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Looking forward to COP29?

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By Jef Teugels

· 7 min read

“Skepticism is an exercise in defascination.”
– Emil Cioran, 1969.

November 2024, the month COP29 takes place, and yours truly turns 60. As an indignant grandparent of four, I am frankly not looking forward to it. To the conference, that is, and the reasons become clear when you consider the context in which COP29 is taking place.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 in 2015 resulted in the adoption of the Paris Agreement, with the primary objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The Glasgow Climate Pact was established at COP26 in 2021, which included commitments to reduce coal usage and halt deforestation. In 2022, COP27 placed a strong emphasis on concrete actions to combat climate change and reaffirmed the goal of 1.5 °C. COP28 in 2023 marked a critical turning point, as nearly 200 countries acknowledged the need to transition away from fossil fuels, thereby signaling the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. Although the necessity of phasing out all fossil fuels could have been acknowledged at COP27, it was omitted from the final agreement.

A few days before I wrote this article, Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography said: “We sadly continue to break records in the CO2 rise rate. The ultimate reason is continued global growth in the consumption of fossil fuels.” It is intellectually challenging to reconcile the largest annual increase in the Keeling curve (4.7 ppm from March 2023 to March 2024) with the unprecedented year-to-date growth rate in CO2 emissions, which surpasses the 2016 record, and the fact that both can be attributed to the continued use of fossil fuels. This situation underscores the urgent need to initiate the phasing out of the fossil fuel era.

As for global temperature, March 2024 was the warmest March since 1880. So was the 2023 global temperature: the warmest on record since 1880 and 1.44°C warmer than the pre-industrial average.

Alas, instead of being outliers, these record temperatures seem to confirm a trend. On December 5, 2023, Climate Action Tracker (CAT) posited that the present level of government response is deemed inadequate, as temperatures are anticipated to keep increasing throughout the next century. The current policy is expected to result in a warming of 2.7 °C by the year 2100, and this temperature is likely to continue rising after that date. It is important to note that current policies do not limit warming to 2.7 °C. If CAT only considers the high estimate of its current policy projection, the temperature is projected to rise to 2.9 °C, while the low estimate suggests a median warming of 2.5 °C with continued rising temperatures.

One would think that these facts would make it completely unnecessary to further emphasize the need for immediate drastic action, but nothing seems further from the truth. One of the most cited criticisms of the COP process is its inability to achieve the desired results in a timely manner, as evidenced by the persistent inefficacy and slow progress that fail to match the urgency of the climate crisis. Furthermore, substantial gaps exist between the pledges made and their actual implementation, which undermines the effectiveness of the COP process. These shortcomings have been widely documented in various publications.

Another criticism is the undue influence of fossil fuel interest, which raises concerns about the integrity of the negotiations. COP27 in Egypt saw a record number of 636 fossil fuel lobbyists.8 A record shattered one year later when 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access to COP28 in Dubai.9 Despite the presence of numerous lobbyists, the decision to acknowledge the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels was reached and approved on Wednesday, December 13, 2023, the day COP28 concluded.10 Whether this was, despite the presence of many fossil fuel lobbyists, a vague concession to divert attention from earlier unfortunate statements by the COP28 chair, or a genuine consensus among the delegates, remains to be seen at COP29. However, the rollback of environmental commitments by key oil and gas companies such as BP, Shell, and TotalEnergies does not bode well.

This brings us to the host country of COP29, Azerbaijan. For the third year in a row, a country known for its heavy reliance on fossil fuels will host a climate summit, which is hard not to see as an ongoing paradox. Azerbaijan is set to boost its gas production by a third over the next decade, and fossil fuel companies are forecasted to spend $ 41.2bn on the country’s gas fields.

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, declared on April 26, 2024, that “COP29 won’t stop us investing in ‘God-given’ gas” because “our oil and gas will be needed for many more years, including European markets.” 13 Per Global Witness, Russian Lukoil is projected to generate $7 billion in profits over the next ten years from a gas field in Azerbaijan, which caters to the European Union.

President Aliyev faced criticism when he initially appointed a 28-member organizing committee for COP29, without any female representation. In response to the backlash that ensued, he expanded the committee to 42 members, ensuring that 12 were women.15 COP29 will be headed by Azerbaijan’s ecology minister and former oil executive, Mukhtar Babayev. COP28’s chair, Sultan Al Jaber, was, and still is, the chief of the United Arab Emirates’s national oil company.

It is against the backdrop of fossil fuel influence, gender inequality, and perpetuated colonialism17 that the world anticipates COP29 to achieve substantial progress in climate finance, crucially enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and an encouraged shift away from fossil fuels, while also promoting more inclusivity and transparency in climate governance. 

The promise of a successful COP29, and therefore the criteria by which to judge success, is delivered in the form of a letter dated March 21, 2024, written by the COP Presidencies Troika (UAE, Azerbaijan, and Brazil) from the incoming COP29 Presidency, and addressed to Parties and observer States.

A successful COP29 significantly contributes to keeping the 1.5°C target within reach and advancing global climate action, and it will do so by achieving:

  1. Early Submission of High Ambition NDCs (that align with UAE consensus).
  2. Enhanced International Cooperations.
  3. Implementation at Scale (accelerating results on the ground).
  4. Sustained Momentum and Coherence (momentum from COP28 into COP29 and beyond).
  5. Feedback and Engagement (from events such as the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial).

It is clear that the scene is set to look beyond COP29 with the momentum established by the UAE, if success is seen as ‘success under the Troika.’

As COP29 draws closer, my skepticism persists. The numerous failures of past COP conferences, the undue influence of fossil fuel interests, the vast discrepancies between pledges and actual implementation, and the choice of Azerbaijan, a country heavily reliant on fossil fuels, as the host for COP29, has only heightened my concerns over the integrity and effectiveness of the negotiations.

The intricate nature of colonialism's historical context and its persistent influence on climate justice present a challenging situation. The input of Indigenous individuals and marginalized groups is frequently disregarded, and the unequal power dynamics between the Global North and South persist, perpetuating injustice. These problems emphasize the necessity for a more comprehensive and fair strategy for managing global climate policies.

Despite the significant challenges, I am filled with a glimmer of hope because of the boundless ingenuity of humans. History has shown that human creativity, a survival skill after all, has led to remarkable progress, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As we grapple with the urgent and existential threat of climate change, it is this same ingenuity that offers a beacon of hope. Although the COP process may have limitations and may be susceptible to hijacking by

“It’s so hard to get old without a cause, I don’t
want to perish like a fleeing horse.”
- ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville, 1984

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Jef Teugels designs planet- and people-first solutions and is a post-graduate researcher. He explores the energy created by the friction between customer behavior, organizational readiness, and exponential technologies. Born at 319.62 ppm, he’s a father and a grandfather trying to develop some intergenerational value.

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