DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Middle East plays host to its second straight U.N. climate conference over the next two weeks, with countries hoping to agree on new ways to keep the planet from heating too much by the end of the century. Distractions abound, most notably war between Israel and Hamas.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will welcome thousands of attendees for the 28th “Conference of the Parties” of the U.N. climate conference from Thursday until Dec. 12, amid lingering doubt about how far the oil-rich country will go to help end a climate crisis driven largely by fossil fuel use.
Here’s a look at the backdrop, stakes and challenges ahead at COP28.
WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE THE LAST ONE
The world has gotten hotter since last year’s conference in Egypt. Some experts say 2023 is already the hottest year ever recorded. The northern hemisphere had record highs this summer, and Brazil – where it’s not summer yet – this month saw all-time high heat and humidity.
“Practically the whole world is experiencing heat waves,” said Petteri Taalas, the head of the U.N. weather agency, earlier this month.
Signs are growing that the world – especially developing countries – is increasingly ill-prepared: This year’s monsoon season in India caused nearly $1.5 billion in property damage. Tropical storm Daniel in September caused deadly floods in Libya. Last month, Hurricane Otis pummeled Mexico, raising fears that the government would spend more money to rebuild than to help people cope.
Even if bouts of extreme cold return – like one currently in northern Europe – the overall trend lines point to growing average global temperatures.
WHAT ARE THE STAKES OF THIS COP
Few experts and policymakers expect a big breakthrough this year.
Burning fossil fuels that sends carbon into the atmosphere remains the main cause of global warming, and production continues to grow. Climate campaigners say efforts to develop wind, solar and other alternative energies are not going fast enough.
The Paris climate accord of 2015 set a target to cap the rise of global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial era – and the world is so far falling far short.
Many experts say to meet that target, production of carbon in the atmosphere must peak next year and drop by nearly half by 2030.
Western countries are among those promoting ambitions to triple capacity for renewable energies and double energy efficiency by that year. Advocacy groups say that’s trimming around the edges and avoiding the main issue: Reducing the burning of coal, oil and gas.
One debate will be about “down” or “out”: Whether countries agree to phase down use of fossil fuels, as some wish, or phase them out entirely – a lofty goal of climate campaigners that’s unlikely to get serious consideration in the Gulf country.
Global warming has vast implications: It can upend local economies, worsen weather patterns, drive people to migrate, and cause havoc for Indigenous peoples who want to retain their traditional cultures, among many other impacts.
Another challenge in Dubai will be to drum up funds for poorer nations to prepare for, respond to, and cope with climate-related catastrophes. Last year, the creation of a “ loss and damage fund ” was a big achievement — but finding out how to fill it has been tricky.
King Charles join Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, U.S. climate czar John Kerry, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at what organizers say is the largest COP ever. Pope Francis had planned to attend but canceled on doctor's orders as he recovers from respiratory issues.
Sultan al-Jaber, the head of the Abu Dhabi national oil company who is presiding over COP28, will be scrutinized over his country’s clear interest in oil and its calls for renewable-energy transition. Many want to know if oil-rich Gulf states will pony up more money to help developing countries adapt to climate change and switch to greener technologies.
Governments from developing nations want help to battle the fallout from warming that hits them especially hard and has arisen through no or little fault of their own.
Rich-world countries will try to score political points in the global community in an increasingly polarized world, whether by providing handouts or sharing know-how from their economic engines to needy nations – without forgetting their constituencies back home.
Climate campaigners want to hold those wealthy-nation decision-makers to account for any lofty but unfulfilled past pledges they made -- and press for greater ambitions to change the way we live from Tokyo to Tegucigalpa to Timbuktu.
WHAT CHALLENGES AWAIT
Hopes at every COP run head-on into reality.
Like last year, when Russia's war in Ukraine weighed in the background of efforts to fight climate change, this year many eyes are elsewhere in the Middle East — on Israel's military campaign in Gaza after the devastating Hamas attack in Israel last month.
One challenge will be reviving attention on climate matters, which often fade after heat waves subside.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in recent days traveled to Antarctica to highlight concerns about melting ice. Many companies lean into COP28: U.S. agribusiness company Cargill, for example, announced this week an “accelerated commitment” to end deforestation — critics said it hadn't done enough — in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Developing countries want to benefit from the luxuries that the rich world has long enjoyed — often by churning out huge amounts of carbon. Purchases of gas-guzzling SUVs and bigger cars are growing across the globe, even as electric vehicles make greater inroads.
Inflationary pressures that have driven up the cost of living in recent months have made purchases of cleaner — often costlier — technologies less attractive, and many consumers have demanded lower gasoline prices. Many countries continue to subsidize fuel costs to limit the pinch on pocketbooks.
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