The Challenge for Dubai COP28 and the Dolomite Manifesto

The 23rd United Nations Conference on Climate Change will be held in Dubai from 30 November.

Column by Francesco Grillo for the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore

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Among the many evidence of climate change, perhaps the most worrying and unequivocal number comes from the NASA satellites measuring the area covered by Antarctica. In July of this year, the frozen continent shrank by 15 per cent compared to the previous summer: 1 million square kilometres which is equivalent to three times Italy. The complete melting of the southern ice cap would free a quantity of water which is about two third of the fresh one we have on the planet and it is relatively straightforward to calculate that this would make the sea level to rise by 60 metres.

Humanity is moving fast towards its own iceberg. And, paradoxically, it is the CEO of the oil company that manages the Abu Dhabi oil fields (ADNOC) who will attempt to reverse the course - in a little over a month, at the UN climate summit (COP28). Yet Sultan Al Jaber who is also CEO of Masdar, a company leading in solar and wind energy, seems to be proposing an approach that might be more effective than the one that has so far produced many words and few results.

The Dubai summit in December is important because it will take stock (the so called 'global stock take') of the advancement of the Paris agreement that 195 countries ratified in 2016. An account of actual achievements presented at the Dolomites Global Climate Change Conference, which previewed the contents of COP some weeks ago in Trento.

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Seven years ago, there was a commitment to reduce emissions by 43% within 2030 but after seven years, emissions have grown by a further 10%. Therefore Dubai proposes three further targets to be achieved in the remaining seven years to recover the gap: triple the production of renewable energy (including nuclear energy); halve the energy consumed for each USD of GDP through energy savings; double the production of hydrogen (which can be a vector for clean sources).

The overall objective is still daunting: the target of the COP is to reduce by 2030 the emissions at the same level we had in 1984: at that time the world GDP was ten times less than today.

Much will be said about compensation (the 'Loss and damage' fund and the one for adaptation to extreme events) that rich countries should pay to those that are most vulnerable. And how to distribute the effort between the West and more recently industrialised countries (China, India). However, the very figures at stake for these facilities - 200 billion dollars, where the energy transition requires 3,500 per year - confirm that we are continuing to be lost in zero sum games.

Under the magnifying glass came the statement of Sultan Al Jaber who - as the head of one of the largest energy company of the world - acknowledged that it is from the extraction of oil, gas and coal itself that we must progressively phase out. And that therefore it is not enough to promise to “capture” emissions along the value chain of fossil fuels.

However, rather than one lexical compromise, one should start from the realisation that it is absolutely necessary to find a new method.

The emirs' idea is to make transparent the involvement of the fossil economy giants in negotiations that they have, always, conditioned. They have the resources (much increased during the war in Ukraine), the technologies and the need to adapt to change that could overwhelm them.

It is not certain that concrete results will be achieved in Dubai. But so far, a lot of words have produced totally insufficient commitments. Much more pragmatism is needed. And enough vision so as not to continue to leave the match of the crisis in the hands of those who will have to face its consequences.

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