Abject failure: COP28 is sealing the globe into climate armageddon

Dec 22, 2023
COP 28 in Dubai United Arab Emirates world cloud.

Chris Bowen would have us believe that actually mentioning the words ‘fossil fuels’ and a transition away from them was a “turning point” in the history of COP negotiations. What is he smoking?

Way back at the first COP in 1995 that might just have held true. But 28 years later this agreement – riddled with qualifications – does little more than provide permission for an unbridled further expansion of fossil fuel production. . As the International Energy Agency (IEA) points out, expenditure on new oil and gas developments will be $528 billion in 2023 and reach an estimated $4.6 trillion by 2031.  That’s what the “just, orderly and equitable” transition away from fossil fuels is looking like.

Do any other of the list of ‘achievements’ of COP28 rate a turning point accolade? The fossil fuel industry continues to pretend that carbon credits and carbon capture and storage (CCS) will clean up their dirty work. Both devices, however, in their current state are utterly unfit for purpose. That is reflected in the COP 28’s agreement to seek to install a more robust verification scheme for carbon credits of which, it is generally accepted, 80% are not worth the paper they are written on.  That is an inevitable consequence of allowing carbon credits to be the chief domain of the private sector and a gathering point for cowboy capitalists.  A turning point would have been to ban their use – and usefully place far greater onus on emitters to directly reduce emissions – until (if ever) they can be properly validated.

The final text calls on nations to accelerate CCS “particularly in hard-to-abate sectors”. Such an encouragement is dangerous at a time when CCS remains an unproven device and when the carbon industry are pretending it will clean up gas. We need to remind ourselves that the only two at scale CCS developments – in Australia and Canada – have been uneconomic and ineffective, which is to say they have been way over cost and have way underperformed. A turning point would have been to likewise sideline CCS from the IPCC’s pathways to carbon neutrality until proven.

Yet another possible turning point has been the agreement to create a Loss and Damage Fund. In its creation there was furious resistance to calling it a reparations fund. Which is to say that none of the Western wealthy club wanted to admit they have been largely responsible for the current rise in global temperatures at a time when the developing world have yet to claim their fair share of wealth creating emissions. Of course the Loss and Damage fund is indeed compensation for the massive damage climate change is already inflicting on developing world countries which just happen to also be the most vulnerable.  Australia – as one of the world’s largest per capita emitters of carbon emissions and one of the world’s largest exporters of carbon fuels (new projects are estimated to deliver 1.7 billion tonnes of C02 annually) – has stumped up just $5million to the fund.  For those countries about to be submerged by the Pacific Ocean we have allocated $150 million, which is a roundabout parsimonious way to pay for our oversize role in heating up the planet.

A final turning point from COP28 might just be the announced increase in funding to the Green Fund – set up to provide concessional finance to developing countries for low-emission and climate-resilient projects and programs. An additional US$3.5 billion means total pledges have reached US$12.8 billion. But the UN’s 2022 Adaptation Gap Report indicates international adaptation finance flows to developing countries are five to ten times below estimated needs and will need to reach over US$300 billion per year by 2030. For Australian no turning point here either, notwithstanding our decision to rejoin the Green Fund inexplicably vacated under PM Morrison. Our paltry $50 million contribution is witness to that.  So rather than a turning point here we have a stark reminder just how far the Western and oil rich Middle Eastern worlds are from paying up for the damage we are inflicting on the developing world. A rude comparison lays bare our abject miserly financial irresponsibility. As a percentage of global GDP, military expenditure accounts for 2.4%. Total climate financial flows from developed to developing countries account for just 0.01%.

In sum COP28 has been yet another repetition of governments failing to take the sort of new substantial measures to directly reduce emissions which are necessary to keep global warming to 1.5 – 2.0 degrees. Rather, governments are free riding on the glow of market-driven technological change. There is no change to the long standing fact that the agenda and outcomes for COPs has always and still is being largely shaped by the fossil fuel industry. Which is to say that at their insistence (and with governments’ acquiescence) the IPCC’s pathways remain fatally flawed by their reliance on CCS and carbon credits. If there is a turning point then, it is that this repetition of governments’ abject failure to act is sealing the globe into climate change Armageddon.

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