Most climate change experts agree that the success of COP28 in Dubai depends on the governments of the world taking major steps forward in the key areas of climate finance
Delegates from around 200 countries of the world are currently preparing for COP28, the 28th meeting of the Conference of Parties signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The two weeks long climate summit, where governments will meet to discuss how to limit climate change, will take place end of November in Dubai. The conference comes at the end of a year of extreme weather events such as raging wildfires and destructive storms in the Mediterranean region. The Middle-East is also in turmoil and the humanitarian crisis in nearby Gaza will surely cast a dark shadow on this international summit where many heads of states have been invited.
Pakistan too is readying its delegation of around 20 government officials/negotiators (from the Ministry of Climate Change and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) plus a handful of youth who have been specially selected for conference. The delegation will also include representatives from provinces and members of relevant government organisations like the National Disaster Management Authority and the National Disaster Risk Management Fund who will attend on observer badges. The high level segment of the conference that will last from November 30th to December 3rd will be led by the current Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, Anwaar ul Haq Kakar. The caretaker Minister for Climate Change, Ahmed Irfan Aslam will otherwise head the delegation from Pakistan.
Pakistan’s preparations for COP28
Climate financing for adaptation would be the main thrust for the delegation from Pakistan according to Asif Hyder Shah, the Secretary of Pakistan’s federal Ministry of Climate Change and Environmental Coordination. During a presentation he made recently to the 2nd meeting of the Pakistan Climate Change Council (composed of 26 official and 20 non-official members, including federal ministers and headed by the PM) on the preparations for COP28, Pakistan will be pushing for the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund. “We will push for all developing countries to be eligible for the Fund, not just the Least Developed Countries and the Small Island States”. As for where the Fund should be housed, and who should fund it (rich countries only or rich countries plus newly developed countries like China), he stated that Pakistan’s position is “flexible”. Pakistan would also be advocating for scaling up climate finance and simplifying the process to access climate finance during COP28. “We would also push for grant based finance”. He also unveiled the first draft of a paper on “Pakistan Policy Guidelines for Trading in Carbon Markets-2023” which are guidelines for the establishment and operation of carbon markets in Pakistan.
This year’s climate summit is being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from 30 November until 12 December 2023. Pakistan will showcase its pavilion, which will host a number of side events focusing on the country’s vulnerability and resilience (especially after the super floods of 2022) with panel discussions on various topics ranging from the Indus as a living river to voluntary carbon markets.
Global stocktake at COP28
The Global Stocktake at COP28 is designed to ‘take stock’ of the implementation of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015 and assess progress towards achieving the pact’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The focus of this year's COP is on getting all countries to agree on a plan for a just and equitable phase out of fossil fuels in order to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit. The planet has currently reached a long term warming of around 1.2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times (before humans started burning large amounts of fossil fuels for energy).
According to a recent report published by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) ahead of COP28, “Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have reached record levels. Again. This will continue to trap heat and drive climate change for many years, with more extreme weather, sea level rise and many other impacts on our planet”.
Scientists from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told the world back in Paris that the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is crucial to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change. However, the WMO says the current trajectory of the rise in carbon emissions “puts us on the pathway of an increase in temperatures well above the Paris Agreement targets by the end of this century”.
Pakistani climate change and development expert Ali Tauqeer Sheikh says the current global efforts to meet this goal are failing abysmally. “Simply put, the US and many fossil fuel producing countries don’t want to phase out fossil fuels yet. They are focusing on capturing emissions instead through Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technologies like solar radiation modification (which seeks to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the planet’s surface by releasing aerosols into the high atmosphere or by whitening the clouds)”.
Another instrument they are keen on promoting he says is offsetting their emissions through carbon trading in developing countries. In his opinion, “carbon trading is a form of climate colonialism”. Also he warns against Pakistan hurriedly entering into the carbon markets and selling its carbon credits at a lower rate when they will only become more expensive in the future.
Without climate finance, progress at COP28 not possible
According to the former Pakistani Minister for Climate Change and former vice president of the IUCN, Malik Amin Aslam, “The time for true reckoning is already upon us and the climate threat is very real. The response to this threat will not and cannot happen without climate finance being readily available”. In his view, after the initiation of the Loss and Damage Fund in Egypt last year at COP27 and the Bridgetown initiative for multilateral finance floated earlier this year (a proposal by Barbados to reform the world of development finance, particularly how rich countries help poor countries cope with and adapt to climate change), this COP is all about climate finance. Amin Aslam will be attending COP-28 as an observer with the Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI).
“As the Chair of G77, Pakistan had played a key role in getting the Loss and Damage Fund initiated and, after a year of procrastination, the Transitional Committee has finally agreed on a proposal, although a very weak and muted one, which has abdicated the managerial responsibility to the World Bank for a four year pilot period while weakening the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle by not explicitly mentioning it. This proposal needs to be strengthened through the multilateral negotiation process and a commitment for actual funds delivery needs to be materialized at COP28. Pakistan will again have to work through the G77 negotiating block for this” he explains.
Operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund
According to Pakistani climate finance expert Kashmala Kakakhel, "the Transitional Committee (TC) has agreed to a detailed proposal for COP28 to deliberate upon. There are two key details to watch closely. First, while the World Bank will be hosting the Fund for at least four years, the TC has set out some conditions. The most important is agreeing to give full autonomy to a Board that will be established with equal representation from developed and developing countries. Second, and more importantly, the elephant in the room has yet to be addressed: the developed countries are willing to provide resources to operationalize the Fund, but neither developed countries nor anyone else are obliged to pay into the Fund."
Kakakhel says although the outcome is underwhelming for vulnerable countries, the TC has made progress. “The real challenge will be to strike a balance between getting the Fund off the ground as soon as possible but also ensuring strategic sustainability that serves the needs of countries like Pakistan”.
Low expectations from COP28
According to Tauqeer Sheikh, “We should not have high expectations from this COP. The climate talks will be overshadowed by the conflict in Gaza. The Government of UAE will curtail demonstrations and there will be ruthless controls. There is also a lot of resentment building up in the Global South regarding the actions of the West in Gaza”. Already, the UAE organisers of the COP event have issued long lists essentially banning any material offensive to any organization and all speakers are being vetted and approved before they can publicly speak at the COP’s events. There are fears that many activists and advocates will be restricted from speaking up at the COP, which has not happened before. Although many activists boycotted last year’s COP in Sharm El Sheikh in dictatorial Egypt due to human rights concerns and no public demonstrations were allowed to take place in the beach resort (or anywhere else in Egypt for that matter), inside the conference venue some small protests were allowed.
International climate expert Tariq Banuri who has served as a coordinating lead author at the IPCC, agrees that “This COP is unlikely to make significant progress. Climate finance will remain limited. Climate change is here to stay and we now have to live in a world defined by climate change. We have to think differently about issues. Pakistan needs a Climate Action Plan and should shift its attention to the domestic arena”.
Amin Aslam notes that:
“Pakistan had unfortunately lost precious momentum as a global nature leader and there needs to be an effort to regain this at COP28. With the right strategy this would be possible as the foundational initiatives of the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, Recharge Pakistan and Living Indus still remain in the pipeline of nature based solutions being employed by Pakistan. This platform can create the leverage to attract climate finance and utilize new instruments such as the climate debt pause”.
COP28: an opportunity to re-focus attention on climate change
This year, the world has seen record-breaking wildfires, catastrophic floods, and unbearable heat waves all over the planet – yet the geopolitical conflicts in Ukraine and now in Gaza have forced the climate crisis off the headlines of most media. The upcoming COP28 climate conference will provide an opportunity for the international media to re-focus its attention on this crucial challenge, the biggest threat to humanity in the 21st century. Most experts agree that the success of COP28 will depend on the world taking major steps forward in the key areas of climate finance.
According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message on the launch of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s nationally determined contributions synthesis report last week:
“Governments must come together to line up the necessary finance, support and partnerships to increase ambition in their national climate plans and swiftly put those plans into action. And developed countries must rebuild trust by delivering on their finance commitments.
The twenty-eighth UN Climate Change Conference must be the place to urgently close the climate ambition gap”.