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COP28 Commences Amid Both Controversy and Optimism

The twenty-eight Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change opened on Thursday. Some 70 thousand diplomats, political and business leaders from almost 200 countries will attend the 2-week summit in Dubai.  

They are gathering at Expo City, a special district built in an effort to create a low-carbon, sustainable city for the Dubai World Expo 2020.  

Heads of state will appear during the next two days, addressing plenary sessions in what's called the World Climate Action Summit. Vice-president Kamala Harris, French President Emmanuel Macron, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and many other leaders will speak. Pope Francis cancelled his planned appearance due to health concerns.

In the following days, delegates will move into negotiation sessions in the new Dubai Exhibition Centre, in the summit's restricted area called 'Blue Zone'. The unrestricted 'Green Zone', covering much of the rest of Expo City, will have hundreds of exhibits of companies and organizations, hundreds of events, arts, entertainment, and net-0 food offerings. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine][endif]

COP & oil & gas

The ever-expanding COP events have been wryly called 'Exxon meets Woodstock.'

The first goes back to 1995 in Berlin, presided over by the young environment minister Angela Merkel. It may finally be coming to a point now, after 27 meetings, that the future of fossil fuels is being determined.

The oil and gas industry has been heavily present throughout the years, often through delegation members and groups whose allegiances were unclear. (A new rule this year requires attendees to name their affiliation and relationship to their delegation on their badges.)

So it is not surprising that the president of the event, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, is a man whose career spans new energy and old, as founder and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), and CEO of ADNOC.

It remains to be seen whether, under his leadership, it is a case of oil and gas charting a new course, or the fox guarding the hen house.

Stocktake

Will this be the COP that gets the world back on track to Paris?

The first 'global stocktake' since the Paris Agreement in 2015 has been underway this year; it will conclude at COP28. A synthesis report in October showed how far off the 'parties' (countries) are to reducing emissions to meet the Paris targets.  

During the first week at COP, a High-Level Committee will oversee deliberations, presumably leading governments to prepare more ambitious national climate action plans, due in 2025.

Meanwhile, delegates will engage in negotiations on numerous matters set out by the President, leading to a final communique on 12 December.

To judge whether this COP makes progress, observers should look for a few key items.   Related: Consumer Reports: EVs Are Less Reliable Than Gasoline Cars

Carbon Capture

Here the terms 'abated' and 'unabated', in reference to carbon emissions, are likely to get a lot of attention, as they are related to the larger question of 'phase down' or 'phase out' of fossil fuels. COP events have been known to fuss over such wording.

Mr. Al Jaber, an oil industry executive, has spoken of the importance of carbon capture and storage. But the technology is uncertain, with numerous reports of oil and gas producers pulling back from large point-source projects, while new approaches with direct air capture are expensive and unproven.

The IEA says that 30 times more point-source carbon capture will be necessary by the end of this decade, to achieve net zero by 2050.

It will be interesting to see if COP28 embraces or moves away from this unrealistic expectation and puts emphasis instead on more focused applications to reduce emissions in heavy industries.

Finance

Here the great question of equity appears, amidst a gathering consensus that something is owed to the world's poorer nations, who increasingly suffer the harsh effects of climate change.

An important question is whether there will be recommitment and expansion of the pledge made way back at COP 15 in 2009, that developed countries would raise $100 billion per year by 2020, to help developing countries cut carbon emissions.

Added to this now is a funding system for 'loss and damage', tentatively assigned to the World Bank, after the breakthrough at COP27 in Egypt last year, considered that meeting's main achievement.

Closely related to this are calls for reform of the multi-lateral lending institutions, such as the World Bank, to open up more available capital, now when capital flows to developing nations have slowed.

There will likely be side deals and announcements of new project funding. But bold decisions and generous funding commitments by governments will signal a successful COP.

Tripling renewables

In October, the COP28 Presidency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the Global Renewables Alliance issued a report, "Tripling Renewable Power and Doubling Energy Efficiency by 2030: Crucial Steps Towards 1.5°C".

A global pledge to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030 may be the big achievement of COP28, as the pledge is feasible, but it could still be an object of political wrangling. 

China

The world's largest power producer and carbon emitter, with its massive expansion of renewable energy, has become the elephant in the room of climate talks. It is where the question of 'peak emissions' comes to the fore.  

In a new cooperative agreement, China and the US agreed to boost renewables. But will China commit to limits on coal-fired power production and promise to stop building new plants? Such limits will hasten its approach to peak emissions and help the world to reach the Paris goals.

Surprises?

What COP28 says on these critical issues will likely determine its success. But what else arises during the next two weeks could surprise us.

By Alan Mammoser for Oilprice.com

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Alan Mammoser

Alan Mammoser writes about energy, environment, cities, infrastructure and planning. He writes the weblog, www.warmearth.us More