Time for the EU to put its cards on the table for COP28

07. 07. 2023
AUTHOR: Linda Kalcher

With the Informal Environment Council and Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA) happening this week, this blog suggests how the European Union (EU) can step up and build an alliance around clear expectations for a successful 28th United Nations (UN) Climate Change conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

UN climate negotiations often resemble a poker game.

Players spend a lot of time mulling over their cards, just as countries do over their positions. The dealer tries to stay patient, attentive and neutral when interacting with the players, so do incoming presidencies. Players spend a lot of time carefully observing every single move of each other, trying to see who blinks, bluffs or drops the cards first. Is anybody reminded of the recent Bonn intersession? Right. The EU tried to be a good player but struggled to play its cards wisely.

When push comes to shove in the final rounds of the game, every tiny move matters: Who raises the stakes? How is the dealer managing the game? Who drops out early and who ends up in the showdown of the final minutes (the final huddles, in the case of a COP)?

It is always distressful to observe the fascination and complexity of 198 countries trying to reach a consensus. This year though, countries will not gamble on rules or procedures. It is the year of the Global Stocktake which assesses progress across all pillars of the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance.

The stakes are high.

The window of action to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach is closing rapidly. Global temperature records were broken three times last week and wildfires are raging in Canada while droughts affect Africa and Europe is bracing for another heatwave.

Many countries are facing loss and damages related to climate change already and lack the financial resources to cope while others are struggling to invest in sustainable development or adaptation because of their high debts.

This is not the time to keep your cards close to the chest. It is time to change the rules of the game. Next week, EU ministers are discussing their priorities for COP28 and some will attend MoCA with the opportunity to clearly state the EU expectations "with one voice".

Especially on mitigation, the EU has the opportunity to express clear asks for the final outcome:
  1. A commitment to phasing-out fossil fuels with a just and equitable transition that shows a significant departure from business as usual, limits abatement technologies to the minimum and is in line with globally reducing emissions by 43% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
  2. A commitment to triple renewable energy and increase efforts to double energy efficiency by 2030 as expressed in the readout of the EU-UAE meeting. The EU has the opportunity to underpin this goal with a pledge that aligns countries that are willing to achieve this to increase access to energy and reduce air pollution while creating local jobs. Such a pledge should include a financial mechanism that supports countries’ implementation. Commission President von der Leyen could bring home a strong win that would further cement the credentials of the European Green Deal beyond the EU, proving the EU's commitment and rebuilding trust with allies.
  3. A meaningful and tangible plan as an outcome of the Global Stocktake to enhance action across the board with clear milestones and sectoral pathways over the next years. This plan should respond to the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on what it takes to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and keep 1.5°C within reach.

On a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the EU has a credible story to tell. Our analysis shows that the EU would increase its renewable energy share 3.2 times by 2030 and thus lower the average electricity price for households and companies. The EU can work with other countries to enable them benefitting from a just energy transition.

The EU has a range of strong players with the political capital to make this happen. Executive Vice-President Timmermans has been in the game long enough to create an alliance that supports the incoming UAE presidency in making COP28 a success, shaping his legacy as European Green Deal chief.

To do this, it is time for the EU to put its cards on the table.