into the fund and who will manage it are still being debated, and those talks will continue into COP28.

Geopolitical tensions

Kakakhel said the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza could further strain the atmosphere of the talks on climate finance, after the U.S. and some European countries voted against a U.N. General Assembly resolution demanding an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza.

“What developing countries have seen is that the global principles and norms are not being respected” by developed nations, Kakakhel said. This could lead to a perception that the developed nations will be less committed “to do things that are good for the whole planet.”

Hohne agreed that regional tensions risk overshadowing countries’ focus on climate actions at the negotiation table.

Health impacts

The Dubai conference will also be the first COP to dedicate a day to discuss climate-related health and recovery.

“I don’t think [countries] will make very concrete commitments because the climate crisis alone is too complex,” Hohne said. “But a link between health and climate is very useful.”

A Declaration on Climate and Health was launched during a World Health Summit in Berlin in October with the backing of COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber. Endorsements are to be announced at COP28.

A press release said the declaration covers areas “including cross-sector collaboration on climate and health, reducing emissions within the health sector, and increasing the amount and proportion of financing devoted to climate and health.”

About the author of this article
Chermaine Lee

Hong Kong-bred, Chermaine is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Berlin, who covers climate, human rights and social issues in Asia and beyond. When she's not working, you'd find her hiking, climbing on walls, reading, savoring culinary delights, or harassing cats.