Navigating COP28: how can the EU contribute to success?

30. 11. 2023
AUTHOR: Linda Kalcher

Over 190 countries and close to 70,000 participants are gearing up for the 28th United Nations (UN) Climate Change conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. COP28 is described by many as "the most important summit since the Paris Agreement was adopted." Expectations are high for a successful outcome that sets out tangible actions to keep the 1.5ºC temperature goal within reach. The UAE, host of the summit, recently raised questions on its good intentions to accelerate the decarbonisation of the global economies.

With the urgency of the climate crisis becoming increasingly apparent, the European Union (EU) is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the global response and outcome in Dubai. Four key pillars can form the foundation of the EU's approach to COP28:

1. Bridge-builder for success at COP

As part of an alliance with "champion countries", the EU has contributed to the greatest diplomatic successes at climate summits and built bridges between countries in the Global North and Global South. The EU can regain the trust of its partners by:

  • Uniting with traditional partners

Building on existing alliances, such as the High Ambition Coalition, is key to the EU's success at COP28. It will be pivotal to strengthen alignment with small island developing nations and African, Latin American and Southeast Asian countries on the most ambitious outcomes. Through diplomatic efforts, the EU aims to create a cohesive front that can drive ambitious and impactful decisions at the conference.

  • Showing that it is a reliable partner on finance

The EU recognises the critical role of finance in achieving global climate goals. This involves not only meeting existing financial commitments but also exploring innovative financing mechanisms to support developing countries in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Historically, the EU is the largest contributor to climate finance and honoured this role with a 28.5 billion contribution in 2022.

  • Pledging early to the new Loss and Damage Fund

Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable nations, the EU and its Member States are expected to take a proactive stance by making early pledges on Loss and Damage. This will help set a positive tone for COP28.

2. Setting high standards for fossil fuel phase-out

Strong wording on the phase-out of fossil fuels is a key priority for the EU and its Member States, as agreed in the negotiation mandate for COP28. Two elements are vital to ensure a strong outcome:

  • Ambitious final decision texts

The decision texts are the binding conclusions of climate summits, hence the EU can push for clear, explicit and ambitious wording, emphasising the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels. The EU could aim to set high standards for the fossil fuel phase-out while also underscoring the collective responsibility of nations to align with the latest scientific recommendations.

  • Caveats and limitations to the use of abatement technologies:

While setting high standards, the EU embraces the need for flexibility for every country to choose their own decarbonisation path. Even with diverse national circumstances, the EU can align countries around limitations of the use of abatement technologies as they are only cost-effective in a few sectors and should not be used to delay action. This nuanced approach ensures that the transition is both ambitious and realistic.

3. Championing Renewables and Efficiency Pledge

The global pledge to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030 is gaining momentum in the run-up to COP with over 60 countries signing up already. Though this  is already a diplomatic success for the EU, there is an opportunity to build on it by:

  • Creating a financial facility that supports locally-led renewables initiatives

Following the example of the initiative launched by Kenyan President Ruto, the EU could announce the establishment of a financial facility to support similar projects in developing countries. This would empower communities and ensure that the benefits of the renewable transition are distributed equitably.

  • Creating and hosting a secretariat

To support developing countries that signed the pledge, a secretariat with a balanced group of representatives could be created and hosted by the EU and IRENA to support convenings, capacity-building and financial support for implementation. This will emphasise inclusivity by actively involving diverse stakeholders, including business and financial actors in rapidly scaling up the renewables deployment on the ground.

  • Setting a date for first ministerial meeting

The countries signing up to the pledge aim to take a proactive stance on renewables, so it would be useful to set out concrete next steps by setting a date for the first ministerial meeting. This establishes a clear timeline for action, signalling to the global community that these countries are committing to driving tangible outcomes in the transition to clean energy.

4. Proactively addressing concerns by developing countries

Concerns have been raised over the EU backtracking on its climate commitments due to Russia's war on Ukraine. In addition, many countries were upset at what were perceived as "unilateral trade measures" when the EU established the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). It is worthwhile for the EU and its Member States to address these proactively in Dubai:

  • There is no lasting backlash

The European Green Deal is still the centrepiece of European climate policy and creates a wide range of socio-economic benefits. While a temporary increase in coal use and a diversification of gas supplies was needed, the sense of direction is clear: further decarbonising the EU’s economy.

  • The EU started the debate on its 2035 and 2040 targets

If the EU acknowledges the emerging debate surrounding the 2035 and 2040 climate targets, the EU can signal its readiness to plan beyond 2030. This can bring opportunities for energy security, industrial competitiveness and reindustrialising for regions facing multiple transitions.

  • 'Clubs' are open venues for discussion, not exclusive gatherings

In a bid to foster collaboration, the EU proposes the formation of clubs focused on climate (German Climate Club) and raw materials (to be announced at COP28). These clubs provide platforms for dialogue and cooperation, allowing nations to collectively address shared challenges and find innovative solutions such as common industrial standards.

By integrating these priorities, the EU aims not only to advance its own climate agenda but to foster a collaborative and inclusive global response to the climate crisis. The success of COP28 hinges on such strategic foresight, collective action and a strong alliance of countries who want the same outcome.