It's time for COP28
Positive climate trends, melting ice, and how to learn more about climate solutions
COP 28, the annual climate meeting that brings all the countries in the world together to push for more ambitious action, kicked off in Dubai this past Thursday. This year especially, many of us are concerned that COP being hosted by a country that continues to advance the fossil fuel economy. But I know that there is still plenty of good, meaningful work that will happen. Most will not be there to block action, but to build partnerships and share solutions.
Discussions of the “loss and damage” fund have already made progress. The number one item at the top of the agenda is building international agreement to phase out fossil fuels, and there’s been progress there too. On Saturday, Colombia became the latest country to sign the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (along with many other organizations and over 3,000 scientists like me), and Samoa joined shortly thereafter.
Moving forward, though, these COP summits will not be as central to international climate progress as they once were. The details of the last remaining Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – the official reason to have these conferences every year – are being fine-tuned this year. Newer and more regionally focused gatherings like the Africa Climate Summit, the Latin America Climate Summit, and Climate Week NYC are becoming more important forums to host the democratic and open discussions between experts and innovators and the cities, companies, countries, and all the other organizations we need to solve this problem.
For the good news this week, I wanted to take stock of some positive changes that have happened since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 at COP21.
Ten years ago, the world was on a pathway to warm by up to 5C (that’s 9F) by the end of the century, according to the analysis I led for the last U.S. National Climate Assessment. Today, thanks to policies enacted since the Paris Agreement was signed, this magnitude of warming is “totally out of the picture. It will not happen," said NewClimate Institute scientist Niklas Hohne.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, current policies will limit warming to 2.7C (5F) and this number could fall even further with more aggressive climate action. It’s still not enough to avert dangerous levels of change: but as the science says, “every bit of warming matters.” The very real and quantifiable benefits of what we’ve achieved so far encourage us to keep going, and there’s plenty of positive momentum out there.
Last month, Carbon Brief crunched the latest figures put out by the International Energy Agency and found that global carbon emissions from energy use and industry could peak as soon as this year and definitely by 2025. Solar power has grown exponentially in recent years, and could triple again by the end of the decade, with the IEA calling this an ”ambitious yet achievable goal.” And sales of electric vehicles are growing. In Europe this year, more electric vehicles were registered than diesel-powered vehicles for the very first time.
Wherever we look (yes, even in Texas) change is already happening. It just needs to happen faster; and we don't need to be at COP to lend a hand. Climate action all begins with a conversation right now, right where you are, about why climate change matters and about what you and those around you could do to make a difference – and that’s what this newsletter is all about!
Here’s the flip side of the good news above: for many people and places around the world, dangerous impacts are already happening at our current warming level of 1.2C.
A 2C warming would be too high for much of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets, according to International Cryosphere Climate Initiative’s 2023 “state of the cryosphere” report published last month. It would lead to “extensive, potentially rapid, irreversible sea-level rise from Earth’s ice sheets” and “essentially irreversible ice loss from many of the world’s glaciers in many major river basins, with some disappearing entirely,” the report says.
The science is crystal clear: there can be no new fossil fuel development if we want to meet our Paris Agreement target. Not only that, but the world needs to transition as quickly as possible to clean energy, phasing out fossil fuels as completely as possible.
So even though 50 oil and gas companies signed a “net zero by 2050” pledge at COP28, that’s not in the good news category. Why not? Because it doesn’t include emissions from actually burning the fossil fuels they produce: just the emissions generated during their production (which is only around 10% of the emissions associated with the industry).
As Oil Change International said, "You wouldn’t expect 50 tobacco companies to solve lung cancer by producing cigarettes more efficiently. 50 fossil fuel companies promising to produce oil and gas more efficiently won’t help solve the climate crisis."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
When it comes to climate solutions, there’s no silver bullet that will fix the whole problem: but there is a lot of silver buckshot, so to speak – small pieces of solutions – that together, add up to all we need to tackle this problem.
This week, with all the coverage of climate change that’s happening on the media and on the social media channels of everyone who’s attending this year, I think it’s the perfect time to learn about a new sector of climate action.
Dig into news about agriculture and food systems here and here. Wonder about how faith voices are advocating for action at COP? Look here and here and here. Want to know more about the loss and damage fund for low-income, climate vulnerable countries? Look here. Curious about climate finance? Look here, here and here.
The more you know, the more you’ll be able to encourage the kind of “everywhere, all at once” solutions I write about here.
Tues., Dec. 6th at 9am ET - "Fighting Climate Change with Dialogue" with ReThink Energy discussion series on energy by the IIEA and ESB - virtual