Who wants what out of COP28 – POLITICO

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This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM.

Should countries move quickly to phase out their fossil fuel production or opt for a more gradual “phase-down”? Will wealthy governments like the U.S. cough up tens of billions of dollars for poorer nations’ climate damage — and should China pay too?

When more than 70,000 people from nearly 200 countries descend on Dubai starting next week to negotiate over the fate of the planet, the talks will become the scene for a host of competing national agendas.

The annual U.N. climate summits have drawn criticism for having grown unwieldy since they started in 1995, thronging with corporate lobbyists and marked more by non-binding pledges and squabbles over grammar than their ability to deliver change. But they have a real-world impact, sending signals to markets about governments’ coming policies and reflecting real-world trends. And supporters are quick to point out that they remain the one forum where everyone — from the world’s richest countries to its smallest and most marginal — has a say.

This summit marks eight years since countries landed the Paris Agreement, which sets targets for curbing planetary warming. Countries will now be asked to respond to assessments — known collectively as the “global stocktake” — showing that they’ve failed to do as promised.

They’ll also try to flesh out the pledge they made at last year’s summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt: the creation of a new fund to pay developing nations for the losses they’re suffering from climate change.

Here’s what some of the most influential countries and groupings will push for at the summit, known as COP28.

The United States

President Joe Biden was riding high on a series of policy victories when he rolled into last year’s summit — most of all, the $370 billion in clean energy spending he had approved by signing the United States’ biggest-ever climate law.

This year, Biden is expected to skip the trip to Dubai amid a pile of difficulties, political and otherwise. Polls show him trailing former President Donald Trump, his progressive base is fraying over Israel’s war with Hamas, and Republican control of half of Congress means he’ll have trouble meeting escalating demands for international climate aid.

Instead, special climate envoy John Kerry will be pressing the United States’ agenda.

What the U.S. wants: It will push for an immediate end to new permitting of coal-fired power — not just in China, which keeps building coal plants, but everywhere, according to Kerry.

Cynics would say that’s an easy ask for the U.S. to make, as coal plays an ever-shrinking role in its domestic power mix. But coal is also the dirtiest fossil fuel, producing more carbon dioxide pollution than natural gas or oil, making it an obvious starting place to squelch planet-warming gases.

In a joint statement last week with China, the U.S. also said it supports efforts to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030 — something the European Union has championed — and would work to accelerate its deployment domestically. The U.S. is already using Biden’s climate law to push a rapid expansion of clean energy at home, but GOP control of Congress’ lower chamber will make it hard to do more internationally.

The U.S. also wants more countries to tackle greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide and include them in their next round of climate targets. Non-CO2 gases account for half of the climate change the world is experiencing, but just half of countries include them in their climate plans under the Paris Agreement, a senior State Department official said in a Friday call with reporters. (The administration insisted on anonymity as a condition of the call.)

Last week’s U.S.-China agreement included a pledge by China for the first time to agree to including such gases in its next climate action plan. The nations will combine with the UAE to host a methane and non-CO2 gas summit at COP28.

Where it gets tricky: It’s less clear where the U.S. stands on fossil fuels overall. A draft of the U.S. position on the summit’s post-Paris assessment calls for a phase-out of fossil fuels whose pollution is not captured before it hits the atmosphere — and the U.S. seems poised to highlight the need for carbon capture and storage technology.

But Kerry has waffled on the possibility of eliminating the use of fossil fuels entirely, telling TIME this month: “In order to phase out, you’ve got to first phase down, phase down is the road to phase out.” Still, he has said demand will go down as technologies like electric cars and solar and wind come online.

Challenges over international climate finance could also come back to bite. The U.S. agreed to a tentative deal this month on the outlines of a new fund for climate-damaged countries, but only after insisting on revisions to make it clear that wealthy nations did not have a distinct responsibility to pay. Questions linger about whether the U.S. will come to Dubai ready to commit money.

The United Arab Emirates

The idea of holding COP28 in a petrostate raised eyebrows from the very moment the United Arab Emirates was announced as this year’s host country. The UAE’s choice of Sultan al-Jaber as conference president also met fierce criticism, given that his other job is chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., one of the world’s largest petroleum producers.

Those dual roles have left al-Jaber and the UAE with competing priorities. While al-Jaber has described the decline of fossil fuels as “inevitable,” for example, his company has announced plans to expand its oil and gas operations, backed by $150 billion in spending in the next five years.

Perhaps as a result, the COP28 presidency has been reluctant to respond to calls for a fossil fuel phaseout agreement, although al-Jaber has enthusiastically backed the EU’s push to triple renewables.

What it wants: At a pre-COP summit in late October, al-Jaber summed up his COP28 wishlist as follows: a “robust” response to the assessment of progress and setbacks since the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement and a “strong” outcome on cutting emissions, as well as a “comprehensive adaptation agreement and groundbreaking solutions on finance.”

Another key priority, he added, is getting the new climate disaster fund up and running.

Where it gets tricky: At some point during the negotiations, the UAE will have to take the lead in hammering out a deal among the nearly 200 nations attending the talks. An ambitious summit outcome could prove the skeptics wrong — but success may depend on the oil-rich nation setting aside its own interests.

Vulnerable island nations

The 39-member Alliance of Small Island States has long fought to showcase the threat that climate change poses to them. The rising seas and other dangers have only made this year’s mission more urgent.

“At COP28, we must go forth with a renewed intensity and urgency to achieve the best possible outcome for our fellow vulnerable islanders on the frontlines of this crisis not of our making,” alliance Chair Pa’olelei Luteru, a Samoan diplomat, wrote in a letter this month.

What they want: In its latest declaration, the bloc is calling for global emissions to peak before 2025, with developed countries taking the lead. It wants to see a phasing out of “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies and is calling for a roadmap that would increase renewable energy uptake and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use to ensure that the world doesn’t breach the Paris Agreement’s stretch goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius.

It says achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement depends on small islands and resource-strapped countries receiving regular and adequate finance. And it’s calling on wealthy nations to meet their past pledges and then boost them, saying a 2009 commitment to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 is now far from sufficient.

AOSIS has also been a leading voice in calling for a fund that would help countries rebuild and repair after climate-driven disasters. It won that 30-year battle when last year’s U.N. summit led to an agreement to set up the so-called loss and damage fund. Now it wants to see that fund filled.

Where it gets tricky: One of the bloc’s most enduring priorities is to ensure the world stands by the 1.5-degree target. Any overshoot would put their lives in peril. But many scientists say that long-term goal looks increasingly unlikely. Luteru told a meeting of climate officials last month that the alliance couldn’t afford any decision in Dubai allowing fossil fuels to be expanded, but major oil and gas producers — including the COP28 host — are already doing just that.

G77 + China

This is the largest bloc in the negotiations, comprising a (deceptive) 134 countries, not 77. It includes China, along with nations such as Brazil, Cuba, Kenya, the Maldives, Pakistan and the UAE.

The G77 represents all developing countries, as they are defined under the U.N. climate convention.

What it wants: The bloc has kept a “solid and unified” position in calling for the loss and damage fund to apply to all developing countries, not just small islands and least-developed countries, as the U.S. and some other developed countries had wanted, G77 chair Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta of Cuba has said.

A ministerial declaration issued at the bloc’s annual meeting in September refers to finance as “a cornerstone” of action needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and states that further support will allow for “higher ambitions” among developing countries.

The ministers also said that measures to tackle climate change shouldn’t be used to justify trade barriers or other forms of “unjustifiable discrimination.” And they emphasized that developed countries should “continue to take the leading role” in cutting planet-warming emissions across their economies. “For developing countries, adaptation to climate change is a priority,” the declaration says.

Where it gets tricky: The diverse nature of the bloc’ s members — everyone from small islands to emerging economies — means they don’t always have the same objectives. Some see the continued use of fossil fuels as detrimental to their very survival, while others view them as core to their economic development.


China has a vital stake of its own in the debate, as the world’s largest current producer of planet-warming greenhouse gases. Its emissions are still rising — though when exactly they will peak is a matter of debate. China’s national targets aim for them to stop rising sometime before 2030, while U.S. emissions have already peaked. 

What it wants: China has continued to press wealthy nations such as the U.S. to contribute more money to help developing ones.

In concert with the G77, it cites a core tenet of the Paris Agreement that says developed countries should take the lead in cutting their own climate pollution and in supporting poorer countries’ efforts to do the same.

At the same time, China is adamant that it remains a developing country itself, pointing to past international agreements that classify it as such — despite having the world’s second-largest economy. This puts it at odds with the U.S., which has been insisting Beijing should also pay for climate aid and move to cut its emissions faster.

At home, China is investing massively in renewable energy — nearly four times what the U.S. was at the start of the year — and is on track to exceed its target of doubling its wind and solar power capacity five years early.

Where it gets tricky: China also continues to permit and build new coal-fired power, the world’s most polluting source of energy, at a rapid pace. Its climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, has called any phase-out of fossil fuels “unrealistic.”

Ending new Chinese coal developments was not part of last week’s announced climate deal with the U.S., even though it would be a key part of any successful global effort to halt rising temperatures. Instead, the plan called for tripling renewable energy, advancing projects to capture carbon pollution and cutting all greenhouse gases, not just carbon. That last item was a notable step since China is the largest emitter of methane.

The agreement implies that China will use less coal-fired power as it deploys more renewables.

The European Union

The EU arrives in Dubai with two main priorities: scaling up renewables and (mostly) phasing out fossil fuels.

What it wants: Brussels has championed targets to triple the world’s global renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030, hoping to get countries to commit to both goals at COP28.

That effort goes hand in hand with the bloc’s push for a global agreement to phase out “unabated” fossil fuels — those whose carbon emissions are not captured. But that’s a harder sell.

The negotiating mandate given to the European Commission by the bloc’s 27 governments also sets limits for what the EU considers “unabated” fossil fuels, indicating that it wants to end the use of oil, gas and coal in the power sector in the 2030s, for example.

“Fossil fuels may continue to be needed in specific hard-to-abate sectors, that is something we do accept,” EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra said at an event in Brussels last month. “But outside of these sectors, we need to get rid of fossil fuels, as many as possible, and as fast as possible.”

The EU has also promised to contribute a “substantial” pledge to the new climate disaster fund once it’s up and running.

Where it gets tricky: Countries including the U.S. and China as well as the UAE’s COP28 presidency have signaled support for the EU’s global renewable energy target, but there’s far less enthusiasm for a fossil fuel phaseout.

The UAE’s COP28 presidency has so far been reluctant to back any such call, the U.S. position is vague and China has declared a phaseout “unrealistic.”

At the same time, a recent call led by small island states to end all use and production of fossil fuels went too far for most EU countries — and the bloc’s phaseout push clashes with European governments’ scramble for oil and gas imports in the wake of the energy crisis unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Saudi Arabia 

Saudi Arabia, a heavyweight in the so-called Like-Minded Developing Countries negotiating bloc that also includes China and India, often tries to play spoiler at climate summits.

What it wants: This time, the Saudis are coming with a clear message: Let’s phase out greenhouse gas pollution, not fossil fuels. Riyadh wants to continue burning (and selling) oil and gas while capturing emissions with technology that’s not yet available at scale.

Where it gets tricky: That view is at odds with the position of the EU and many vulnerable countries, which fear that the promise of unlimited carbon capture could give the fossil fuel industry a free pass to continue polluting and slow the shift to renewable energy. They argue that carbon removal technology should be used only to balance out emissions from sectors that are tricky to electrify, like aviation.

Saudi Arabia also fiercely opposes EU-U.S. efforts to broaden the contributor base of the new climate disaster fund to other wealthy countries that produce lots of greenhouse gases. (Those countries could include — surprise — Saudi Arabia.) One European negotiator, granted anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters, expressed concern that Riyadh would attempt to reopen a fragile agreement on the fund at COP28.


Much like Saudi Arabia, Russia has a reputation for playing spoiler at global climate talks, and the country’s delegation is heading to Dubai with its usual uncompromising stance.

What it wants: Russia — one of the world’s largest oil and gas exporters — has explicitly come out against a fossil fuel phaseout. “We oppose any provisions or outcomes that somehow discriminate or call for phase-out of any specific energy source or fossil fuel type,” read a Russian submission to the U.N. climate body in September.

Moscow will likely seek to paint the publication of a new “climate doctrine” in October as a sign of progress, with the document enshrining 2060 as Russia’s climate neutrality target. But the updated doctrine also highlighted what Russia sees as positive effects of global warming and avoided linking climate change to fossil fuel combustion.

Where it gets tricky: With its war on Ukraine, Russia has become a pariah state, at least as far as Western countries are concerned. Given its status as one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters, governments will have little choice but to engage with Moscow on climate change, but there are signs Russia’s geopolitical gambit could disrupt the talks both this year and next year: The Russian government is currently blocking EU countries from hosting COP29, a dispute that will have to be sorted out in Dubai.


India, newly crowned the world’s most populous nation, wants to see the summit end with promises of more ambitious climate action — at least from wealthy governments such as the U.S. and EU.

What it wants: In a recent submission to the U.N.’s climate body, India writes that the new assessment of climate progress should “motivate developed [countries] to increase the ambition of their actions and support.” Meanwhile, developing countries should focus on improving their climate efforts — “taking into account their national circumstances, capacities and … support received.”

A key priority for New Delhi is “equity,” with India calling on developed countries to live up to their historical responsibility as the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution. “It is considered unfair if those who have contributed the most to the problem do not contribute more to the solution than those whose contribution is much smaller,” the Indian submission continues.

Two anonymous Indian government officials told Reuters last month that New Delhi wants to push developed nations to become carbon-negative rather than carbon-neutral by mid-century.

Where it gets tricky: The Indian approach echoes U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ call on developed nations to achieve climate neutrality in 2040, rather than 2050 as most currently plan to do. But it sidesteps the issue of ramping up its own climate efforts — Guterres did, after all, also ask developing countries to reach net-zero in 2050. India is only aiming for 2070.

Sara Schonhardt reported and Zack Colman contributed reporting from Washington, D.C. Zia Weise reported from Brussels.

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.

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