Unabated greenwashing at COP28

The Conference of Parties in Dubai feels more like a conference of partying as if there is no tomorrow

With all the hot air and greenwashing going on at COP28 in Dubai, it is clear that most delegates do not have the vision or the political will to grasp the implications of global climate breakdown.

Whether it is petrostates or those heavily addicted to fossil fuels, the Conference of Parties feels more like a conference of partying as if there is no tomorrow. This must be what it must have felt like as the band struck up a polka on the tilting ballroom of the Titanic.

The heat, flood, sea ice loss, sea surface temperature and hurricane wind velocity records that were broken in 2023 should be proof enough that incremental calibration of petroleum use will not help. The world (mainly India, China, Europe and North America) is burning twice as much fossil fuel as is needed to meet the outdated 1.5 degree goal. 

That was a target set in 2015 at the Paris COP21 for 2050. We are already reaching that level of warming now (graph). There are 100,000 delegates at COP28, it is being held in the world’s top petroleum exporting country, and its President is a climate science denier. 

The Loss and Damage fund that was announced with drumrolls at the start of COP last week has turned out to be a PR stunt. The fossil industry is strongly pushing geo-engineering solutions in Dubai that already have acronyms: Carbon capture and storage (CCS) as well as Solar Radiation Modification (SRM). 

Read also: Not climate smart, Sonia Awale

A new report by Climate Analytics shows that CCS alone would be a ‘carbon bomb’ because of the energy required to capture and store CO2. The worst polluters are still pushing ‘phase-down’ instead of ‘phase-out’. And they think they are being clever by adding that they are for phasing out ‘unabated’ fossil fuels. This is COP28’s newest buzzword: unabated.

Unabated means CO2 from burning fossil fuels is released directly into the atmosphere. The biggest emitters are now qualifying their targets by saying they will phase out just unabated fossil fuels. This  semantic gymnastics ignores that carbon capture scale-up is unproven, and pumping sulphur aerosols into the stratosphere will destroy the ozone layer.

The bottom line is that fossil fuel exporters and high per capita users do not want to reduce their carbon footprints. If they cannot agree on accelerated phaseout targets, one-third of Bangladesh will be submerged by ocean expansion, and two-thirds of Nepal's remaining Himalayan glaciers will be gone during this century. 

We do not want to keep saying ‘we told you so’, but ever since the COP3 cop-out after Kyoto in 1997, journalists have been writing the same editorials verbatim over and over again. 

A site search on the Nepali Times home page during COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, or COP17 in Durban in 2011 shows that we have been arguing that decarbonisation was necessary to save Nepal’s economy, and it is something we can manage ourselves. 

Read also: Loss and Damage as a Common Climate Cause, Naveeda Khan

In an editorial titled ‘The Right Climate for Change’ in the 9-15 December 2011 edition of Nepali Times ahead of the Durban summit, we wrote 12 years ago this week:

Editorial 12 years ago

‘The Nepal delegation is (in Durban) in force with a 30-member delegation.

Developed countries say they can no longer afford to clean up the carbon they have pumped into the atmosphere since the industrial age, backing down from pledges made at Kyoto to help poorer countries mitigate the effects of climate change. 

For smaller Asian countries like Nepal, the issue is different. Whether we switch to renewables or not is not going to save the planet, but it can save us. Nepal's increasing dependence on fossil fuels is certain to take this country down the path of economic ruin. Nepal's petroleum imports from India grew three-fold in the last five years, and we don't have money to pay for it anymore.

As we have argued in this space before, Nepal's balance of payments gap with India is only going to grow in future making us even more dependent on the southern neighbour.

The solution is right under our noses. Making the switch to a hydropower-based economy is both the short-and long-term solution. We can give speeches until we are blue in the face in Durban about how the western countries should compensate us for our melting glaciers, or to help us adapt and/or mitigate, but if we don't have a plan to wean this country away from fossil fuels we might as well forget about it.

We need to ensure that future generations of Nepalis (50 million of us by 2030) will inherit a country that is self-sufficient in domestically-generated renewable energy to meet their transportation, industrial and household needs.

Maybe we should have just sent the minister to Durban to deliver his speech, and the rest of the delegation should have stayed home to plan for the future.’

Read also: Fossil fuels poison air