Developed countries’ duplicity in the first week of COP28

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IBON International COP28 Update #1

Dubai, UAE, December 10 – The first week of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change saw mixed outcomes, including the adoption of the funding mechanisms to respond to climate impacts, but with major setbacks in other key areas due to developed countries backtracking on their historic responsibilities and renegotiating Convention principles.

The conference is unfolding against the backdrop of allegations surfacing against the United Arab Emirates for leveraging COP28 as a platform to secure more oil deals. Moreover, the resumption of the genocidal attacks by Israel on Palestine and stringent restrictions on civil society organising and mobilising have created a tense atmosphere at COP28.

Lost and damaged: The case of the LDF

Picking up from the historic establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund–a mechanism that promises to provide funds to countries affected by climate extremes–at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, a transitional committee (TC) for the operationalization of the LDF was set up. At COP28, the TC was expected to come up with recommendations on its governing board and secretariat, sources, scale, eligibility, and access.

Developing countries were skeptical about the final text from the last TC meetings. The main issues included the removal of principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities, and the emphasis on voluntary contributions. But the possibility of placing the LDF in the hands of the World Bank, which is dominated by the United States and notorious financier of the fossil fuel industry, especially drew flak.

At the opening plenary, Parties entered into an agreement to establish the Loss and Damage Fund. However, the President presented a draft text that aligned with the controversial TC text. Aside from the initial issues raised, civil society organisations are also wary of the amount being pledged to the LDF.

The United States, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, committed USD 17.5 million to the LDF. This amount is only a mere 0.0035% of the USD 500 billion estimated annual cost of climate impacts in developing countries by 2030. Other developed countries were also unwilling to commit higher figures–all the countries in the European Union only pooled in EUR 225 million, while Japan committed a meagre USD 10 million.

Civil society groups are currently pushing for substantial increases in Northern countries’  contributions to ensure the Fund’s viability before the end of COP28, as well as resolutions to the various concerns on the LDF.

Adaptation still in the dark

The Adaptation Fund also remains neglected as developed countries refuse to provide financial support to their developing counterparts, limiting frontline communities’ ability to adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change.

Developing countries are sounding the alarm over the wide gap between mitigation and adaptation finance, referring to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Adaptation Gap Report 2023, which estimates an annual adaptation finance gap of US$194 billion to US$366 billion.

Developing countries suggested doubling the finance target. They also questioned the reliance on the private sector for adaptation finance, as even the European Union acknowledged the multilateral development banks’ failure to mobilise expected private funds. The G77 and China also expressed the need to focus on the quality of finance and issues related to access.

Meanwhile, the United States argued against determining a baseline. Without a target for adaptation, the US basically wants to ignore historical obligations, similar to the LDF, with funds to be pooled voluntarily.

Developing countries are demanding that developed countries not only acknowledge but also rectify the severe financial disparity, urging a commitment to double the adaptation finance target and emphasise the role of public finance over reliance on the private sector.

Where is the money?

As it is, developed countries are not willing to shell out money for anything. They failed to meet the yearly USD 100 billion dollar goal until 2020, and are unwilling to commit to a new goal being set for 2025 and beyond. This was revealed when countries went head to head regarding the source, timeframe, quality, and quantity of the New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG).

Developed countries put emphasis on leveraging private finance for the new goal, but faced pushback from developing countries that expressed preference for public finance. They also wanted a longer timeframe, but again, was met with resistance from developing countries that asserted a shorter timeframe of five years with a review mechanism to see how countries fulfil their pledges.

In terms of amount, or quantity of finance for the NCQG, developed countries did not want to set a definite figure. Simply put, they are pushing back against the pressure to pitch in money for the new goal. On the other hand, small island states call for the new figure to be based on the needs and priorities of developing countries, especially communities on the frontlines of climate change.

Dangerous distractions yet again

While finance figures are plummeting, another concerning trend is emerging. This particular COP saw a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists. The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition reported that there are more than 2400 lobbyists from the oil and gas corporations in Dubai. This raises serious concern, especially at a time when pressure is building for COP28 to deliver on the much-needed demand to phase out fossil fuels.

Parties, especially from developed countries, are leaning towards putting mere restrictions on “unabated” coal, oil, and gas. But they do not clearly define its meaning. Civil society groups are wary that vague definitions keep the door open for continued large-scale fossil fuel use.

There is also a strong push from developed countries to use techno-fixes that will capture carbon from the air. But the idea that countries can meet their climate goals while still using a lot of fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS), is misleading. Climate experts warn that poorly performing fossil fuel CCS projects can easily be labelled as successful, letting emissions from fossil fuel production go unaddressed.

COP28 is also seeing the revival of carbon markets–the trading of credits that corporations and countries can use as licence to pollute. As the US’ climate envoy puts it, credit purchases linked to cuts in the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels and deforestation could create “the largest marketplace the world will have ever known.” They envision raking in more profits instead of really cutting down on their emissions.

As articulated by movements present in Dubai, to truly achieve the targets set in the Paris Agreement, countries need to greatly reduce reliance on fossil fuels rapidly, without depending on CCS and market-based mechanisms.

Head to head on Just Transition timeframe

Pushing for a transition from fossil fuels has been contentious in negotiations, with developed and developing countries still displaying stark differences in their visions. In discussions regarding the work programme on the Just Transition pathways, developing countries rejected setting a specific deadline without support for their transition pathways.

Developed countries also proposed shorter durations, while developing countries are pushing for a long-term work programme.

Further, the draft text from negotiations lacks reference to equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), crucial principles in negotiations. G77 and China assert that the current text does not reflect their views and promised to submit inputs for the next iteration. To no surprise, developed countries welcomed the draft, deeming it a solid basis for future work.

To this end, civil society groups are urging Parties to incorporate a clear commitment to Convention principles and a timeline that considers the unique challenges, priorities, and contexts of developing countries.

Towards the bitter end

With most matters still on the table for Parties to decide on, civil society organising and campaigning will be crucial to ensuring Parties agree on more ambitious outcomes from COP28. However, activists and civil society groups find themselves constrained by stringent regulations. Many have reported threats of debadgement, cases of censorship, and closing spaces initially allocated for actions.

Not far from the UAE, a similar yet more horrendous attack on civil society is taking place. The resumption of Israel’s bombings on Palestine raises the mistrust of developing countries around international cooperation and multilateral climate action given Israel’s blatant disregard for international humanitarian law. Delegates are expressing frustration over the lack of attention given to human rights violations amid the climate talks.

COP28 is expected to conclude on December 12. Considering the context of the conference and the state of play in negotiations, there is growing uncertainty on whether meaningful agreements will be reached by then. Amid the limitations of the official talks, movements vow to campaign in bigger numbers in the coming days, to amplify voices of frontline communities, and to draw attention to their demands for climate justice.