[OPINION] Will the biggest climate conference ever deliver for the people?

Tony La Viña, Jayvy Gamboa, Joy Reyes

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[OPINION] Will the biggest climate conference ever deliver for the people?

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'Without pressuring the political and economic elite to be accountable, the Conference cannot truly live its mandate'

Dubai, the land of superlatives, is hosting the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP 28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP 28 started on November 30, and we remain to see whether the parties in Dubai will finally commit to a genuine course correction of global and national climate efforts.

The key outcomes expected from this COP include the Global Stocktake (GST), or the review process established by the Paris Agreement on whether climate action thus far is aligned with the goal of 1.5°C, and the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, which is particularly important for developing countries in addressing climate change impacts.

In addition, the scope of the Work Program on Just Transition Pathways is also crucial for stakeholders that see social justice as an essential element of addressing climate change and shifting to sustainable societies, such as the Manila Observatory.

The past 10 days in Dubai

COP 28 had a hopeful start. In the opening plenary session, the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund was adopted after a year of intense work by the Transitional Committee, which concluded in its fifth meeting in Abu Dhabi in early November.

The blueprint that the Transitional Committee submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat, among others, designated the World Bank as the interim host of the Fund for the first four years. To allay any concerns on having the World Bank as interim host, conditions have been imposed on the World Bank, and whether or not the World Bank will accept these conditions remains to be seen. Another salient point of the document is the parties’ language on contributions – developed countries are “urged” to contribute to the Fund, while others are “encouraged” to provide, or to continue to provide support.

Early on, the Philippine government had expressed its intention to host the Board of the Loss and Damage Fund, which acts as the decision-making body of the Fund.

In terms of pooling money for the Fund, there is at least $400 million in pledges from the following: Germany – $100 million; United Arab Emirates – $100 million; United States of America – $17.5 million; Japan $10 million; European Union member states – $245 million. What seems like large sums of money is actually miniscule compared to the financing needed by developing countries and the communities therein who bear the brunt of climate change impacts.

In its first week, the Conference had also witnessed the reaching of a decision that had been left hanging, and had made parties frustrated, in Bonn last June. With regard to the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, a platform for technical assistance with respect to losses and damages, the hosts were finally decided: the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). The hosts will decide on the location, after holding a cost-benefit analysis by the end of January 2024. This final decision will be done by the Advisory Board.

For developing countries like the Philippines, these are undoubtedly significant wins in the climate process. For one of us who has been in the process since the very beginning, having a Loss and Damage Fund is truly historic.

[OPINION] Will the biggest climate conference ever deliver for the people?
The world watches Dubai

After these strides on Loss and Damage, the advances made in negotiations have seemed to stop, or at least to slow down, at this point.

Two days before the Conference is scheduled to close, there remains no agreement on the other major agenda items, most especially the Global Stocktake.

On the Global Stocktake, there is a draft negotiating text that is being worked on by parties. While parties are generally in agreement that the building blocks of what constitutes the Stocktake are reflected in the text, what will eventually be the wording within these building blocks are “bracketed” or have no consensus among Parties.

The GST decision is also crucial, because it will inform the next set of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of parties due to be submitted in 2025. These are the climate commitments of countries that guide their national climate plans.

What we expect to be the major decision point in the Stocktake is the language on the phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels — as what has consistently been the point of contention since COP 26 in Glasgow. The implications of the language on phase-out in the GST reverberates to the very climate action required to meet the Paris temperature goal. Should “phase-out” be adopted in the Stocktake, there will global recognition that it is necessary to abandon fossil fuels in order to stay true to the Paris Agreement.

On the other hand, if the diluted language of phase-down is adopted, the global community would seem to prefer business-as-usual — as if we still have time to spare.

The recent negotiating text includes these options on “phase-out” language: (1) “An orderly and just phase out of fossil fuels;” and (2) “Accelerating efforts towards phasing out unabated fossil fuels and to rapidly reducing their use so as to achieve net-zero CO2 in energy systems by or around mid-century.”

Further, certainly, on the part of organizations that push forward in advancing Loss and Damage such as the Manila Observatory, the building blocks of the GST should include a distinct and independent reference to Loss and Damage.

Parties in Dubai should not forget that the world awaits how they assess global climate action thus far, and to which direction they intend to steer our shared future. Thus, we would expect a battle on fossil fuel phase-out in this COP.

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What it means for COP to be for the people

In the last few days of COP, it must be good remind ourselves how to make the Conference be genuinely for the people, and not for the politics and grandstanding of it.

As we have seen in the biggest COP ever, grassroots communities, civil society, and even national and local governments are overflowing with climate action in their respective sectors and areas. Climate activism with all the risks that it entails is at its height. These, we continue.

However, what makes the COP truly for the people is the willingness of the political leaders who actually have seats at the negotiating tables to call spade a spade, and to demand accountability from those who have historically contributed to the climate crisis.

Without pressuring the political and economic elite to be accountable, the Conference cannot truly live its mandate.

Dubai should be remembered not for bringing the most people together at more than 80,000 and not for having the biggest venues. Instead, Dubai should be remembered for an agreed course correction through a collective reflection of parties, ministers, and heads of delegation – that we are so far from what we are trying to achieve as a global community and that climate justice remains evasive for our people and our communities. –

Tony La Viña teaches constitutional law at the University of the Philippines and several Mindanao law schools. He is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Jayvy Gamboa is a policy and legal research associate at the Manila Observatory.

Joy Reyes is a climate justice lawyer affiliated with the Manila Observatory and the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center. She’s currently in Scotland taking up her MSc in Global Environment, Politics, and Society at the University of Edinburgh. 

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