Now, on to where I was disappointed.
COP28 was expected to be a milestone moment, when the world took stock of progress on the Paris Agreement. This didn’t go very well. Prior to the meeting, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change published its NDC Synthesis Report, showing that many countries are not on a pathway to meet their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which are the climate pledges made by each country. The report further showed that even if the UN Framework is implemented, those current NDCs would lead to a 9 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to 2010 levels. There was no useful discussion that countries were not meeting their pledges or that the overall program is not meeting its objective.
I was also disappointed in the final agreement at COP28, which only calls on countries to contribute to a “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. My first question is, what exactly does the phrase “in keeping with the science” mean? If the IPCC data and NDC Synthesis analysis are the science being used, I would welcome the phrase. My concern is that countries made wealthy by oil have strong incentives to either fund their own science or twist IPCC science in a way that favors them.
I do see as positive that the final agreement marks the first COP legislation with any wording to reduce fossil fuel use. Unfortunately, it only “calls on” countries to “contribute” to global efforts to reduce carbon pollution.
What the agreement doesn’t do is require a “phase-out” of fossil fuels. During negotiations, only about 100 countries supported “phase-out” language (including the US and EU). “Phase-out” was aggressively opposed by fossil fuel states such as Saudi Arabia. “Phase-out” stimulated a useful discussion between myself and Stephanie Walsh, our ISEC President. She and I agree that the root problem is too much carbon and that countries need to commit to even greater reductions than called for in the Paris Agreement. We also agree that there is an important continuing role for some very limited fossil fuel use. Some people, especially in poor countries, need fossil fuels just to survive. If reductions are substantial in other parts of the world, then limited use in poor countries can be accommodated. The wording in the final agreement gives wealthy countries and oil-exporting states too much wiggle room. Some wording is needed to put human life ahead of profits.
As COP28 was wrapping up, there was another heated negotiation, this time over who would host and preside over COP29. Under UN rules, Eastern Europe is next in the rotation for the presidency. But COP countries must unanimously agree, this time on the host country. Also remember the ongoing Eastern Europe war between Ukraine and Russia. After the dust settled, Azerbaijan was selected to host COP29. And shortly after, Mukhtar Babayev, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, was named as president-designate of COP29. Babayev previously headed Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, before being appointed minister in 2018. To some, this will seem a continuation that COP has been captured by fossil fuel interests, as Azerbaijan, like UAE, relies economically on fossil fuels and has a poor record on human rights. Again, “too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence.”