Climate Justice and Inequality: Abu-Dabi conference of parties must reflect on climate and development

COP President Sultan Al Jaber recently stated that while he accepts the need to ramp up renewables, fossil fuels still have a vital role to play. File: AFP

COP President Sultan Al Jaber recently stated that while he accepts the need to ramp up renewables, fossil fuels still have a vital role to play. File: AFP

Published Nov 22, 2023


By Yuri Ramkissoon

In a week’s time more than 90 countries will descend on Dubai for the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to address urgent global climate concerns, against a backdrop of record temperatures and climate-related disasters, the meeting is a critical turning point for catalysing action for the sustainability of humanity and its habitat.

COP28 will assess the world’s progress on reaching its climate goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement, to keep temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. COP28 will also debate the first global stocktake (GST), which is a comprehensive assessment of collective progress towards achieving the Paris goals. Spoiler alert – the synthesis report shows that collectively, the world is woefully off track to meet its commitments, and urgent course correction is needed.

A mixed pot of climate in-action and inadequacy

The GST report found that the unprecedented scale and pace inherent to the global transition to a low greenhouse gas emissions and a climate-resilient future urgently requires the consideration of integrated and holistic solutions.

However, gross inequalities in climate targets and support to developing countries, persist. This extends to emissions targets, the impact of climate change – leading to loss and damage, and the availability of finance for climate change responses, between developed and developing countries. Africa is responsible for an insignificant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions but suffers a disproportionate impact from climate change.

Africa is warming more and at a faster rate than the rest of the world, with temperature increases above the global average. In 2022 alone, climate change resulted in direct impacts on 110 million people, more than $8.5 billion in economic losses and fatalities due to drought and flooding.

Following its annual summit in Japan in May, the G7 called on all parties – especially major economies – to commit to net zero by 2050 at the latest. The G7’s own climate commitments are, however, not aligned with a 1.5°C pathway, and it has been accused of failing to meet its own commitments and failing to deliver on the promised finance for developing countries. At the G20 summit in India in July, countries failed to agree on concrete emission-reduction targets, stating only that current measures to address climate change were insufficient.

We need ambitious targets and rapid action from the rich

Again, developed countries pushed for mitigation measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C, while developing countries argued that this would limit their growth and development.

Developing countries have accused developed countries of climate apartheid as the same net zero date for rich and poor countries goes against the principle that the big, wealthy historic polluters should reduce emissions first and fastest – which is widely accepted in climate discourse.

Additionally, there is a lack of consensus on whether fossil fuels should be phased-out or phased-down. While some factions at COP28, particularly the G7 and the EU will be pushing for a phase-out of fossil fuels, the COP President Sultan Al Jaber recently stated that while he accepts the need to ramp up renewables, fossil fuels still have a vital role to play – a view that will be shared by many developing countries that are struggling to meet their developmental and climate commitments concurrently.

According to the Stockholm Environmental Institute and Oxfam, despite the significant increase in per capita incomes and associated consumption emissions in what can be called the 'global middle class’ in the last 20–30 years – as millions of people have escaped poverty in countries such as China and India – the consumption emissions associated with the world's richest households have continued to grow.

In other words, the rapidly accelerating growth in total emissions – and the associated increase in risks, damage and loss – has not occurred to the benefit of the poorer half of the world’s population. In fact, nearly half the growth has allowed the already wealthy top 10% to expand their consumption and enlarge their carbon footprints.

A loss and damage fund is now urgent

At COP27, countries resolved to set up a loss and damage fund to address the impact of climate disasters, following decades of pressure from developing and climate-vulnerable countries.

The fund aims to provide financial assistance to the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. Technicalities of this or what form the financing would take, were not finalised last year with hopes that resolutions on this fund will be finalised or at least substantively debated at COP28 with details such as who will benefit, where funding will come from, and what it will cover.

Moving forward, during and following COP28, developed countries must make good on their promises of funding support to developing countries for achieving climate goals, in line with our development priories as well as growth ambitions and targets.

Yuri Ramkissoon is a climate and research analyst at the Presidential Climate Commission.