An article by: Gael Giraud

The agreement reached at the 28th International Climate Summit in Dubai (COP28) on December 13 last year is clearly disappointing. It is certainly the first time in the history of such meetings that it mentions “transitioning away from fossil fuels.” That reference was trotted out during the final night of negotiations, thanks in part to the skillful restraint of a longtime participant in these marathons, John Kerry, Barack Obama's former secretary of state. However, “transition” does not mean “exit” – such a term has been completely rejected, particularly by Saudi Arabia and Iraq. According to climate scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte, the detailed pledges made in Dubai, if implemented, would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of -5% by 2030, while the 2015 Paris Agreement and commitment to keep global warming at +2°C requires emissions reductions of more than 40% over 6 years. However, these estimates are based on the strong assumption that we will deliver on our promises. Many of them, formulated in Paris in 2015, have not been implemented.

What will happen with the agreements made in Dubai?

As to financing for adaptation to the environmental crisis and emission reductions, there is also a disconnect. Along with other researchers, I estimated in 2022 that 6 to 8% of global GDP would need to be invested annually in environmental bifurcation until 2035, if we are to have a reasonable chance of staying within the +2°C limit by the end of the century, which means approximately 7 trillion euros per year. This invoice includes the cost of necessary repairs due to damage caused by climate chaos (rising sea levels, floods, droughts, typhoons, storms…). In this area, COP28 has promised to allocate a total of approximately $700 million to replenish the fund for financing such repairs. However, the cost of annual warming-related damages is expected to quickly reach $580 billion by 2030.

Additionally, COP28 plans to increase annual climate change adaptation funding to $40 billion by 2025. However, according to the UN, this is still ten times less than what the poorest countries should receive.

Thus, no matter what, the international community promises to allocate 10 to 1000 times less funds than those needed to solve the environmental problem.

This cowardice is all the more surprising given that insurance companies have now accumulated enough data on the impact of climate change to be able to provide reliable estimates of the damage that can be expected, if we continue to look the other way as the planet burns. Thus, the Zurich-based reinsurance company Swiss Ré published a report back in 2021, confirming the worst climate forecasts from economists. Unless serious action is taken to reduce emissions, global GDP could lose up to 18% in a world where warming could reach +3.2°C, and not at the end of the century, but in less than thirty years! China will be particularly affected and will lose a quarter of its GDP annually, while the USA, Canada, and Great Britain will lose about 10%, and the EU will lose 11%. On our continent, Finland and Switzerland will suffer less (-6%) than, for example, France and Greece (-13%) or Italy (-14%).

These losses are close to those of the warring countries. Fortunately, the Swiss company also believes that decisive action could have prevented such a disaster. This way, we would be losing about -11% of the world’s wealth produced each year if we were to largely deliver on what was just promised in Dubai, which would take us to about +2°C of average temperature rise in 2050. Finally, if the Paris Agreement were to be adhered to, we would only lose -4% of the wealth produced by the global economy, which for many countries would be more or less in line with the effects of the COVID pandemic.

Why can’t we still make less suicidal decisions? From a political perspective, states have already made significant commitments, particularly to achieving net carbon neutrality in their economies by 2050. Very few actually find the means to fulfill this promise, but it is still achievable. Thus, I published a report in France, jointly with the Rousseau Institute, that describes a realistic path to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century. The problem is in the fossil fuel industries, whose very intense lobbying is largely responsible for the poor COP28 results.

At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists have been accredited to attend the Dubai debate. This is a record figure in the history of such summits. Is it any wonder that the final declaration is replete with verbiage typical of the green camouflage of the fossil fuel lobby? The French delegation personally included the President and General Director of the Total company.

Undoubtedly, the main challenge in materializing the promises of nations so that we do not leave hell to the younger generation is to free politics from the pressure emanating from the extractive industry that knows its days are numbered.

Economist, Director of Research at CNSR (National Center for Scientific Research) in Paris

Gael Giraud