Much like the planet, the pressure is heating up for COP28 attendees.
More than 130 corporations including Volvo, Ikea, Nestlé, and Danone, have signed a letter urging the heads of state attending this year’s COP28, taking place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, to eschew fossil fuels.
While the groups “celebrate the exponential growth of solutions that have made clean energy cheaper and more accessible than ever before,” the letter says global emissions continue to rise because “we haven’t addressed the primary cause of climate change: the burning of fossil fuels.”
The letter, signed by 131 companies representing nearly $1 trillion in annual revenues, urges the world leaders and policymakers to work during COP28 to achieve a plan for 100 percent decarbonized power systems by 2035 in more developed economies and by 2040 in developing economies.
“Our businesses are feeling the impacts and cost of increasing extreme weather events resulting from climate change. We recognize the need to transition in a way that safeguards our future collective prosperity on a liveable planet. That means reducing our emissions, adopting clean solutions and reducing our use of fossil fuels to limit global heating in line with the Paris Agreement’s ultimate goal of 1.5°C,” the letter reads.
The letter comes as the leading climate event faces some of its fiercest criticism in years. Sultan Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates, the president of this year’s event, also heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). Al Jaber’s appointment marks the first time any CEO, let alone one from the fossil fuel industry, has been named the COP president.
Former Vice President Al Gore took issue with Al Jaber’s appointment in a recent interview, saying “the deck is stacked against a successful outcome” as a result of the COP president’s conflict of interest.
“It reveals the reality that we’ve been wrestling with for quite some time,” Gore told Financial Times. “And we need to see the politicians stop playing buddy-buddy with the heads of the fossil fuel companies who are continuing to drive this crisis in the wrong direction.”
The UAE sees things differently. Ahead of this year’s event, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed declared 2023 to be the Year of Sustainability.
“The need to act now is more pressing than ever,” Eisa Al Subousi, project lead at the Year of Sustainability, said in a statement.
“COP28 is an excellent opportunity for the world to gather and discuss the global environmental challenges and come up with impactful solutions, and for all those who call the UAE home, to learn first-hand about how their collective actions – big and small – can contribute to a better tomorrow for our planet.”
There are signs of notable shifts. The event, which has long been targeted over its food offerings in previous years for featuring meat and dairy heavy menus, is making a big shift next month. COP28 is expected to largely reduce animal products — animal agriculture is a leading producer of heat-trapping emissions — from its menus by as much as 66 percent. The decision was the result of a campaign led by the youth group YOUNGO (the Youth and Children constituency of the UNFCCC) and ProVeg International.
“The Catering Letter Steering Committee has worked very hard with the COP28 Presidency to ensure that the food is predominantly plant-based at this all-important summit. By committing to plant-rich, affordable catering, the COP28 Presidency is showing leadership and acknowledging the impact of diets high in animal-sourced foods,” said Lana Weidgenant, ProVeg campaigns and policy officer.
According to COP28, the event’s final menu, which will serve more than 250,000 meals to more than 60,000 attendees, is “1.5°C aligned.” Meaning it reflects the Paris Agreement targets of limiting global heating to no more than 1.5°C over pre-industrial temperatures.
Food will also take a central role with the appearance of the first Food, Agriculture, and Water events covering a range of topics including the first-ever ministerial dialogue on water-resilient food systems, as well as discussions on regenerative agriculture and school lunches, among others.
But Dr. Marc Nebojsa Vukadinovic, Programme Director, and Isabelle Négrier, Executive director, EuropaNova, say that since COP21 in 2015, where the “Paris Agreement” was born, little has happened at subsequent events.
“Successive COPs have made little meaningful progress, and most of the progress in the fight against global warming is now being organised elsewhere, in other institutions, at other events, in bilateral relations between states, or simply under pressure from public opinion,” they wrote in EuroNews.
“The model — bringing together all the world’s nations, which is inherently laborious and complex — may have been effective in 2015, but it is now showing its limits: no global agreement has been signed since.
“Worse still, the COP model now appears to be counterproductive, gradually becoming the symbol of a grand diplomatic rave against a backdrop of greenwashing. COP28, to be held in Dubai in November and December, is the most caricatured example of this,” the wrote.
“To decarbonize the global energy system, we need to ramp up clean energy as fast as we phase out the use and production of fossil fuels,” reads the letter from We Mean Business. “This means turbocharging the renewables revolution, electrifying key sectors and massively improving efficiency — thereby creating the conditions for a rapid, well-managed and just transition away from fossil fuels.”
The group says a transition to net zero could boost global GDP by four percent by 2030. But while the recent letter from multinational corporations brings the heat, major polluters aren’t as enthusiastic. According to Reuters, government officials for India — the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions — said the country is “unlikely” to sign onto an an emissions-reducing pledge at this year’s COP event.
But according to Ahmad Baharoon, executive director for environmental information and science and outreach management at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, participating at COP28 is critical, even if global leaders lapse on making major concessions.
“If you are not part of the discussions at COP28 there is absolutely a chance that you will be left behind,” he told The National.
“You cannot be singing along outside of the herd, you need to be part of the group,” he said. “If you are not part of COP28 then you are not part of the outcome, you are not part of the decision.”
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