The devastating floods, heatwaves and droughts the world experienced this year are but a taste of what will happen more regularly without immediate action to reduce emissions and cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
But a recent report from the UN Environment Programme found that the current pledges made by countries under the 2015 Paris Agreement would lead to an increase of 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, nations attending COP28, the UN climate summit beginning Thursday in Dubai, must accelerate the growth of renewable energies, phase out fossil fuels and do more to protect forests and nature.
Despite meeting regularly since 1995, the so-called Conference of the Parties meetings have still not managed to turn the tide on greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to rise. The main reason for this trend is that while massive progress has been made on bringing on line renewable energies like wind and solar and scaling up other cleaner technologies like batteries and electric vehicles, the world continues to pump out emissions from oil, coal and gas.
COP28 is where this state of affairs can change. The summit’s presidency wants to triple renewable energy and double efficiency by 2030. But to stop the world from warming more than 1.5 Celsius, the EU and 80 other countries, including those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, also want leaders to agree a fossil fuel phase out.
By a fossil fuel phase out, they don’t mean switching off oil, coal and gas tomorrow, but that leaders agree to phase out their use, aligning with what science shows is necessary for the future of humanity. Such a decision would ultimately also be good for people—it would reduce air pollution and bring down energy bills since renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels. It would also be good for business, and major companies everywhere—including some that work with or support the coalition I lead— are calling for governments to back a phase-out of fossil fuels.
Phasing out fossil fuels doesn’t only mean replacing coal- and gas-fired power stations with wind and solar farms or petrol and diesel cars with electric vehicles; it also means decarbonizing industry. Some sectors like steel or aluminum are well on the way to knowing how they will use new technologies to reduce their emissions, while others, like aviation, will need more time.
The Global Stocktake that will take place at COP28 will examine what is happening on the ground to reduce emissions—what the world is doing well and not so well—giving countries the information they need to draw up pragmatic roadmaps that will get them on track by 2035 with the commitments set out in the Paris Agreement.The stakes are high for the oil and gas industries. The International Energy Agency and business are telling them demand will decline this decade, yet governments nonetheless plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with long-term temperature goals. Leaders in Dubai can make decisions to prevent this planned extraction and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Governments would be exposing their people and companies to high levels of risk by locking them into new oil and gas infrastructure that will become obsolete as clean alternatives become the norm.
Likewise, deforestation rates remain stubbornly high and too much land, especially in tropical regions like Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is being turned from forest to farmland. Healthy forests, nature and soils are good for nature and local communities, and good for the climate as they suck up and lock in carbon, becoming carbon sinks. However, when damaged, they release carbon and contribute to climate change. Reversing this trend and creating sustainable food systems is another area where countries will have to be more ambitious in their climate plans.
UNEP’s emissions gap report was entitled “broken record” in reference to the fact leaders are good at agreeing to ambitious climate targets and then failing to implement the policies to enable businesses and people to achieve them. People from all walks of life—including business leaders, doctors, nurses, human rights organizations, young people and indigenous populations—are calling for policymakers at COP28 to not just talk, but to act and move the world forward by accelerating the energy transition.