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 | 11-04-2024

Prof. Dr. Dr. Peter Höppe: Why
I'm now hoping for COP 30

Visualisierung: European Union, Copernicus Climate Change Service Data

On February 8, 2024, the EU's Copernicus Earth Observation Service presented alarming figures: For the first time, global warming was permanently above 1.5 degrees Celsius for twelve months in a row compared to the pre-industrial era (1850 - 1900). Reason enough for us to ask our senior expert on climate change and environmental risks, Prof. Dr. Dr. Peter Höppe, to take another look back at the last climate conference, COP 28. He told us how he interprets the resolutions with a little distance, what new coat of paint he would like to give the COP and why he would prefer to skip COP 29.


Climate tourism goal COP

I find the outcome of the COP 28 (28th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), which took place in Dubai last November/December, very modest. I deliberately don't say "disappointing“ because I didn't really expect anything more. The COP took place in an autocratic country where environmental protection is not a high priority, and the chief negotiator is also the CEO of an oil company. It was therefore already clear that no breakthroughs towards more climate protection would be achieved there. And that's not all: the year before, the participants met in Egypt, and next year the climate negotiators will meet in Azerbaijan, where a large part of the gross domestic product is generated by fossil fuels.

The way in which the COPs have developed in recent years is a major cause for concern. According to the organizers, around 85,000 participants travelled to the COP in Dubai last year, the vast majority of whom were not actively involved in the negotiations. We almost have to speak of climate tourism here, and that cannot help the cause. I advocate hosting the COP only every 2-3 years and scheduling negotiations between the main greenhouse gas emitters, which would only be a handful of countries. The countries that are not actively involved here could send observers, which would involve them in the process.

Ultimately, in my opinion, the entire organization of a COP would have to be rethought. Each year, one out of four world regions alternates as the venue for the event. There are not very many candidates, and whoever wins the bid also has the right to lead the negotiations. It would make much more sense if the chairpersons of the UNFCCC were in charge of the meetings, not the host country. This would also ensure more continuity.

Phase out for fossils

The topic most frequently addressed by the media in COP reporting was the phasing out of fossil fuels. For the first time, it was explicitly at the center of the negotiations and was mentioned in the final protocols. Strange, because all COPs to date have been about fossil fuels. Where else do the majority of greenhouse gases that cause the climate crisis come from? They were the famous elephant in the room that was just never brought up directly. Now, for the first time, the "culprit" has been named. Whether we are talking about the end of fossil fuels or a move away from fossil fuels is not really decisive in my opinion. It was already clear beforehand that the role of fossil fuels would have to be reduced in order to achieve the Paris targets. However, I do see one positive effect here: fossil fuels have made it into the protocols by name. It is important for more than 190 countries to call a spade a spade. This has a signal effect, especially for investors. After all, this is a globally adopted negotiation protocol. Should investors still be backing a technology that is being phased out? It therefore makes perfect sense to me that fossil fuels were mentioned, not only because of the emissions targets, but also, and above all, because of the effect on investors.

Of course, it would have been desirable to put an end to the exploration of fossil fuels and thus put a stop to the expansion of new sources of greenhouse gas emissions. It is absurd: the year in which fossil fuels were finally recognized for what they are - a relic of the past - was also the year in which more oil and gas was extracted in the USA than ever before. I wonder whether the alarming figures currently published by Copernicus would have produced a different COP result if they had been published a few months earlier...

Loss & Damage: No breakthrough, but first steps

One topic that is very close to my heart is “Loss & Damage”. It is also the reason why I founded the non-profit association Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII) in 2005 together with a number of scientists, NGOs and insurers. Our aim is to develop measures to cushion the increasing loss and damage caused by climate change in poorer countries, e.g. through insurance-based solutions such as basic insurance for people in particularly affected countries. This could be achieved through a fund that could be used to finance the implementation of such insurance solutions as well as premium subsidies. Since then, MCII has advocated such solutions at all COPs in dialog with the negotiating parties.

The term "loss and damage" was discussed for the first time at COP 16 in Cancun in 2010 and was included in the final protocol. The creation of the "Loss and Damage Fund" was finally agreed at the COP in Egypt in 2022. It is therefore clear that resources will flow into this fund to cushion L&D in poorer countries, but the “How” has still not been finalized. At least a positive signal was sent out at COP 28 right at the start, as several countries agreed to pay into the fund. But – who is to manage the fund, which country should pay in how much money, who receives the support and according to what criteria? Unfortunately, there are still many unanswered questions.

Nevertheless, I consider it positive that Germany has pledged USD 100 million. Together with a further USD 100m from the UAE, USD 108m each from France and Italy, USD 75m from the UK and USD 50m from Denmark as well as several smaller amounts, including from the EU (USD 27m), Ireland (USD 27m), Norway (USD 25m), the USA (USD 17.5m), Canada (USD 12m), Japan (USD 10m) and Slovenia (USD 1.5m), the total comes to around USD 700 million dollars. China has not pledged any payments. However, in order for the fund to work properly, it is calculated that around USD 400 billion would be needed. The funds pledged therefore do not even amount to 0.2% of the sum that would be needed to provide real climate protection aid. I therefore see the funds pledged so far more as a sign, a first step in the right direction, than as a breakthrough, especially as the money cannot yet be used. The fund is currently provisionally linked to the World Bank. It is now necessary to consider where it should be housed in the future. MCII is a think tank and can only support this operational task with the experience it has gained over many years. It would probably be best if a large international (UN) organization were to manage the fund.

There are now a whole series of funds within the framework of the climate negotiations. One problem is that they are not interconnected or coordinated. COP host countries often introduce a fund specifically to be associated with the COP and the organizing country. The Loss & Damage Fund is the latest in this series. It would be desirable if all parallel funds were brought together in order to exploit synergies and avoid inefficiencies.

Have we done the math without China?

A fundamental question with a fund is, of course, determining who should pay in how much. And since loss and damage caused by man-made climate change are compensated, it is necessary to calculate which regions or countries bear the main cumulative responsibility here. What date should we use as the starting point for the calculation? The industrial revolution? Then the emissions of the USA would account for around 25%, those of Europe for around 15-18% (depending on whether the UK is included) and China's emissions for around 14%. If we move the calculation period forward, e.g. to the year 1990, China's share increases significantly.

China joined the group of developing countries at COP 28. These countries have no obligation to reduce their emissions or pay into the fund. Once again, the People's Republic is unfortunately playing an inglorious role here, especially as it did not agree to sign the agreement to triple renewable energies by 2030. The Chinese delegates still do not want to commit to anything.

My advice would be not to be put off by China's attitude, but to act as if China is one of the willing countries. If the other countries set a good example, China will eventually have reputational problems. Incidentally, I no longer see Germany as one of the countries leading the way in climate protection. There are more progressive countries such as Denmark, Estonia and the Philippines. According to Germanwatch's Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), these countries are well ahead of Germany in terms of their climate protection ambitions, which is in 14th place in the current ranking, behind countries such as India, Morocco and Chile. Chancellor Scholz, who initiated the "Climate Club" in Dubai, can therefore not enjoy a good reputation. If you want to lead an initiative, you should be a role model yourself.

Summary: Small successes and great hope for 2025

An old problem of climate conferences came to light again at the last COP: The principle of unanimity. The fact that all participating countries have to agree leads to weak decisions. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get away from the need for unanimity once it has been decided.

Overall, I felt that COP 28 was a slap in the face for the small island states and developing countries, which increasingly perceive their problems as not being taken seriously. Nevertheless, even oil-producing countries now regard fossil fuels as an obsolete model. I see that as a success. The discussions about fossil fuels also send an important signal to the economy. The "Reaching the Last Mile Forum", the first COP event specifically on climate change and health, is also a welcome step forward. There, global donors pledged over USD 777 million to fight tropical diseases (NTDs) and improve the lives of 1.6 billion people. The focus is finally shifting to a problem that we are already struggling with today: The impact of climate change on people's health.

However, I am not pinning my hopes on COP 29, but on the COP after next, which will take place in Brazil in 2025. I have the feeling that President Lula is taking the matter very seriously. He is already setting the course so that COP 30 could finally bring the hoped-for breakthrough towards more concrete and ambitious commitments from the main countries responsible for climate change.

The data currently presented by Copernicus speaks for itself: governments must finally realize that a faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is unavoidable.