UN Climate conference

COP28: the hopes and expectations of TU Delft experts

The COP28 UN climate conference started on 30 November 2023 in Dubai, a country built on oil. Delta asks two TU Delft experts about their hopes and expectations.

As floodings become more frequent, the world should move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible. Will such an agreement be reached on the climate summit? (Photo: Jonathan Ford / Unsplash)

While the summit has only just started, it is already shrouded in controversy. The COP28’s President is Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, who also happens to be the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Moreover, leaked documents suggest that ‘the UAE planned to use the climate talks to make oil and gas deals’.

Behnam Taebi hopes that the conference will lead to commitment to the loss & damage fund. (Photo: Jaden Accord)

“This is very disconcerting,” says Behnam Taebi, Professor of Energy & Climate Ethics at TU Delft. “The main message of the whole conference should be that we need to move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible. Oil and gas countries, such as the UAE, need to understand their social responsibility and contribute to this goal too. I had hoped that the UAE would use its position as the host to reshape its economy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

‘Hopefully reasonableness will prevail after all’

Despite the dubious choice of location, Taebi is convinced of COP28’s importance. “This is the moment to discuss and globally agree on how we can speed up the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which is absolutely crucial,” he says.

Taebi also hopes that the conference will lead to clear commitment to the Loss and Damage Fund, which aims to provide financial assistance to nations most impacted by the effects of climate change. “It was agreed upon during the COP27 last year, but countries still need to agree on the details and put money in the fund. We need clear mechanisms on how to implement it.”

Willingness and action

Above all, countries need to agree to take action and fulfil the Paris Agreement, says TU Delft Associate Professor Miren Vizcaino, climate modeler and a scientific contributor to the last IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports.

“The only way is to rapidly decrease our emissions every year and reach a 90-95% reduction by 2040. The climate solutions are outlined in the latest IPCC report. To achieve decarbonisation, we need to follow two paths. Firstly, we need to scale up and develop carbon-free technologies. Secondly, we need to phase out fossil fuel technologies. We are lagging behind.

IPCC author Miren Vizcaino sees that there is little willingness and action to decrease emissions. (Photo: Jaden Accord)

“But this is nothing new,” adds Vizcaino. “We knew all this already. What is missing is willingness and action. We need to do it to secure the future for all of us.”

(Inter)national politics

Is it likely that an adequate agreement will be reached, also considering the fact that US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping are not expected to attend COP28? “I understand that there are many important things happening in the world, but they will not make the climate crisis disappear. The climate challenge cannot be ignored and the actions cannot be postponed,” answers Vizcaino. “Yes, two key figures might be missing, but the conference is still a monumental effort, and many people will work very hard.”

Professor Taebi agrees. “I wouldn’t put the faith of the entire conference in the hands of one president, but it does say something about the commitment of the country. The discussion should not be about nationalism, or what serves my country economically. It should be about international responsibility.”

With every fraction of a degree, we bring on more climate extremes’

Are the researchers confident that PVV, the party that became the biggest in the Dutch elections, will adhere to this international responsibility? After all, the party’s programme clearly states that ‘The Climate Act, the Climate Agreement and all other climate measures will immediately go into the shredder’.

“Yes, I am confident,” says Vizcaino. “The Netherlands is an extremely intelligent country that has managed to create a good living environment in very difficult conditions. And they have done so for centuries. Moreover, climate action doesn’t have a political colour. It affects everyone, and it is everyone’s responsibility to help solve the climate crisis.”

Taebi is also cautiously optimistic. “Since it was established in 2006, PVV has acted as a very extremist party – also in relation to climate policy. However, in the last weeks, it claims that it is behaving in a more mitigated fashion, and so I believe it will all depend on the results of the political negotiations. If we only look at the party’s programme and their past statements, the future of climate policy doesn’t look very promising, but hopefully reasonableness will prevail after all.”

Broken records

In a year of extreme weather events and many broken climate records, the UN’s conference might be more important than ever. “With further warming, the impacts will become larger and larger for humans and natural systems. With every fraction of a degree, we bring on more climate extremes, more deaths, more diseases, more crop failures. We will enter a world in which we cannot thrive,” says Vizcaino. “Even so, I remain optimistic because that is the only way to find solutions.”

When it comes to concrete outcomes of COP28, however, Taebi is not as hopeful. “I’m not sure what to expect yet. As the summit is being held in a country built on oil, it is not very likely that we will agree on moving away from fossil fuels fast enough. I’m not very positive that we will agree on the speed that is actually needed. But who knows, maybe they will surprise us.”

  • COP28 is the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, this year in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from 30 November to 12 December 2023. During the two week long event, which kicks off with the World Climate Action Summit on 1 and 2 December, governments will discuss how to tackle climate change. The ultimate goal should be to follow up on the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries agreed ‘to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’.
Wetenschapsredacteur Michaela Nesvarova

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