Sustainability in Focus: COP28 Expectations Amid Global Climate Realities

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Visualizing the Climate Crisis: Key Insights and COP28 Preparations

By Andrea Pozderac and Azra K. Nurkic

The summer of 2023 has gone down in history as the hottest year ever, as reported by NASA in September. This revelation challenges world leaders to reconcile their climate commitments with the tangible actions they need to take.

 

Since 1880, the Earth’s temperature has increased by approximately 2°F, rising an average of 0.14°F every decade. However, after 1981, this rate has accelerated to around 0.32°F every decade. In 2022, the year ranked as the sixth hottest based on NOAA’s records, with temperatures averaging 1.55°F above the 20th-century’s mean of 57.0°F and 1.90°F higher than the baseline from 1880-1900. Remarkably, the ten hottest recorded years have all taken place after 2010.

 

Quick Facts on Climate Change

 

  • The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”

  • The recent decade possibly ranks as the hottest in the last 125,000 years.

  • Between 1971 and 2010, oceans absorbed 90% of the planet’s heat increase.

  • Annually, 1.2 trillion tons of ice are lost. Greenland’s and Antartica’s mass variation has had a negative rate of change of 270.00 billion and 146.00 billion metric tons per year since 2002 respectively.

  • While women and girls spearhead climate initiatives, 67% of climate-related decision-making roles are held by men.

  • By mid-century, unchecked climate change might slash 11-14% off global GDP.

  • Renewable energy usage is rising. Today, renewables contribute nearly 30% of global electricity, a significant leap from 20% in 2011. Hydropower takes the lion’s share, followed by solar, wind, bioenergy, and geothermal power.  60% of all renewable electricity is generated by hydropower, contributing to around 16% of total electricity generation from all sources. The share of wind and solar is on a stable rise, reaching 12.2% of the global power mix in 2022.

  • As of 2021, 12.7 million people worked in the renewable energy sector, with a substantial 42% located in China.

  • Climate change is critically impacting our limited supply of accessible freshwater, which constitutes only 0.5% of Earth’s total water, evidenced by a 1 cm annual reduction in terrestrial water storage, including soil moisture, snow, and ice, over the past two decades, threatening water security.

 

Disproportionate Impacts on Vulnerable Communities:

 

It’s imperative to understand that the brunt of climate change is not felt evenly across the world. Indigenous communities and low-emitting countries, despite their minimal contribution to global emissions, find themselves on the frontline of climate devastation.

 

Indigenous Communities: Indigenous people, often living in fragile ecosystems like forests, coastal areas, and Arctic regions, have intricate relationships with their environments. As climate change ravages these habitats, their way of life, cultural identity, and survival are threatened. For instance, melting Arctic ice disrupts the lifestyles of communities that rely on ice-dependent species, while rising sea levels and more frequent cyclones threaten the very existence of Pacific islanders.

 

Unfortunately, despite their critical role in environmental stewardship, Indigenous lands are endangered by modern energy practices. Fossil fuel extraction and transportation projects, such as pipelines, often cut through Indigenous territories, disrupting ecosystems, contaminating water sources, and undermining the cultural and spiritual significance of these lands.

 

Even renewable energy projects, while crucial for combating climate change, can pose challenges. Large-scale renewable energy installations can encroach upon Indigenous lands, affecting traditional hunting and gathering practices, disrupting ecosystems, and potentially leading to land displacement.

 

Low Emitting Countries: Several countries with negligible carbon footprints are amongst the most vulnerable to climate change. Think of island nations that face existential threats from rising sea levels or African countries grappling with increasing droughts and famines. These nations often lack the financial and technical resources to cope with the effects of climate change, making global cooperation and climate financing not just a matter of equity, but a pressing necessity.

 

Despite accounting for about 1.1% of total world CO2 emissions in 2019, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) bear a disproportionate burden of climate change impacts. Over the last 50 years, 69% of worldwide deaths caused by climate-related disasters occurred in LDCs.


What is being done?

As leaders prepare for climate negotiations at COP28, held this year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, climate change events leading up to it have been addressing important topics and issues. Some notable events include the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, and Climate Week in New York City, USA. 

 

Africa Climate Summit 2023: This Summit was a milestone in fostering sustainable development and climate resilience in Africa. Outcomes highlighted the symbiotic relationship between climate mitigation, sustainable economic growth, and overall prosperity. African nations clearly showcased their determination to hasten the switch to renewable energy, lower emissions, and preserve their vital ecosystems. With billions pledged, there is a noticeable uptick in investments geared towards renewable energy, sustainable farming, and green projects — all of which promise both job creation and economic growth.

 

Climate Week 2023: Coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Sustainable Development Goals Summit, Climate Week placed climate action at the forefront of global discussions in New York. Among its ten central themes were the built environment, energy, environmental justice, transport, finance, sustainable living, nature, policy, industry, and food. Particular emphasis was placed on climate finance and loss and damage, especially after the attention garnered at the Sharm el-Sheikh COP27 in 2022.

 

Although nations like the United States and the European Union have made substantial green investments — such as Biden’s $370 billion Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s European Green Deal — these alone don’t suffice. A concerted reduction in fossil fuel consumption and emissions is imperative.


Deeper Dive: Key Climate Concepts

This year’s COP28 in Dubai will include four cross cutting themes: Finance, Technology & Innovation, Inclusion, and Frontline Communities. Some of the key discussion points include climate financing, loss and damage, carbon offsetting vs insetting, and green hydrogen. 

 

Climate Financing:

Climate financing involves the flow of funds from developed countries to developing countries to assist them in adapting to the effects of climate change and in transitioning to a low carbon, sustainable future. This is central to the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C. It ensures that less economically privileged nations can also contribute to the global effort of combating climate change, even as they battle developmental challenges.

 

Loss and Damage:

Loss and damage refers to the irreversible impacts of climate change that people, especially in vulnerable regions, are already experiencing. This encompasses both the economic and non-economic losses, from damaged infrastructure and lost productivity to irreversible losses like culture and biodiversity. Loss and damage underscore the need for global cooperation, particularly for countries that contribute minimal greenhouse gas emissions but face significant climate threats.

 

Green Hydrogen:

Green hydrogen is hydrogen gas produced using renewable energy sources, usually through a process called electrolysis, where electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Given that it emits only water when burned, it’s seen as a potential solution to store and deliver energy and reduce carbon emissions in sectors hard to electrify like heavy transportation and industries.

 

Carbon Offsetting

Companies buy carbon credits to compensate for their emissions, with these credits potentially funding projects such as reforestation or renewable energy.

  

Carbon Insetting

Carbon insetting focuses on reducing emissions within a company’s value chain through nature-based solutions. Several companies are adopting carbon insetting as part of their sustainability strategies. For example, companies invest in renewable energy technologies, circular processes, and regenerative agriculture to reduce emissions in their supply chains.

 

Challenges within the carbon market include double-counting and ensuring additionality. Importantly, offsetting and insetting should be viewed as complementary, not competing, strategies. Together, they can help corporations significantly reduce their carbon footprint.


In sum, the multifaceted nature of climate change calls for a unified global response. From understanding the nuances of climate financing to supporting disproportionately affected communities, it’s clear that a holistic and inclusive approach is the way forward. As the world grapples with the pressing challenge of climate change, the importance of collective and prompt action cannot be emphasized enough. The outcomes of COP28 will demonstrate just how much world leaders are willing to stay committed to climate action. 

 

Sources:

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  3. International Hydropower Association, (n.d.). Discover Facts About Hydropower. Available at: URL 

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  5. Mulhern O., (2022). 11 Interesting Facts About Climate Change. Earth.Org, Available at: URL 

  6. NASA Climate Change, (2023). NASA Vital Signs: Ice Sheets. Available at: URL 

  7. UNCTAD, (2021). UNCTAD – Chart October 2021. Available at: URL 

  8. United Nations, (2022). Fast Facts – Renewable Energy (Oct 2022). Available at: URL 

  9. United Nations – Climate Change, (n.d.). Water and Climate Change. Available at: URL 

  10. UN Women, (2021). Claiming Women’s Space in Leadership. Available at: URL