RIYADH: Around 200 heads of state, and diplomats will gather in Dubai later this week for the COP28 climate summit. This occurs at a time when global attention is fixated on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
While a ceasefire has been extended for a few more days, there are concerns that the ongoing global noise and chaos, intensified by the war since it began on Oct. 7 and the continued conflict in Ukraine, may overshadow the pivotal need to address climate change.
The two-week COP28 begins on Nov. 30 and is convened annually by the UN COP, which stands for “Conference of the Parties,” referring to nations that agreed to a climate change framework by the UN in 1992. This marks the 28th year of its occurrence.
“The UAE has called for the protection of civilians and stressed that the immediate priority is to end the violence,” a COP28 spokesperson told Arab News.
“In coordination with the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), we remain confident that COP28 will focus on delivering tangible outcomes in the global fight against climate change. We will provide an environment that enables attendees to focus on the pressing issue of climate action and the collaborative efforts required to address it effectively.”
While the impact of the conflict in Gaza on the world economy has been minimal thus far, a prolongation of the war, as termed by the IMF, could cast a “new cloud” over the economic outlook.
This would have a direct impact on oil prices and global economic growth, thus entailing a negative influence on richer nations’ ability and desire to assist developing countries grappling with climate-related challenges. This includes nations in the Middle East, such as Iraq, and a range of African countries, among others.
Several notable guests, including King Charles III, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, are expected to attend. Although originally scheduled, Pope Francis, in what would have been a first for a pontiff, had to cancel last minute due to poor health.
However, some other crucial world players have chosen not to attend. US President Joe Biden announced that he would sit out the world leaders’ summit scheduled for this Friday and Saturday, coinciding with the opening of COP28. The White House did not provide an explanation for his absence, although Biden has participated in the global conference over the past two years.
The World Climate Action “signifies the importance for world leaders to implement and transform key climate-related decisions into concrete actions and credible plans, continue raising ambition, building up from previous Conference of the Parties, and keep the high-level commitment on climate change issues,” the UN said on its website.
The US is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, making its attendance crucial as a major contributor to human-caused climate change. The White House will be represented at COP28 by a climate team, including Special Envoy John Kerry, National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi, and Clean Energy Adviser John Podesta.
Biden had also pledged to visit Africa before the end of the year, but that trip doesn’t seem to be materializing either. The conflicts in Ukraine and in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, along with domestic challenges back home, have deeply engaged the US President.
Biden has referred to climate change as the “ultimate threat to humanity.” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also not be attending COP28.
UN climate negotiations require unanimous support from all participating countries for any deals to pass, making the task of finding consensus exceptionally challenging.
Tensions, state analysts, are likely to arise at the upcoming summit in Dubai, hosted by the UAE, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer.
The UAE has been at the forefront of normalization with Israel and has also been providing humanitarian aid in Gaza through field hospitals and treating Palestinian victims at hospitals in the UAE.
“The greatest worry over the past few years has been a sequence of global events, from COVID-19, the Ukraine war and now the war in Gaza, which all have had the potential to overshadow and distract from action on climate change, which is obviously critically important even while all these other crises are happening,” David Waskow, international climate director, World Resources Institute, told Arab News.
Despite the noise, Waskow said he saw some slivers of light on the horizon in the last few weeks with the US-China joint statement “on enhancing cooperation to address the climate crisis.”
The announcement came shortly before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where President Biden and President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines.
“This clearly demonstrated how climate was on the agenda for them, not just on their radar,” said Waskow.
Why is this important?
China and the US are the world’s two biggest polluters. China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, producing 12.7 billion tons of emissions annually. The US is the second-largest producer of carbon dioxide gas in the world, currently at 5.9 billion tons annually.
Both countries are also the world’s green tech powerhouses. If both countries can come to an agreement to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, it would constitute a significantly impactful step toward the world’s ability to address climate change and, consequently, global warming.
“The climate issue still has real salience geopolitically,” adds Waskow. “The large number of heads of state attending COP28 speaks to the level of input that countries are giving to the climate issue.”
While Waskow, like others, acknowledges the burdens of the world’s conflicts overshadowing the critical issue of climate, he believes that the events and attendees showing up to the event can “cut through the noise to ensure that climate is given the priority it requires.”
After the tensions over last year’s COP held in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh, some remain skeptical about how COPs can make a difference in addressing the urgent issue of climate change, particularly concerning crucial matters of loss and damages that involve the ability of the world’s most vulnerable countries to repair damage from climate breakdown.
The question of who will finance the repair remains paramount, and these important questions are once again on the table this year in Dubai.
Waskow emphasizes the importance of keeping in context and perspective what COPs can achieve.
“I believe they’re one of our levers among many levers that need to be pulled,” he added. “Sometimes I think people see COPs as a panacea event where some agreement will be reached and that will move everything forward in some dramatic way.”
What COPs do, he continues, is something very specific: they move the conversation forward.
“I’ve thought of it in terms of climbing a mountain,” he emphasizes. “COPs provide a compass, a magnifying glass, so you can see clearly on the map what needs to be done. That is clearly the case with the issue of fossil fuels this year.”