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COP28 Beginnings: Laying down the groundwork

Blue Zone delegates fall into long lines at the water refilling station (Photo: Pedro Walpole SJ)

Opening day led by the COP28 presidency and a historic agreement reached

November 30th marks the official beginning of the 28th Conference of the Parties. The conference opened with COP27 President Sameh Shoukry passing the torch to the COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber. In his speech, the COP28 President reminded all to keep the ‘North Star’ 1.5°C within reach, however, many of the planetary tipping points have already been breached.  Al Jaber reiterated his vision for COP28 to be the “most inclusive COP ever” and pledges to run a transparent process.

He urged the parties to deliver on the most ambitious Global Stocktake possible, to bridge the climate finance gap, to operationalize the Loss and Damage fund, to put adaptation at the heart of action and agree on a robust framework for the Global Goal, and maximize momentum on mitigation through the establishment of near zero methane emission targets.

“Many of oil and gas companies are committing to zeroing out methane emissions by 2030 for the first time. And many national oil companies have adopted net zero 2050 targets for the first time,” he said. “I am grateful that they have stepped up to join this game changing journey. But I must say, it is not enough, and I know that they can do more.”

These words of encouragement are nothing new but some of the specifics can make a difference. It is important to hold out for the integrity of the process and the urgency that leadership does profess.

The first day of COP also marked a historic agreement on the Loss and Damage fund, and enabled governments to make pledges. Amnesty International reports that a total of USD 420 million of initial pledges have been made, yet this is a menial small sum from the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Cautious hope and skepticism for the Parties

The Loss and Damage fund is a landmark agreement, however mechanisms to equitably mobilize the fund have yet to be set in place. The World Bank serving as the intermediary of the fund needs to be scrutinized to ensure that this is accessible to vulnerable communities.

As parties gear up for what will for sure be a difficult COP, what follows are (but not limited to) key negotiation items, pledges, and agreements to watch out for in the coming weeks:

  • Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action
  • Agreement on phasing out fossil fuels
  • Mobilizing the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage
  • Setting up a robust and realistic Global Goal on Adaptation Framework as mandated in Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement
  • Fast-tracking a New Quantified Goal on Climate Finance
  • Deliver on an ambitious Global Stocktake that course corrects and accelerates action to 2030
  • Turning the Global Methane Pledge into action towards slashing 30% of global methane emissions from 2020 levels to 2030.

Countries are also setting up their pavilions to showcase projects and initiatives. Some are using the most state-of-the-art technologies that may bring about an education of their own youth and young executives to understand the challenges they are facing, and their commitment to a truly better world. It is not just to highlight the environmental and technical achievements of a country (often within a very limited ecosystem), but communicate a care for nature that hopefully this generation will appreciate on a much broader scale.

Voices from civil society

A few hours before COP28 formally opened, the Climate Action Network-International a global network of over 1,300 environmental non-governmental organizations in over 130 countries, held a press conference to lay out challenges and expectations for the next two weeks. Romain Ioualalen, the Global Policy Campaign Manager of Oil Change International warned that COP28 may become a “festival of distractions” with technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) framed as essential. Rachel Cleetus, Policy Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists cited how developed countries argued that the loss and damage fund should come in the form of ‘voluntary contributions’, however there is nothing voluntary about the loss of lives and livelihood. Teresa Anderson, Global Lead on Climate Justice at ActionAid International then emphasized that industrial agriculture needs to be put in the spotlight, as it accounts to 15% of global consumption of fossil fuels.

Once more, these points are nothing new, yet the integrity of civil society voices needs to be uplifted and upheld.

A gathering of Catholic Actors at COP28

Unfortunately, Pope Francis’ health has sadly curtailed his visit, yet there is a need to keep carrying the hope. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Head of State will come for the opening of the Faith Pavilion. Later in the afternoon, on the eve of the World Climate Action Summit, the Holy See delegation, headed by the Apostolic Nuncio, gathered around 40 Catholic actors participating in the Blue Zone.

It was a brief yet insightful meeting, as the Holy See delegation shared their priorities in the negotiations such as the Global Stocktake, education, loss and damage, the climate-food-water security nexus, climate finance, and Article 6.

The Catholic actors then proceeded to share their calls for the delegation to consider in the negotiation document. The group highlighted that loss and damage discussions need to be represented by actual people with lived-out experiences, and called for the participation of youth voices in the Holy See negotiation processes. Other critical matters that the group raised are agroecology, the just energy transition, greater concern for the ocean states, and upholding culture-based solutions as the true nature-based solutions.

The World Climate Action Summit

In the next two days, Heads of State are expected to deliver their statements on implementing and transforming key climate-related decisions to real action on-the-ground. The WCAS is a high-level and high-stakes segment that will set the tone for the negotiations. And, in the words of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell “every word or comma that you wrestle with here at COP, there is a human being, a family, a community, whose lives are at stake.”

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