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Six months to Cop28: will the most vital summit yet make meaningful progress?

15 minutes 55 seconds

Speaker 1

00:00:00 - 00:00:01

This is The Guardian.

Speaker 2

00:00:07 - 00:00:24

The world is on track for 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. And with it, scientists warn, will be phenomenal human suffering. By

Speaker 1

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2030, 2

Speaker 2

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billion people would be exposed to average annual temperatures above 29 degrees Celsius. So making this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, a success, is more vital than ever before. But

Speaker 1

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it won't

Speaker 2

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be easy, not least because it's being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a big fossil fuel producing country, and it's being presided over by the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. So with 6 months to go, what should we expect from COP28? Will it push us towards our climate goals? Or will we see yet another year of very dangerous delays? From The Guardian, I'm Madeline Finlay and this is Science Weekly.

Speaker 2

00:01:26 - 00:02:15

Fiona Harvey, you're an Environment Editor at The Guardian and as always, you've been following what's been happening with COP very closely, including going to the UAE and doing an exclusive interview with COP 28 President Sultan al-Jubeir and we'll be hearing some clips from that a little bit later. But a few weeks ago you wrote about a warning from scientists that really threw into stark relief how vital progress is right now, that due to the El Nino weather system we are likely to breach the crucial 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels in the next 5 years, if only temporarily. We've known that that might be on the horizon, but why is this finding such a big milestone?

Speaker 1

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The 1.5 degree threshold we know is pretty crucial. Beyond that threshold, we see things happening that become quickly irreversible or irreversible in our lifetimes. For instance, we would be likely to see a very widespread coral bleaching. We'd be likely to see a lot of low-lying areas inundated beyond 1.5 degrees, melting of the Arctic, some melting of the Antarctic, that could rapidly become irreversible. Some people will say, oh, you know, it's just a completely arbitrary number.

Speaker 1

00:02:57 - 00:03:14

No, not really. We know that Beyond that, if you go to 1.7, 1.8, 1.9 and 2 degrees, you will see much, much worse impacts. Every fraction of a degree counts. The more warming, the more likely you are to trigger more of these tipping points.

Speaker 2

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We're 6 months on from COP 27. How do you see that countries are getting on with their goals that they set last time and the pledges that they've made?

Speaker 1

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Well, COP 27 ended a bit of a mess. We got some great news on loss and damage, which is about getting finance to poor, vulnerable countries that have been afflicted by extreme weather. But when it came to resolving to do more to keep us within 1.5 degrees, COP 27 really fell down. So we've got another chance at that, at COP28, which will start at the end of November in Dubai. The signs are not good.

Speaker 1

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The US has targets, but it's also exploring more for oil and gas. You know, the UK, similarly, is about to give the green light to a massive oil and gas field in the North Sea. China is continuing to build coal-fired power plants. India, still very much wedded to coal, 1 of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, and there is so much inertia. We need countries to say, OK, we could make lots of money from fossil fuels, But what would that do?

Speaker 1

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How would that help us? Because there's no economy on a dead planet. It's now or never.

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Back at COP21, nations from around the world adopted the Paris Agreement, a legally binding Treaty on Climate Change, which requires countries to hold global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming and pursue efforts for 1.5. And this takes us on to COP28 because This year is a particularly critical year because it's a global stock take. So, what does that mean?

Speaker 1

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The global stock take is something that's never happened before because it was put into the Paris Agreement in 2015. It's a way of trying to make sure that countries are actually fulfilling the pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions that they made at Paris. Most of those pledges made in 2015 were to cut emissions by 2030. So the global stock tick this year is roughly halfway in between those 2. It should show what every country is doing towards its Paris goals.

Speaker 1

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So it should be a moment of truth where we see who's shipping up and who's not.

Speaker 2

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And getting countries to do that, a lot of that is dependent on the hosts and the presidency. And As you said, this year it's going to be in Dubai and it's hosted by the United Arab Emirates. Now, the United Arab Emirates are 1 of the world's largest oil producers. A lot of their wealth as a country depends on fossil fuels. But of course you need those countries at the table when you're talking about fossil fuels.

Speaker 2

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But what do you make of them as hosts and how do you think that will potentially play out?

Speaker 1

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It's a difficult sell for an oil producing country to host a COP because obviously United Arab Emirates has a vested interest in fossil fuels. They are a very rich country in terms of GDP per capita, and they have plans to increase their capacity to produce fossil fuels. ADNOC, the national oil company for UAE, is on track to increase its capacity quite substantially. Now, the president of COP28 is also the chief of ADNOC, so in 1 person you have these very disparate goals. I have visited UAE and I've spoken to Sultan Al-Jaber, the COP president, and he doesn't see a conflict of interest.

Speaker 1

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In his view, to have someone who is from business in charge of a corp is actually a huge benefit.

Speaker 3

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Some see the climate challenge as a challenge, pure challenge. And some see it as an immense challenge. I see the mirror image of that as an immense economic opportunity. I see it as a phenomenal social development opportunity.

Speaker 1

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He is used to telling people to do stuff and they do it. You know, he makes plans, business plans, gives orders. He's not only the chief of AdNoc, He also co-founded Mazdar, which is a massive renewable energy company based in UAE. And so, you know, he says that he's got experience from both sides. He's absolutely committed to renewable energy as chief executive of Mazdar.

Speaker 1

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So he's very confident that this experience, this background will stand him in good stead and bring a really fresh impetus to the COP. So you can see it's a real controversy here. But COPs are the only place where developing countries, the poorest and the most vulnerable countries in the world, who are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis right now hold the emitters to account. And that's where the moral authority lies and that's who Sultan Al-Jubeir will have to look in the eye.

Speaker 3

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I decided I want to go and engage with everybody. If I am here promoting inclusivity for the 28th, I want everyone to be heard and I want everyone to have face time with me. So I travelled the world. I am here to listen, I'm here to engage. Help me better understand the situation In order for me to come back, you would have a better answer.

Speaker 2

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So Sultan Al-Jubeir has quite a big job ahead of him, particularly as people will be going into this sceptically. What do you think his priorities are?

Speaker 1

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He's determined to make this a good COP. You know, UAE is a young country and it wants to make a mark on the global stage. It doesn't want to be seen as the country that shoves us all into a climate-related disaster. And UAE's own ruler has actually said that they would celebrate the last barrel of oil that's produced by the country.

Speaker 3

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The ambition is 1.5. That's my focus. My focus is to phase out emissions from everything, regardless of where it comes from. That's my focus.

Speaker 1

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The real question is whether UAE will come up with a clear plan. I've asked if there was a timetable for that. There isn't, is the short answer. And what people kept telling me in UAE was that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that we will still need some oil and gas for some decades into the future, even as we get towards 2050 and net 0. But the problem with that is that we will need less and less and less of it.

Speaker 1

00:10:59 - 00:11:36

So why are oil producers talking about being able to produce more and more and more? UAE also argues that its oil and gas is lower carbon than that coming from some other countries. And that is true, because they have invested a lot in things like plugging the methane leaks, being much more efficient in their production. And yeah, there is an argument that their lower carbon fossil fuels should be preferred over other people's higher carbon fossil fuels. But the fact is that they are still fossil fuels.

Speaker 2

00:11:41 - 00:12:19

But Fiona, I think some people have got the impression that the UAE is almost trying to do 2 different dances. A few weeks ago, Cristina Figueres, the UN's ex-climate chief, who was key in getting the Paris Agreement, called the UAE's approach to COP28 dangerous and a direct threat to the survival of vulnerable nations because of its focus on carbon capture technology and on renewables. We need both those things. So why is this potentially problematic and have you perceived that focus as well? ML

Speaker 1

00:12:19 - 00:13:15

– Yeah, when I was in UAE, I went to a conference on energy technology that Sultan Al-Jubeir was speaking at. There was quite an emphasis on carbon capture and storage. Now, carbon capture and storage is arguably a necessary technology, but we should be clear though that we cannot carbon capture and storage our way to 1.5 degrees and to net 0. What most sensible commentators are saying about carbon capture and storage is that it would be good to find a way to use it for some of the technologies that we have that are very, very hard to decarbonise. So for instance, if you look at something like cement, cement production actually produces carbon dioxide from the chemical processes that go towards making cement.

Speaker 1

00:13:15 - 00:13:34

It's quite hard to get away from those chemical processes. So 1 possible solution to that is to get that carbon dioxide and store it. But you've got to decarbonise all of the areas that you can. And we know that we can decarbonise most of society.

Speaker 2

00:13:35 - 00:13:44

So, Fiona, you have followed many cops so you know how these things go. How do you think this 1 is shaping up so far?

Speaker 1

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This will be the 17th COP on which I've reported on the ground and this is a really, really difficult COP. I mean there are no easy COPs anymore, if there ever were, because we're getting so close to 1.5 degrees and to points of no return on the climate. So there really is everything to fight for here.

Speaker 3

00:14:08 - 00:14:31

It requires a lot of work, a lot of support. And that's why what I'm saying, let's Focus on the ultimate goal, on the objective. Let's unite, let's do this in solidarity, let's stop the fight, let's stop the finger-pointing. The challenge at hand is much greater than us wasting time and spinning the wheel.

Speaker 1

00:14:32 - 00:14:52

There are lots of people and lots of countries who come to COPS in good faith. They want progress. They want to stay within 1.5. They recognise how vital it is for their people and they can see a way out of this. That's what's so confounding in this situation is that we have the answers.

Speaker 1

00:14:52 - 00:15:08

The answers are within our grasp. They are renewable energy, energy efficiency, new technologies, new ways of doing things. We have almost everything that we need to stay within 1.5 degrees. We're just not using it. We need to use it.

Speaker 1

00:15:08 - 00:15:09

That's the answer.

Speaker 2

00:15:09 - 00:15:19

Well, Fiona, it will be certainly interesting to see what the next 6 months holds as we head towards November. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1

00:15:19 - 00:15:20

Thank you.

Speaker 2

00:15:21 - 00:15:40

Thanks again to Fiona Harvey. You can follow all of her reporting at theguardian.com. And that's all from us. The producer was me, Madeline Finlay, the sound design was by Joel Cox and the executive producer is Ellie Burey. We'll be back on Thursday.

Speaker 2

00:15:41 - 00:15:42

See you then.

Speaker 1

00:15:47 - 00:15:42

This is The Guardian.