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New climate change minister Simon Watts faces his first challenge at Cop28 (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsDecember 5, 2023

The key issues to keep an eye on at Cop28

a light green background with a man with a suit and tie and a world on fire
New climate change minister Simon Watts faces his first challenge at Cop28 (Image: Archi Banal)

Know you should be across what’s going on at the global climate conference but daunted by the prospect of a two-week talk-fest? Laura Gemmell, who’s on the ground in Dubai, has picked out five areas it’s worth keeping tabs on.

The 28th Conference of the Parties (Cop28) is under way in Dubai. It’s a two-week talk-fest, which, contradictory to that description, could just save the planet.

It’s impossible to stay across everything that happens at these climate talks, because it’s a bit like navigating the schedule at Big Day Out (RIP). Events are held simultaneously, so you have to weigh up which are non-negotiable, inevitably grapple with the disappointment of a headliner letting you down with a rubbish performance, and fight the crowds to get from one place to another. 

But luckily for you, we’re breaking down the things you should be keeping an eye on back home in Aotearoa.

The results of the global stocktake

Back in 2015, nearly 200 countries, including Aotearoa New Zealand, signed onto the Paris Agreement. This included a commitment to keeping global warming well below 2°C (compared with pre-industrial levels) through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Signatories also agreed to assess their progress every five years, beginning in 2023. That milestone has been called the “global stocktake” and it’s currently under way at COP28.

Imagine each country needs to submit a report card. Experts will review it, feedback will be given, and plans made to crack on with the task of reducing emissions, building community resilience to climate change and that niggly but eternal issue of finance.

Globally, it’s looking pretty grim. Instead of “well-below” 2°C, we’re on track for 2.5°C degrees. It could be worse – some have suggested that without the Paris Agreement, we’d be headed for something like 4°C or 4.5°C. 

While Aotearoa has begun to see a slight decrease in its annual emissions, we’ve got a long way to go to reach a 50% reduction (from 2005 levels) by 2030. Achieving that target will require some bold moves by government, which may prove difficult with both the new climate change and environment ministers sitting outside cabinet.

a hot sun plus a thermomentre plus new zealand with an equal sign showing a question mark
The average global temperature is going up. What comes next? (Image: Archi Banal)

How much the participants stump up 

Whether Cop is a flop could depend on how much money participants are willing to contribute to two important initiatives: the Green Climate Fund (established back in 2010), which aims to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, and a new “loss and damage” fund for nations already bearing the brunt of it.

Day one of the conference got off to a promising start with hosts the United Arab Emirates, as well as Germany, chipping in US$100 million each to kickstart the latter. However, that’s nowhere near the amount needed. The United Nations Environment Programme has previously estimated we could need up to US$387 billion annually for loss and damage by 2030. 

Meanwhile, around 70 international figures led by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown and including New Zealand’s Helen Clark have sent a letter to UAE’s Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber advocating that oil-producing states be subject to a US$25 billion annual levy to go toward the loss and damage fund.

Al-Jaber wears many hats: Cop28 president-designate, UAE’s minister for industry and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (awkward).

blue blobs and smoke stacks and dollar bills
Image: Tina Tiller

Phase-down or phase-out?

Cop28’s success or failure (and the planet’s, for that matter) could come down to whether participants agree to a phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, it looks as though Cop28 host and petrostate UAE isn’t super committed to a phase-out. 

The only person who seemed remotely surprised when leaked documents emerged this week suggesting UAE planned to use the climate talks to strike oil and gas deals with 15 other countries was poor old United Nations secretary general António Guterres, who was quoted as saying, “I can’t believe it.”

UAE has provided little comment on the matter, except to say it remains committed to “meaningful climate action.” Amnesty International has described the situation as the “fox guarding the hen-house”.

Our new minister for climate change

You couldn’t blame our new minister for climate change Simon Watts if he was experiencing some form of trepidation about heading to Cop. 

Aotearoa’s official position since July has been to advocate for a phase-out (not phase-down) of fossil fuels. However, the new government has said it plans to resume offshore oil and gas exploration (repealing the 2018 ban). 

Former climate change minister James Shaw, also attending the climate talks, is unlikely to provide a sympathetic shoulder. The Greens launched a petition against the move and have already exceeded their goal of 25,000 signatures.

The place of indigenous knowledge 

Cop28 has billed itself as the most “inclusive” conference ever held, with representatives from indigenous communities set to share their knowledge on resource management, conservation and possible solutions to the climate crisis. 

It’s critical their voices and expertise are fully integrated into Cop28 discussions to ensure a just and equitable low-carbon future.

One of many side events taking place at the climate talks will be a panel discussion on indigenous-led solutions to safeguarding our oceans, featuring three epic Māori leaders from Aotearoa: Conservation International’s Mere Takoko, mātauranga Māori expert Aperahama Kerepeti-Edwards and outgoing chair of the tribal parliament of Ngāi Tahu, Lisa Tumahai.

Keep going!