Now or never. This is the key message of the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report, released on March 20. The document represents a summary of seven years of climate science and concludes that even with the most ambitious GHG emission reductions, global warming is expected to surpass the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement as early as 2030.
We are currently 1.1 °C above pre-industrial levels, on track for global warming of +3.2°C. The impacts of intensified extreme weather phenomena as catastrophic floods in Pakistan and widespread droughts in Mediterranean countries are already evident and could contract global GDP by 18 percent over the next 30 years according to preliminary estimates.
The only way to meet the Paris Agreement target of containing global warming within the 1.5 °C is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 43 percent by 2030 (on 2019).
Both the UAE COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber and UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell have called for the urgency to “course correct” our current path. A course correction needs to focus on three pillars: speeding up decarbonisation, stepping up resilience, and re-designing the financial system.
These pillars set the priorities for this year COP28, where the issues high on the agenda are a review of the Paris Agreement, an agreement on a global target for climate adaptation, and the introduction of a finance facility for loss and damage caused by climate change impacts.
The success of COP28 is however jeopardized by today’s “poly-crisis” context, where multiple crises - from a geopolitical to an economic and energy one - add up to the climate crisis itself, make it more difficult to carry out successful climate negotiations and cooperation. In light of this, the global climate targets established at COP26 in Glasgow have to face a harsher reality in 2023.
In such harsher reality, it seems increasingly difficult for States to couple green targets and domestic economic and security interests. Indicative are developments in the US, where in August 2022 the Inflation Reduction Act was passed, representing the largest green investment in the history of the country, but a drilling project in the Arctic that is expected to produce oil for the next 30 years has also been launched. In 2021, China introduced its national emissions trading scheme, but last year approved the largest expansion of coal-fired power plants since 2015. Even in the EU, the achievement of the Fit for 55 targets clashes with the desire to protect national industries (see the German veto on the ban on thermal engines).
However, there are some good news. Compared to the previous report, the IPCC points out that the climate laws passed around the world have multiplied: from 195 in 2016 to 1149 in 2022. They still represent more of a formal endeavor than a practical exercise and their implementations need to be accelerated, but definitely lay the basis for taking green target seriously and accelerated needed investments and actions. According to the IPCC, it is still possible to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. First, by increasing the share of solar and wind in the energy mix, as their unit costs have decreased by 85 percent and 55 percent respectively in the last decade, making them more competitive than fossil fuels. Second, through the complete phase-out of coal and the end of oil and gas licences. Other solutions would require to triple the amount of global climate finance. This latter must reach an annual average of 2600 billion dollars (3 percent of world GDP) by 2025. Funds need to be increasingly directed to developing economies, which represent only 10 percent of green bonds issued and have less responsibility for the climate crisis but are more exposed to its impacts.
There are clear reasons not to be too optimistic about the upcoming COP conference, first and foremost today’s unstable multilateral context that does not support cooperation. However, there are also some reasons for optimism, such as the potential acceleration in RES investments and the increasingly higher acknowledgment of the environmental, social and political costs of using fossil fuels.
Already COP27 intensified the realization that geopolitics and climate change fight are bound together. If we can face these realities head-on and work with, rather than against them, 2023 can be a critical turning point for energy system transformation and climate ambition on the road to COP28 in UAE in November.