As the world reels from the impact of the hottest year on record in 2023, the attention of the global community turns to COP28 for solutions to the climate challenge. While the previous decades of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations have failed to deliver effective and equitable climate action, this year’s COP in the UAE is a unique opportunity to move from empty promises to real action.
Real action on climate requires pragmatism. It would centre the specific needs of energy-poor countries in the Global South. It would recognise that the energy transition for much of the world is just that: a transition, in which legacy fuels are both rendered more efficient and used to finance the scale-up of renewables. Sermonising western COP presidencies have rarely understood the basic needs of the developing world.
While COP28 might have attracted concern for naming a president-designate who also runs a large fossil fuel company, the fact is that this is cause for optimism. Dr Sultan Al Jaber does indeed run Abu Dhabi’s national oil company — but he also founded the renewable energy giant Masdar, which pioneered efforts to spread green capital across multiple countries and geographies. A pragmatic climate solution for the Global South would similarly prioritise the spread of enterprise, of solutions, and of technology.
Dr Al Jaber and COP28 have a hard task ahead of them. Estimates indicate that nearly all developed nations, with only two exceptions, are significantly off-course in meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This stark deviation stands as the primary obstacle preventing the realisation of the Paris Climate Goals. Those most culpable for the climate crisis persist in evading their responsibilities. Responsibility for climate finance is even more important. Developing economies will require around $2 trillion annually to meet emission targets and cope with the impact of climate change. In stark contrast, the world has fixated on bickering over a meagre $100 billion annual target for financing from the developed world. We are currently fighting over bicycles when what is required is a Mercedes.
The UAE COP is well placed to establish a new pathway that places the Global South at the centre. It also comes at a time when there is already momentum around Global South led multilateral cooperation. In particular, the Indian G20 Presidency has already demonstrated the ability to build consensus around such a climate agenda. Notably, the inclusion of the Green Development Pact in the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration creates a cohesive narrative around climate action as a catalyst for sustainable and inclusive growth. India has highlighted a few priority action areas which must now be taken forward in the coming year, and COP28 is an ideal starting point.
First, reducing cost of green capital in the developing world is crucial, as these can be nearly seven times higher than in OECD countries. The IMF estimates that emerging and developing economies (EMDEs) have accounted for 80% of global growth since 2008. However, only 25% of climate finance has flowed to these geographies. By design, the current international financial architecture prevents growth from being green. It is imperative to create a global inventory of green projects with a guarantee that each project can access capital at a similar cost. This guarantee can be facilitated by a transnational institution similar to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Response to a planetary crisis must not be compromised by perceived political risks.
Second, COP28 must look to institutionalise climate action as an explicit mandate for Multilateral Development Banks, aligning with the MDB reform agenda put forward during the Indian G20 Presidency. The recently expanded BRICS grouping can also be utilised to further the reform agenda. The newer capital-rich members of the grouping should be galvanised to create a line of funds for Green Transitions within the New Development Bank. This can serve as a boutique model which can increase pressure on West-controlled institutions to accelerate their efforts.
Third, progress must be made on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) with a focus on identifying concrete instruments to meet the distinct adaptation finance needs of different regions, particularly for the most vulnerable communities. Furthermore, the GGA should serve as a platform to underscore the repercussions of climate change on health and gender, identifying integrated strategies to tackle these interconnected crises. The Loss and Damage Fund must also be operationalised with concrete financing commitment from the developed world.
Fourth, innovation in climate technologies in the Global South must be encouraged. In particular, green startups should be supported by creating effective knowledge sharing mechanism within the UNFCCC and establishing a social impact fund to support promising green projects.
Finally, it is crucial to diversify and make green technology value chains accessible to all. Presently, China holds disproportionate control over the raw materials and technologies vital for green energy. It is critical to break free from this monopoly and ensure that Beijing does not wield a veto over our green future. n
Samir Saran is president, ORF
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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