On 30 November, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) began in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The highly anticipated global climate convention is considered the largest and most important meeting about climate change since the Paris Agreement was first adopted in 2015.
The main goals of the near two-week summit focus on accelerating the transition to clean energy, mobilizing finance for climate action, and promoting nature-based solutions with the long-term overall goal being to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2050.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked countries for their commitment across the board. “COP28 must commit countries to triple renewables capacity, double energy efficiency, and bring clean energy to all, by 2030,” stated the UN chief. “The extraction of critical minerals for the clean energy revolution – from wind farms to solar panels and battery manufacturing – must be done in a sustainable, fair, and just way,” he said, adding that demand for minerals like copper, lithium, and cobalt, is set to increase almost fourfold by 2030.
198 parties were brought together for this year’s COP28, compared to the 166 nations that signed the 1992 UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and original parent agreement. The climate crisis will require unprecedented levels of cooperation, solidarity, and leadership to gain the momentum necessary to facilitate an efficient transition to green energy and slow global warming.
The fossil fuel phase out
At COP28, fossil fuels have been a hot topic, with more than 80 countries pushing for a broader pact to phase out all CO2-emitting fossil fuels.
The UN’s climate science panel – the IPCC – has said steep fossil fuel cuts are needed to avert more severe climate change.
Global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from fossil fuels are projected to rise to an all-time high of 36.8 metric gigatons and account for nearly 90% of total greenhouse gases in 2023, according to the latest data from the Global Carbon Budget project.
However, there are some countries who agree to commit only if wealthy countries who have produced and used fossil fuels for longer agree to quit first, listing a longer-term phase out as a possibility.
Uganda’s energy minister Ruth Nankabirwa said the country could accept a long-term phase out, if in the near term, developing nations can exploit their resources while wealthy long-time producers quit first.
Nankabirwa said, “First in, first out – and we will be happy to be the last one to exit from fossil fuels.”
COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, and the UAE’s special envoy for climate change urged flexibility during the talks and negotiations before the second half of the climate summit got underway.
A target for renewables cannot be a substitute for a stronger commitment to fossil fuel phase-out and an end to fossil fuel subsidies
He said, “I certainly hope that we or the parties will agree and present a recommendation on language on the scope of fossils fuels that includes new energy, energy efficiency, and a just, fair, equitable, responsible, orderly transition.”
Opposition has predominantly been led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, with India and China not explicitly endorsing the fossil fuel phase out, but rather pushing for renewable energy.
China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhue, described this year’s climate summit as the hardest in his career. “I have participated in these climate negotiations for 16 years,” Xie commented. “The hardest meeting is this year’s. There are so many issues to settle.”
The United States, the European Union (EU), Norway, Canada, Chile, Colombia, some African nations including Kenya and Ethiopia, and climate-vulnerable small island states are all in support of the phase out.
Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, Samoa’s environment minister, Cedric Schuster, worried that this year’s talks were getting bogged down by disputes.
“A target for renewables cannot be a substitute for a stronger commitment to fossil fuel phase-out and an end to fossil fuel subsidies,” said Schuster. “COP28 needs to deliver both.”
All is fair in climate financing
The mobilization of climate finance (financial resources from developed to developing countries to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change) was originally decided on in the Paris Agreement, with a goal of mobilizing US$100B per year by 2020. However, the latest data shows that the goal has not been met, and there is a lack of clarity and predictability on the future levels and sources of climate finance.
Leaders focused on this as the enormous financial costs of climate change tend to fall especially hard on countries that weren’t responsible for the bulk of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Countries will also now have to pay to adapt to climate change in regard to reacting to and trying to future-proof infrastructure against natural disasters.
Some progress on the issue was made soon after talks opened, with the establishment of a fund to help countries damaged by climate change. Major world financial institutions, including the World Bank, committed to writing loans that allow countries to pause debt payments if they are faced with a disaster.
More than 200 advocacy groups, including Climate Action Network International and 350.org, also called for changes to a financial system that they say benefits traditional institutions like fossil fuel companies while suffocating low-income countries with debt. These problems call for debt cancellation and investment in renewable energy.
Changing tides for nuclear
In attempts to reduce carbon emissions, more than 20 nations agreed to triple global nuclear capacity by 2050 as part of the green energy transition to net-zero, which would increase nuclear energy from just 10% to 30% of global electricity.
Reaching that goal will require the industry to overcome regulatory hurdles, financing obstacles, fuel bottlenecks, and public safety concerns that have contributed to a long history of project delays and stagnation.
Endorsing countries include the US, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ghana, Hungary, Japan, South Korea, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, the UAE, and the UK.
It has currently taken 70 years to bring global nuclear capacity to its current level of 370GW, and the industry must now select technologies, raise finance, and develop the rules to build another 740GW in half that time.
There are currently 60 commercial reactors under construction in 17 countries across the world, with China accounting for 25 of them, according to the World Nuclear Association.
In the West, nuclear power capacity halted after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, with huge reactor construction costs, permitting issues, and public opposition blocking new construction.
The declaration commits countries to mobilize investment and encourage financial institutions like the World Bank to back nuclear power. It also promises efforts to extend the life of existing nuclear power plants — with about 200 of 420 reactors around the world scheduled to be decommissioned before 2050.
The urgency and complexity of the climate crisis requires cooperation from a great many people including governments, businesses, international organizations, as well as civil society. The latest scientific reports from the IPCC and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have warned that the window of opportunity to limit warming is rapidly closing.
The green energy transition and the increasing demand for critical minerals (such as graphite, copper, lithium, nickel, and cobalt), that are essential for clean energy technologies will go hand in hand with an increase in demand for uranium in the nuclear sector.
The mining sector will need to show its adaptation to climate-smart practices and the minimization of its carbon footprint to properly capitalize.
COP28 is a critical moment to demonstrate the political will and collective action needed to ensure that the mineral intensity of the clean energy transition is aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.