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December 4, 2023

Editor’s note: Sultan al-Jaber insists he is ‘serious’ about climate science

Sultan al-Jaber, COP28 president
COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber says his presidency is a ‘genuine and sincere attempt’ to deliver climate action with 1.5C as his ‘north star’ (Photo: Stuart Wilson/COP28 via Getty Images)

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter

Dear reader,

Announcements from COP28 in Dubai haven’t stopped this weekend as world leaders pledged to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, agreed steps to potentially hasten an end to coal, and promised various amounts of funding and finance instruments for climate action, nature protection, renewables and adaptation. 

More commitments are coming today, deemed finance day, at COP28. Yet, the amounts needed to keep warming at the levels agreed in the Paris Agreement and avoid the worst impacts of climate change are staggering.

The figures in the second report by the Independent High-Level Expert Group on Climate Finance, co-chaired by economists Vera Songwe and Nicholas Stern, published at COP28 today show that by 2030, a fivefold increase in concessional finance, a threefold rise in multilateral bank finance, and a 15-fold increase in private climate finance for emerging markets and developing economies is needed (and investment in these regions is not going in the right direction).

And the elephant in the room of every climate conference remains — fossil fuels. Unless the world agrees to phase them out in a managed way, the mantra of “keeping 1.5C alive” will simply become a slogan about which future generations may look back with nostalgia or anger. How many times do politicians and business leaders plan to stand up and describe the devastation that will be wrought by a warmer world, without agreeing to switch off the emissions tap?

The headlines this weekend have been full of comments by the president of COP28, Sultan al-Jaber, claiming there is “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global warming to 1.5C. Jaber said in a press conference today that he “respected the science” and that his COP presidency was a “genuine and sincere attempt” to deliver climate action with 1.5C as his “north star”.

“The phase down of fossil fuels is essential,” said Jaber, underlining that the process needs to be “orderly, fair, just and responsible and well managed”. 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Jim Skea reminded journalists that to limit global warming to 1.5C, by 2050 “fossil fuel use is greatly reduced and unabated coal is totally phased out”, while oil use is reduced by 60 per cent and natural gas use down by 45 per cent.

Jaber also said “oil and gas can do much more”. ExxonMobil chief executive Darren Woods told the FT this weekend that climate negotiations have “put way too much emphasis on getting rid of fossil fuels, oil and gas, and not … on dealing with the emissions associated with them”.

With all this in mind, the most important word of COP28 may well be “unabated”, and how far countries and companies are ready to go to reduce fossil fuels massively, or whether they plan to rely on technologies like carbon capture and storage, which, despite having existed for decades, are still yet to prove their emissions-cutting worth to keep oil and gas online.

Other countries like the UK, the EU and the US are vocal about renewables and developing clean technologies, but none have a clear plan on phasing down fossil fuels and many continue to make money, while producing huge amounts of emissions, from the extraction and export of oil and gas. A graph posted on LinkedIn by climate communicator Ketan Joshi shows Norway leading the world in terms of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel exports.

And in the real world, policy decisions are being implemented that experts warn will slow down the move away from fossil fuels — not least trade decisions by the EU and the US as they aim to create “made at home” energy transitions and to attempt to turn their back on electric vehicles and solar panels from China. 

None of this undermines the pledges being made at COP28, but as David Miliband, the CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former UK foreign minister and environment secretary, insisted when I spoke to him last week, all countries need to ensure “action not words” to reduce emissions in line with climate models and provide the necessary funding.

Meanwhile, Aldo Bonati, stewardship and ESG networks manager at Etica Sgr, writes in Sustainable Views today about how global tax transparency is another part of the puzzle that needs solving if finance flows globally are to become more sustainable. And James covers the debt-for-nature and debt-for-climate swap task force, launched at COP28 today. 

Finally, Claudia has undertaken the heroic task of trawling through the many agreements that have been made at COP28 to bring you a succinct and relevant round-up. We’ll be doing the same tomorrow to ensure you don’t miss anything from finance day. Please do send over any thoughts from Dubai (or from your desk) if you want to share your reaction to anything happening at the conference. 

Until tomorrow,

Philippa

Philippa Nuttall is the deputy editor of Sustainable Views

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