With just six months remaining until the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, the urgency to address the escalating climate crisis is intensifying. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a stark warning this week, predicting that within the next five years, the global average surface temperature is likely to surpass the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Breaching the 1.5-degree mark could trigger irreversible consequences, such as the collapse of ice sheets, melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and coral reef bleaching. The importance of the 1.5-degree limit cannot be understated, as it forms the core of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which committed nations to restrict global temperature rises to "well below 2 degrees Celsius" and strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius.
While exceeding the 1.5-degree threshold in one or even two years would not invalidate the Paris agreement, sustained temperature increases over an extended period would signify a significant setback for global climate action. To steer humanity away from the precipice of irreparable damage, concerted action is required, and COP28 presents a crucial opportunity for governments to address the climate crisis head-on.
This year's COP will mark the first comprehensive assessment since 2015 of countries' progress in meeting their emissions reduction commitments outlined in the Paris agreement. Known as the "global stocktake," this evaluation is expected to confirm that nations are falling far short of the necessary emissions cuts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve the goals set in Paris. However, optimists hope that the stark revelation of these failures could serve as a catalyst for much-needed action.
Alok Sharma, the former minister who led the COP26 talks in Glasgow, emphasizes the urgency of COP28, stating that it must deliver strengthened emissions reduction targets and a commitment to peaking global emissions by 2025. Sharma stresses the need for a robust plan to accelerate the clean energy revolution, phase out fossil fuels, and establish a meaningful agreement to scale up financial support for developing nations to transition to low-carbon economies.
Tom Evans of the E3G think tank suggests that the global stocktake, mandated under the Paris agreement, can provide leverage to compel reluctant countries to increase their climate ambitions. However, the road ahead for COP28 appears challenging, with the shadow of COP27 still looming.
Last year's COP27 concluded with a mix of celebration and frustration. Developing countries successfully advocated for climate justice, securing a "loss and damage" fund to address the devastating impacts of extreme weather events they face. However, few countries presented concrete plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with some nations obstructing progress and weakening commitments. A resolution to phase out fossil fuels, backed by over 80 countries, was abandoned, and the final agreement contained only weak language regarding the 1.5-degree goal.
Unfortunately, the situation has not improved since COP27. Geopolitical tensions, such as the Ukraine conflict, persist, and economic challenges afflict both wealthy and debt-ridden nations. Meanwhile, global emissions continue to rise, intensifying the urgency for action at COP28.
Compounding the challenges, COP28 will take place in Dubai, hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—a significant oil and gas producer. The appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the national oil company Adnoc, as the COP28 president has drawn criticism and skepticism from climate campaigners and experts worldwide. The selection of an oil industry executive to lead the conference raises concerns about the willingness of oil-producing countries to enact meaningful change.
The upcoming COP28 in Dubai represents a critical juncture in the global fight against climate change. With the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold looming and the urgent need for countries to ramp up their emission reduction efforts, this conference must be a turning point for decisive action. The global stocktake will likely reveal the significant gaps in meeting the Paris agreement goals, highlighting the pressing need for strengthened commitments and accelerated clean energy transitions. However, the challenges ahead are substantial, with geopolitical tensions and the influence of fossil fuel-producing nations posing obstacles. COP28 must rise above these challenges and deliver the transformative change needed to safeguard our planet and future generations. The window of opportunity is closing rapidly, and failure is not an option.