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World 'way off-track' from climate goals: COP28 President-Designate and UAE minister

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 6 min read
World 'way off-track' from climate goals: COP28 President-Designate and UAE minister
Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 President-Designate and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology in the United Arab Emirates. Photo: Bloomberg
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The world is “way off-track” from the goal to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5°C, says Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 President-Designate. Calling for “transformational progress”, the appointed leader of this year’s United Nations (UN) climate change conference appealed to world leaders on March 20 in his opening remarks at the two-day Copenhagen Climate Ministerial in Denmark.

The convening is the first climate ministerial meeting leading up to COP28, set to take place at Expo City Dubai from Nov 30 to Dec 12. Co-chairing the ministerial with Al Jaber are Sameh Shoukry, COP27 President and Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy.

“We need to build on the foundation achieved at COP27 and move from goals to getting it done. We are way off track when it comes to the critical goal of keeping 1.5 alive,” says Al Jaber, who is also Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Al Jaber urged countries to “scale up all available zero-carbon energy sources, while minimising the emissions from all other energy sources”.

“Technology that no one can afford isn't [of] much use to anyone. Governments should therefore adopt smart policies to incentivise breakthroughs in battery storage and commercialise carbon capture and the hydrogen value chain,” he adds. “We should inject a business mindset, short-term KPIs and an ambitious action-oriented agenda into the Mitigation Work Programme, and remember that the enemy is emissions, not progress.”

Rather, the linchpin of all climate progress is finance, says Al Jaber. “We have an opportunity to shape a new financial goal at COP28 that enables us to chart a new course for greater climate ambition.”

See also: Singapore doubles down on carbon trading at COP27

The 49-year-old called for “urgent” reform of international financial institutions and multilateral development banks to unlock more concessional capital, lower risk and attract more private finance. “The bottom line is finance needs to be much more available, accessible and affordable.”

‘Humanity is on thin ice’

Al Jaber’s comments came the same day as the UN’s latest climate report, the final statement by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summing up five years of its own research.

See also: UOB and EnterpriseSG launch sustainability-linked advisory, grants and enablers programme for SMEs

In the IPCC’s sixth Assessment Report, scientists warn that the world must cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 60% below 2019 levels by 2035, and although climate change mitigation policies have expanded, it is likely that the world will exceed 1.5°C of warming “in the near term”.

Humanity is on thin ice, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an accompanying video message on March 20. “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”

The explicit target of a 60% reduction in GHG emissions by 2035 sets an intermediate goal for many end-decade pledges. Guterres urged developed countries to accelerate their plans, moving mid-century plans up to 2040. The UN chief also called for an end to new coal plants by 2030, an end to coal in rich countries that same year, and a stop to all licensing and funding of new oil and gas projects.

Shipping, aviation, steel, cement, aluminium, agriculture — every sector must be aligned with net zero by 2050 with clear plans including interim targets to get there, says Guterres.

“The transition must cover the entire economy,” he adds. “Partial pledges won’t cut it.”

As mandated by the Paris Climate Agreement, COP28 will deliver the first-ever Global Stocktake — a comprehensive evaluation of progress against climate goals.

“The UAE will utilise its COP28 Presidency to drive consensus, reignite momentum for climate progress and deliver a transformational roadmap to guide future action,” says Al Jaber’s team in a subsequent statement. “The IPCC AR6 report provides us with an ideal opportunity to undertake a fundamental course correction and to accelerate climate action that delivers new avenues for investment and growth along with a just transition that leaves no one behind.”

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Such a transformation has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars of investment, generating jobs and growth, adds the UAE team. “The international financial institutions and multilateral development banks must be part of the solution. They must reform to enable a just energy transition and meet the needs of the most vulnerable, particularly across the global south.”

Singapore’s Grace Fu in Denmark

The convening in Denmark was attended by more than 40 government ministers, including Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister of Sustainability and the Environment.

Others in attendance include Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission; Zhao Yingmin, China’s Vice Minister of Ecology and Environment; Shahab Uddin, Bangladesh’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; and Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, Samoa’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism, among others.

At the invitation of the Egypt and UAE COP Presidencies, Fu co-moderated one of the breakout groups on climate mitigation, which will focus on how countries can work together on developing real-world decarbonisation solutions to keep 1.5°C within reach this decade.

Last year’s COP27 saw the establishment of a Loss and Damage finance facility. When operational, the fund will assist developing countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Speaking on the fund, Al Jaber says: “We must bring the Sharm El Sheikh outcome on loss and damage to life. This means the loss and damage fund must be fully operationalised and we need the right governance and structures in place to target the most vulnerable communities.”

Singapore, one of the 39 members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), has been pressed on whether it will be a contributor or claimant to the fund.

Members of AOSIS, an ad-hoc lobby group whose core focus areas are climate change, sustainable development and ocean conservation, say they are disproportionately affected by sea level rises and are at risk of submergence by the end of the century.

In February, Fu told Parliament that Singapore will engage constructively with the transitional committee that has been tasked to make recommendations on the details of the fund by COP28, and will take reference from the outcome agreed upon by all Parties.

A key guiding principle is that countries that have caused and are most responsible for climate change must take the lead in supporting vulnerable communities to avert, minimise and address climate-related loss and damage, said Fu on Feb 24.

From Denmark, Fu will leave for New York to join Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, at the UN Water Conference, happening March 22-24.

The conference is the first major UN conference on water since 1977. It aims to provide a mid-term comprehensive review of the Water Action Decade (2018-2028), focusing on the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources and furthering cooperation and partnership on water, among others.

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