Showdown at COP28

Image courtesy US Dept of State.

“$200 trillion is needed to stop global warming” (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Buckle up, fireworks will be going off in a couple weeks in the pristine complex known as Dubai. World leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, and fossil fuel producers will clash over the outlook for climate change and the impact of global warming, or should it be called global heating? Already, there are signs of tension, as explained in a recent BBC News headline: “Deep Divisions Ahead of Crucial UN Climate Talks” d/d October 31, 2023.

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly referred to as COP28, will be the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference, held from November 30th until December 12th at Expo City, Dubai.

The question arises, will the aftermath of COP28 help to save the planet? But, on the other hand, does the planet really need help, or is it human civilization that’s in trouble? After all, the planet has been thru worse, the Permian-Triassic Extinction 250 mil years ago, and it survived. Homo sapiens wouldn’t have made it as 95% of marine life was wiped-out and almost all vertebrates died. But, then again, that was 250 million years ago.

It should be noted that 30 years of COPs have yielded very little progress towards reduction or regulation or removal of greenhouse gases. Governments have never taken it seriously enough. Meanwhile, over the same time frame, CO2 has increased by 60% with never a down year except 2020 when greenhouse gases dropped by 4.6% during the worldwide covid lockdown only to snap back to a new record level in 2021.

Greenhouse gases have been on a relentless track, up and away, throughout the age of industrialization, trapping global heat, increasing global temperatures, distorting jet streams, disrupting the climate system into a mad frenzy. All of which continues to harass the scientific community to come up with answers to a perceived threat of human extinction, the planet’s 6th, but maybe it’ll only be partial extinction or no extinction. Nobody really knows for sure how events like these turn out. But can people survive without life-sourcing ecosystems, like rainforests, wetlands, the Great Barrier Reef, vibrant rivers, and this: according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 75% of Spain’s land is battling climatic conditions that could lead to desertification?

Leading up to COP28 more than 70 environment ministers and 100 national delegations have been meeting in Abu Dhabi during the hottest year ever recorded on a global basis. Delegates must wonder if a petrostate can deliver a low carbon globe. The question answers itself. The president of the upcoming COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, who has a reputation as a divisive negotiator, is head of Adnoc, the UAE state oil company.

According to BBC News, Greta “How Dare You” Thunberg is in a state of shock, questioning the entire COP process, which is understandable. In sharp contrast to Greta, Mr. Al Jaber claims the climate change imbroglio can only be resolved with the help of the oil industry with an eye towards limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. Of course, this has been the publicly stated objective of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Why would the host of COP28 say anything else? But still, it’s interesting that Al Jaber claims the problem can only be solved by help of the oil industry.

Even more interesting yet, Al Jaber admits that emissions must be cut by 43% by 2030 because that’s what the science says must be done. Nevertheless, Adnoc has plans to increase oil production by 600,000 barrels per day over exactly the same time frame. The oil and gas giant will be spending $150B for expansion of production. Even more confusing yet, Al Jaber claims: “The world economy needs the additional production as emissions fall.” What is missing here?

According to a recent interview with Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, regarding COP28: “The fossil fuel industry has now completely succeeded in corrupting the COP process… what we’ve got is a COP process that has been completely taken over by the fossil fuel companies.”

Complicating matters even more, the European Union (EU) has staked a position, along with several other countries, claiming that “no compromise is possible on cutting fossil fuel production,” in direct opposition to Al Jaber, especially as Adnoc plans an increase of 600,000 barrels per day.

Another festering bone of contention is a funding agreement by developed nations for poor undeveloped nations to help pay for the damage incurred by climate change, amounting to some $100 billion per year owed by developed countries, yet big question marks remain about actual payments and seriousness to fulfil commitments. This was supposed to be a big win at the last COP but discussions about how to implement it have already broken down in preliminary talks at Abu Dhabi.

Already the battle lines have formed.

Benchmarks for Success at COP28

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), COP28 will have a first-ever Global Stocktake report, which will be presented at the proceedings, detailing progress since the all-important Paris Agreement of 2015. That report, already published in September, according to WRI, “is truly a damaging report card.” It’s supposed to serve as a blueprint for what to do, or not do, for nations moving forward.

According to WRI: “At COP28, countries must deliver a rapid response plan to the Global Stocktake that transforms every major system on Earth at a pace and depth not seen before, while also improving people’s lives and advancing climate justice.”

The success of COP28 hinges on whether the summit makes progress in four key areas:

1. Respond to the first Global Stocktake

2. Transform Earth’s systems inclusive of energy, food, land use, and cities.

3. Build resilience to sever impacts of climate change.

4. Deliver climate finance to most vulnerable nations.

And of utmost importance, it’s expected that the fundamental role of fossil fuels will take center stage at COP28. Already, several countries have made “phasing out fossil fuels” a central goal for negotiations. This could be a showstopper.

Moreover, according to data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA), to reach net-zero by 2050, green energy equivalents must collectively reduce energy-related emissions by 15 gigatons by 2030. And assuming carbon capture and storage (CCS) is part of the mix, it would capture only 1 of 15 gigatons by the end of this decade. Therefore, and this is key: “Clearly, carbon capture and storage technology must not be used as an excuse to expand fossil fuel production or slow the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.” (IEA)

Carbon capture effectiveness is very suspect with a long history of failure. “CCS is ‘a mature technology that’s failed,’ according to Bruce Robertson, an energy finance analyst who has studied the top projects globally. ‘Companies are spending billions of dollars on these plants and they’re not working to their metrics.” (Bloomberg, Oct.23, 2023)

Expected Fossil Fuel Industry ‘Commitments’ at COP28

According to the World Resources Institute: “It’s essential that this UN climate summit not become a platform for pledges by the oil and gas industry that fail to tackle the core issue at stake. At COP28, the UAE is expected to announce a commitment from at least 20 major oil and gas companies to reduce methane leakage and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – but only for their own operations, not for the fuel they sell. By not addressing the so-called “Scope 3” emissions of the fuel produced from their oil and gas extraction and then sold, the oil and gas industry is sidestepping the emissions that account for up to 95% of its contribution to the climate crisis.”

It is premature to draw conclusions, but one can assume, guess, surmise that COP28 will not deliver what’s really needed to seriously tackle global warming. Assuming “expected fossil fuel commitments,” as stated above and no further concessions by the fossil fuel industry, maybe future COPs should be limited to addressing adaptation measures for rapidly rising sea levels, like how to build really big, strong, secure seawalls and other survival measures.

In fact, that’s already happening: Up and down US coastlines, cities as diverse as New YorkCharlestonNorfolkHouston and San Francisco are staring down the same dilemma: tall concrete walls could technically protect homes and property from seas rising because of climate change, but the proposals are so potentially hideous that some locals are rejecting them… for example, in oil-rich Texas  the $29bn project proposed for Galveston, Texas.  (Source: Coastal Residents Fear ‘Hideous’ Seawalls Will Block Waterfront Views, The Guardian, January 2023)

Thus, the reality of climate change/global heat is already making its presence known by destroying waterfront views where well-to-do people live. Just wondering when seawall construction companies will do IPOs on Wall Street?

As a preamble to COP28, it should be observed that past COPs have emphasized the importance of achieving limits to global warming of 1.5°C pre-industrial. According to MIT, here’s the IPCC position: “To prevent worsening and potentially irreversible effects of climate change, the world’s average temperature should not exceed that of preindustrial times by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). (Source: Explained: The 1.5C Climate Benchmark, MIT News, August 27, 2023)

To achieve that, key markers must be met by 2030 and 2050 in terms of reduced emissions and mitigation efforts. According to the IPCC: Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030 to achieve no more than 1.5°C pre-industrial.

What are the costs? Please be seated… accordingly, “Bloomberg NEF, Bloomberg’s green-energy research team, estimates in a new report this week it could cost $196 trillion in investments to zero out the world’s carbon emissions by 2050, as many countries have pledged to do, to avoid society-destroying global warming.” (Source: $200 Trillion Is Needed to Stop Global Warming. That’s a Bargain, Bloomberg, July 5, 2023)

And, over the short-term: “BNEF suggests annual green investments will need to nearly triple to $6.9 trillion by 2030 if we are to have any hope of hitting net zero by 2050. This will include governments, businesses and consumers swapping most of the world’s fleet of gas-powered vehicles for electric ones, building charging stations for those vehicles and replacing fossil fuel-powered energy with wind, solar and other renewables, with new grids to connect them all,” Ibid.

However, in direct opposition to BNEF’s analyses, according to a new UN report, a lot of that $6.9B would be offset and neutralized, assuming it really happens, which is questionable, but regardless, here’s the fossil fuel offsets by 2030: “Plans (of fossil fuel companies) would lead to 460% more coal production, 83% more gas, and 29% more oil in 2030 than it was possible to burn if global temperature rise was to be kept to the internationally agreed 1.5C. The plans would also produce 69% more fossil fuels than is compatible with the riskier 2C target.” (Source: ‘Insanity: Petrostates Planning Huge Expansion of Fossil Fuels, Says UN Report, The Guardian, Nov.8, 2023)

Meantime, the dangers of excessive global warming are not waiting around for UN COPs to decide what’s best for human living conditions. The world’s climate system is on a fast-track, changing right before our eyes. It was only two years ago that NPR (National Public Radio) stated: “By limiting the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2100, the hope is to stave off severe climate disruptions that could exacerbate hunger, conflict and drought worldwide” d/d November 8, 2021. Really???

How quickly things change!

Alas, it’s no surprise to people “in the know” that global warming is set to blow past all markers, way ahead of schedule, in fact, within a couple decades: Dr. James Hansen’s latest paper (Earth Institute, Columbia University): How We Know that Global Warming is Accelerating and that the Goal of the Paris Agreement is Dead, November 10, 2023, goes into detail about the factual evidence and clearly states: “Within less than a decade, we must expect 0.4×0.25×4°C = 0.4°C additional warming. Given global warming of 0.95C in 2010, the warming by 2030 will be about 0.95°C + 2×0.18°C + 0.4°C = 1.71°C. Global warming of 2°C will be reached by the late 2030s.”

(Thirty-five years ago, Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies warned: Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate, New York Times, June 24, 1988).

Meanwhile, it was only a couple of years ago that mainstream news warned about holding “the global temperature limit to 1.5°C pre-industrial by 2100.” No wonder people are too complacent ab0ut the potential ravages of global warming. It seems like a lifetime away. But, oops, it’s right around the corner. As for proof, the climate system has been acting like a wild bull on steroids. And that’s what’s been on TV news of late, on every continent. It’s worldwide, massive floods, massive droughts, massive fires, massive storms.

It’ll get worse. Here’s why: “Researchers have found that Earth’s energy imbalance approximately doubled during the 14-year period from 2005 to 2019.” (Source: Joint NASA, NOAA Study Finds Earth’s Energy Imbalance Has Doubled, NASA, June 15, 2021) According to climate scientists: That’s a staggering development, portending more serious trouble down the line. It reveals an albedo crisis. At this rate, forget 1.5°C by 2100; just hope and pray we get there. (check-out a great idea: MEER: Cooling Earth By Reflecting Sunlight).

“The 1.5-degree limit is deader than a doornail,’ Hansen, now a director at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said in a call with reporters Thursday. ‘In the next several months, we’re going to go well above 1.5C [Celsius] on a 12-month average. … For the rest of this decade, the average is going to be at least 1.5.” (Famed Climate Scientist Has a New, Dire Prediction, The Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2023)

COP28 will have to pull off a miracle.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at