The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host the COP28 (Conference of the Parties), which will take place in Dubai between November 30 and December 12, 2023, and has already obtained its letter of entry into the new international regime on climate change. The summit agenda is quite ambitious and needs to be analyzed in the best way to evaluate the challenges and opportunities for Latin American countries in the face of the impacts of climate change.
Proposed by its president, Sultan Al Jaber, the COP28 agenda was announced in June this year. The summit will have to condense into a political declaration a gigantic process that has lasted two years, with more than 1,000 supporting documents submitted and three technical dialogues that attracted hundreds of experts and professionals. The synthesis report of the technical phase has managed to summarize it all in 17 key messages. To be frank, this report offers an unflattering picture of the results to date.
In my opinion, three basic concepts in the climate change language need to be handled dialectically, that is to say, in their interrelationship. These are mitigation, adaptation, and financing. The main items on the agenda are related in one way or another to these three concepts and are, in any case, of utmost importance to determine whether we are working efficiently and to the benefit of all equally. Given that the main objective of the negotiation process is to keep the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is necessary to determine precisely the corresponding trajectories that global emissions should follow at the national level. It is therefore clear that mitigation measures play a central role.
Mitigation is, in short, the reduction of greenhouse gas concentrations. Such a reduction can be achieved either by reducing their sources (fossil fuels) or by increasing the capacity of carbon sinks, such as tropical forests, to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In its first year, the Mitigation Work Program has focused on accelerating the just energy transition, through two Global Dialogues on energy and transport systems. Based on this work, COP28 should adopt a first decision marking serious progress. In Bonn, there was an intense struggle in June this year to incorporate these issues.
The work program is designed to foster cooperation between countries and international experts in specific areas and to link mitigation and public and private investment. This year’s investment-focused events stimulated coordination among key initiatives aimed at supporting the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Such events also highlighted structural issues such as the rapid acceleration of clean investments globally, or the need to scale them up specifically in emerging and developing economies. It would be desirable to leverage good mitigation performance in the Global Balance and contribute, for instance, to mobilizing investment opportunities with a regional perspective. Regional Finance Forums play an important role here.
As defined by the United Nations, adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects. In simple terms, countries and communities need to develop adaptation solutions and implement actions to respond to current and future impacts of climate change. Adaptation was the central topic of negotiation at COP27, addressing key areas such as the global goal on adaptation (GGA), the Adaptation Committee, the Nairobi work program, and national adaptation plans of action (NAPs).
Considering the presence of hurricanes and recurrent floods, the issue of adaptation is of crucial importance for countries such as Honduras or the Caribbean islands. All infrastructure, agriculture, or social safety net projects, among others, must be implemented considering or adapting to floods, fires, or droughts.
Lack of financing is one of the major problems dividing rich and poor nations since the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was coined at the 1992 Earth Conference. Since the industrialized countries have historically generated more than 80% of the emissions that today affect the poorest countries, their share of responsibility is greater. This is why, in 2009, the industrialized countries pledged to collectively contribute US$100 billion each year from 2020 onwards. Unfortunately, there is still a gap between promises and reality. In 2020, collective climate finance amounted to US$83.3 billion. Multilateral and bilateral public finance flows for adaptation in developing countries decreased by 15% to US$21 billion in 2021. Moreover, climate finance continues to be provided predominantly in the form of loans, a large portion of which have not been concessional. This is compounded by the fact that the sum of US$100 billion is just a fraction of what is needed to help developing countries achieve climate goals in accordance with the Paris Agreement. According to the most recent analysis of financing needs, developing countries need at least US$6 trillion between now and 2030 to cover less than half of the existing targets in their NDCs.
The issue of climate change mitigation and adaptation financing measures will again be one of the most controversial aspects of COP28. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), as a region, require some US$77 billion in investment between 2020 and 2030 to meet their climate targets, of which public investment can only cover about a quarter. According to Climate Funds Update estimates, climate finance in LAC is highly concentrated in a few countries: Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia are receiving about half of the funds for the region. Clearly, this group shows that there is a combination of relevance and political realism in the negotiations. Mitigation activities, including forest protection and reforestation, receive more than five times as much from multilateral climate funds as adaptation, with US$ 3.4 billion and US$ 670 million, respectively. Since 2003, a total of US$ 5 billion has been approved for 550 projects in the Latin American region from multilateral climate funds.
Signals on the energy transition, in particular the phasing out of fossil fuels, as well as the fulfillment of the high expectations created at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh on loss and damage financing, are likely to be the litmus tests of this year’s discussions. COP28 takes place in a rather tense geopolitical context, characterized by the Russian war against Ukraine, the United States-China confrontation, and the intensification of the Middle East conflict, following the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7. The question is whether this backdrop will have any influence on the dynamics of the negotiations. The results of the most recent talks between China and the U.S. do not look promising. The absence of any mention of climate change shows us that the agreement between the two superpowers is nothing groundbreaking. It takes some important technical steps, but does nothing to curb the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants in China, for example. President Joe Biden’s recent decision not to attend the conference is not very flattering either.
As it is well known, Latin America is already among the regions most affected by climate change. The fact that countries in this region rely heavily on agricultural exports or resource extraction and carbon-intensive activities for their economic development poses enormous challenges to conceive just transition. Social and political instability is strongly linked to the volatility of commodity export prices, on which the region depends. Sound ecological and just transition policies are crucial to achieving regional and global climate goals, for which financing remains a major challenge.
What do the delegations of most of the countries of the continent have in their luggage on their way to COP28? First and foremost, the perennial structural problem of inequality, which remains one of the most difficult challenges to address in the region. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) continues to be the most unequal region in the world. In a post-pandemic world, LAC countries, mired in economic and health crises, are probably more concerned about economic recovery than environmental protection. However, framing these two issues as mutually exclusive or antagonistic opposites may not be the smartest strategy.
One of the most important concepts in the dynamics of the deliberations is that of just transition, introduced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which defines it as follows: “Greening the economy in the fairest and most inclusive way possible for all, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.” This concept has serious implications that need to be considered when implementing the necessary measures, both in the field of mitigation and adaptation. In the case of Latin America, countries such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Paraguay have included just transition objectives and measures in their NDCs. This is, however, a first step that could be essential in focusing discussions at COP28.
An analysis of recent conferences indicates that LAC has not been able to present itself with a single voice. On the one hand, the adoption of more radicalized positions coming from populist processes, whether from the right or the left; and on the other hand, denialist positions have not yielded good results, neither for the counterparts nor for regional interests. The most important issue would be to develop a coordinated position, at the Latin American level, that puts the region’s challenges on the table for discussion, especially regarding adaptation and demands for financing; and, why not, the implementation of a fund for damage and loss.
*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish