/ 29 November 2023

What to look out for at COP28

Climate change leaders 2014.
File photo

COP28, the UN climate change conference, is upon us, and what an important one it is. Let’s forget about the hullabaloo that the conference is held in a major carbon-emitting country (Dubai) or the fact that the president this year — Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber — is a major oil man. 

Let’s instead focus on some key points that will be discussed at this year’s event. It presents an opportunity to make some change, to form a pathway that leads us down a manageable climate route.

This year there will be some key topics to look forward to that warrant urgent discussion. These need precedence as we hurtle toward unmanageable climate change that will leave the planet unliveable for many. Chief among those who will suffer are developing countries which have the smallest hand in the situation in which we find ourselves. 

So aside from the usual, “we need to cut carbon emissions and fossil fuel” tropes that will be a focus, there will be other opportunities for important topics. Important topics like food security, loss and damage, climate change and health and the ever-present funding farce will be worth keeping an eye on.

Let’s take a closer look. 

Food systems

This year, food systems will have a dedicated day for discussions at COP28. On 10 December countries and many other parties involved in food will look to discuss resilient food systems. 

This important discussion will look at the link between climate change and agriculture. The agriculture industry is a major greenhouse gas emitter, estimates have it as responsible for around a third of emissions. 

But the topic is convoluted and dense. Smallholder farmers tend to be ignored when discussing climate finance yet they need strategies and funds to cope with heat, flood and droughts which all have an effect on food and agriculture. 

Millions of people suffer from issues like malnutrition and hunger. Areas like the Horn of Africa have seen dry spells extending several years, meaning that food shortages and hunger have taken hold. This is something that must be addressed on 10 December.

Food systems need change, they need to be adapted to be more resilient. That will ensure that nutritious food with less of a carbon footprint must be prioritised and plans must be made to ensure this happens. 

Loss and damage

If there was a win at COP27, it was the set-up of a loss and damage fund. This fund “aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change”, according to the United Nations.

This year it is expected to take shape where countries will determine how it will work, who funds it and where the money must be allocated to. It refers to crises like drought, floods, desertification, wildfires and numerous other catastrophes that countries will suffer as the earth heats up.

The fund will need to make up for the shortfall experienced in climate financing. It needs to move beyond empty promises and unmanageable loans. There is a chance here for countries that caused so much of the climate crisis to make strides in setting it right. It needs to be debt-free. Countries that are developing simply cannot afford to deal with the financial impacts of climate change.

That is why the loss and damage fund is a crucial talking point this year that needs action.

Climate and health

Climate change and health are intertwined, and leaders need to acknowledge that this year. The issues are not isolated and one has a bearing on the other. Heat-related deaths, diseases spreading because of changes in weather and displacement because of climate change must all be on the agenda. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been pretty vocal about this and has pledged support in making this a priority discussion at this year’s event. 

In a previous Mail & Guardian article, Wakio Mbogho wrote the following: “A 2023 report by the WHO shows that 3.6 billion people live in areas highly susceptible to climate change, which directly contributes to humanitarian emergencies from heatwaves, wildfires, floods, tropical storms and hurricanes that are increasing in scale, frequency and intensity.

“It further states that from 2030 to 2050, climate change is expected to cause about 250 000 additional deaths a year from water- and vector-borne diseases, as well as mental health issues.”

Diseases like cholera, dengue and malaria can all be worsened by climate change. For cholera it can be made worse by flood conditions. Dengue and malaria are mosquito-borne diseases and climate change can either spread these vector-carrying mosquitoes or place people in positions where they are living in conjunction with these species. 

Deforestation and climate change are “the primary culprits behind the alarming increase in global outbreaks of viruses such as dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya”, another M&G article states

Health must be prioritised this year. 

Other notable topics

The global stocktake is set to feature this year as a major talking point. It will inform the progress made on climate change and set the stage for initiatives by countries. It needs to call for robust action in lowering emissions. 

The usual mitigation and adaptation will be a talking point as well. This is important because if these fail, loss and damage becomes prominent. 

Proper climate finance is critical, holding polluters accountable and ensuring they provide the needed funds must be prioritised.

There lies an opportunity to make strides in our climate fight. Failure cannot be afforded if the latest emissions gap is anything to go by. We are blasting our way to 3°C which will be devastating. It seems unlikely that the goal set out in Paris in 2015 to limit climate change to 1.5°C will happen. Perhaps this year it’s time to move past that and focus on a more attainable goal.