Shaping a Just World

World Climate Conference COP28 – Climate diplomacy in hot times

The international community is meeting in Dubai to take stock of climate protection measures, discuss the financing of those efforts and decide on the phase-out of fossil fuels. Where, exactly, do we stand?


All signs point to 2023 ending as the hottest year in the last 125 millennia, and, like every year, the international community is gathering for a world climate conference. COP28 will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), starting on November 30. This year, the hottest one yet in the climate crisis, there are many pressing questions as COP28 approaches. Where do we actually stand eight years after the celebrated adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21? Will the international community now finally succeed in agreeing on a global phase-out of all fossil fuels? Does climate diplomacy even stand a chance in the shadow of armed conflicts? Can the conference succeed in an authoritarian and oil-dependent host country?


A global climate policy check-up

Let’s start with the homework assigned as part of the Paris Agreement. For the first time, the Global Stocktake, a broad review of climate policy and measures, will thoroughly examine the collective progress the international community has made on climate protection and adaptation measures in addition to steps taken to finance these initiatives. Based on the findings, more ambitious national climate targets(called nationally determined contributions, or NDCs) are to be adopted, along with concrete implementation measures. This is an important milestone, but it is already clear that the efforts made so far have been insufficient. A number of global heat records were set in 2023, and the world appears to be on track to warming of 3 degrees Celsius. To achieve the 1.5-degree target set out in the Paris agreement, emissions would have to be reduced by 42 percent by 2030.

Three measures are key to reducing global emissions at COP28: First, a global target for tripling the expansion of renewable energies must be adopted. Second, annual increases in energy efficiency must be doubled by 2030. The chances of those two measures being adopted are not bad, particularly given that the president of COP28, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, has himself clearly backed these goals in recent weeks, which are being demanded most vocally by Germany and the European Union.

The third measure is likely to be the most politically contentious: the phase-out of all fossil fuels, which is urgently needed to achieve the 1.5-degree target. The Synthesis Report for the first Global Stocktake also recommends phasing out fossil fuels, while at the same time expanding the use of renewable energies. Whereas the European Union is committed to a global phase-out of unabated fossil fuels this decade, oil- and gas-producing nations, along with large emerging economies, reject the simultaneous phase-out of coal, oil and gas, since their prosperity is based on fossil fuels, or they view such fuels as the basis for their economic development. Instead, countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia are emphasising the controversial use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to reduce or capture and store CO2.


No climate justice without a just transition and financing

In moving to the post-fossil era, the principles behind the concept of a Just Transition (socially equitable structural change) must be adhered to. This means that trade unions, indigenous groups, actors from civil society and others are involved in decision-making, and that the concepts behind Decent Work – labour that respects the rights of workers in terms of dignity, safety and remuneration and is rooted in the socio-ecological transformation and in human rights – are respected.

Among the positive developments is that COP28 will see the introduction of a Just Transition Work Programme for the first time. The programme is to incorporate all sectors in which a just transition is necessary and will take a holistic view of the socio-economic dimensions of the climate crisis and of climate adaptation measures.

Ultimately, a socially just transition to clean energies and global climate justice can only be achieved with sufficient funding and support for the Global South from the wealthy, industrialised nations. Thus far, only a small fraction of global investments in renewable energies has been made in countries belonging to the Global South. New cooperatives, such as the Just Energy Transition Partnerships, which already exist in South Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia and Senegal, can be an important building block for a socially just global energy transition. Another key negotiating point for climate justice, by which the success of COP28 will be measured, is the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund, which was launched last year.


Under the shadow of corporations and conflicts

The United Arab Emirates is not an easy host country. Human rights are frequently violated, and the UAE’s dependence on oil and natural gas raises questions about a potential conflict of interest. Furthermore, appointing the CEO of the state-owned oil company as president of COP28 does not inspire confidence, instead raising concerns that the fossil fuel lobby will exert considerable influence at this COP. The call by over 100 politicians from the United States and Europe to remove Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber from the post fell on deaf ears.

In that context and against the backdrop of geopolitical tensions and wars, COP28 could become one of the most difficult and, at the same time, one of the most important climate conferences ever held. The tense relationship between the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the U.S. and China, could make progress on global climate protection more difficult.

Still, the recent agreement between the two countries’ presidents for increased cooperation in the fight against the climate crisis provides grounds for optimism that the channels for climate diplomacy are at least open again. At the same time, the war in the Middle East is currently threatening to overshadow the negotiations. There are, on the one hand, tensions between Western states and individual players in the region, with Arab states levelling accusations of “Western double standards.” On the other hand, there is the threat of division within the global climate movement due to differing positions on the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip.


Why COP is still important

Under these circumstances, it remains to be seen whether the global climate conference can send the urgently needed message that global solutions and (climate) diplomacy are still possible in a polarised world. Despite criticisms of the format followed by climate conferences, which often produce disappointment in the form of non-binding commitments and minimal consensus, they are an important forum for international cooperation in which all countries have a say and where countries of the Global South find a welcome global platform for their perspectives and demands. Either way, high temperatures and heated debates are to be expected at the desert conference.


From the German version by Charles Hawley.


About the author

Sarah Zitterbarth is a policy adviser for international climate and energy policy at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and will be attending the COP28 global climate conference in Dubai.


Sarah Zitterbarth
Sarah Zitterbarth
+49 30 26935-7470


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