The entrance to the COP28 conference venue at night. Lauren Boland/The Journal

Behind the scenes, climate talks tussle with world falling far short of sticking to Paris Agreement

Read an extract from The Journal’s climate newsletter sent from the ground at COP28.

This is an extract from last night’s edition of Temperature Check, The Journal’s climate newsletter, which is sending special extra editions covering COP28 in Dubai. To receive Temperature Check to your inbox, sign up in the box at the end of this article. 

This part of every COP when world leaders get to speak is usually marked by a flurry of public declarations of support for climate action as countries try to convince each other of their climate credentials.

But behind the scenes, an early negotiating draft says that “despite overall progress on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support, [countries] are not collectively on track to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement”.

That’s in the first draft of a decision text up for negotiation at COP on the Global Stocktake.

If the phrase ‘Global Stocktake’ means nothing to you, or you’re not sure quite exactly what it entails, allow Jamal Srouji of the World Resources Institute to explain. He’s closely following the negotiations on the stocktake text and spoke to The Journal for Temperature Check in between meetings at the conference today.

“Back in 2015, there was a landmark deal when countries from around the world came together and signed the Paris Agreement. They agreed as well that they would take stock of our efforts to achieve the goals, which are to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to get to well below two degrees [of temperature rise] and ideally 1.5; to adapt and build resilience to climate impacts; and make finance flows address climate needs and mobilise and provide support to developing countries,” Srouji said.

“They designed this process to take stock and to tell us where do we stand, where do we want to go, and how to get there, and so it has both a component that looks backwards at what has been achieved, but then also it’s meant to inspire countries on actions needed going forward,” he explained.

A technical report on the stocktake published in September identified that the world was not on track to stay within the confines set out by the Paris Agreement.

“We have made some progress, and that’s important because before the Paris Agreement, we were on a trajectory of around four degrees Celsius of warming. Now, we’re looking at 2.5 to 2.9. That’s progress, but obviously, it’s well above where we need to be and so there’s a lot we need to do in order to keep 1.5 within reach,” Srouji said.

Over the course of the conference, a document will be prepared for countries to hopefully agree on that will reflect the findings of the stocktake and call on countries to take certain actions to ramp up emissions reductions, including, potentially, some language around phasing down or phasing out fossil fuels (more on that a little later).

“Today, we saw the first fleshed-out text showing what that decision might look like in response to the Global Stocktake. That’s what’s going to be negotiated at this COP. It’s quite a dense and heavy and comprehensive decision text, so it’s going to be one of the major outcomes coming out of this COP,” Srouji explained.

The version published [yesterday] could look quite different by the end of the COP, with details added, changed, or removed.

Srouji said countries that will need to level up their climate game should remember that beyond the imperative of preventing climate change, there are additional benefits for countries of taking climate action, like creating new, green jobs.

There is major pressure from campaigners to see countries agree on a decision text that includes a call for the world to phase out fossil fuels.

Not just campaigners: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told news agency AFP that he is “strongly in favour of language that includes a phase-out”.

“I think it would be a pity if we would stay in a vague and noncommittal ‘phase-down’ whose real meaning would not be obvious for anybody,” he said.

That distinction between phase out and phase down may seem small but it marks the difference between a clear call to fully move away from fossil fuels, or one that just vaguely seeks to reduce them.

At a press conference this afternoon, Romain Ioualalen of the anti-fossil fuel organisation Oil Change International said COP28 should “refuse weasel words and distractions like carbon capture and storage or the word ‘unabated’,” he said.

References to reducing ‘unabated’ fossil fuels has, like phase down instead of phase out, been used in the past to weaken the strength of commitments.

“We have not yet heard enough clarity from world leaders on the fact that keeping 1.5 alive is not going to be possible if we don’t end fossil fuel extraction immediately, and if countries do not decide to phase out all fossil production and use as soon as possible,” Ioualalen declared.

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