Road to COP28: Food in focus and ‘kick up the backside’ for renewables

'Strongest push ever given to food systems and agriculture in the COP process'

Political wrangles over phasing down fossil fuel use and attendance to the climate summit continue to dominate talks ahead of November’s COP28 meeting, even as the UAE has announced a new focus for the meeting.

With only 125 days to go to COP28, president-designate Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Simon Stiell, have issued a joint statement on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial meeting in Chennai on 27 July.

“The science demands a strong mitigation outcome at COP28 that drives a significant reduction in emissions and builds on the progress of previous COPs,” the leaders said in statement.

While the discussions at the G20 Energy Ministerial considered energy transition and aligning current pathways with the Paris Goals, the outcome did not provide a sufficiently clear signal for transforming global energy systems, scaling up renewable and clean energy sources, and responsibly phasing down fossil fuels.

G20 nations were called on “to urgently prioritise revised commitments, whether nationally determined contributions, national adaptation plans or on climate finance, including contributions to the ambitious replenishment of the Green Climate Fund to align with the Paris Goals.”

The COP28 presidency has said agriculture and food production will take centre stage at the climate summit later this year.

Mariam Al Mheiri, UAE minister for climate change and environment, on 24 July unveiled the “food systems and agriculture agenda” for the crucial talks.

The aim is to tackle the issue in four ways: galvanising national leadership; involving non-state actors; boosting innovation; and scaling up finance.

Launched at the UN Food Systems Summit in Rome, Al Mheiri said it was the “strongest push ever given to food systems and agriculture in the COP process”.

Al Mheiri also called on governments to sign the first “leaders’ declaration on food systems, agriculture and climate action”.

Calls for Sunak to attend

However in the UK attempts are still being made to get prime minister Rishi Sunak to attend the COP28 climate summit.

On 24 July a cross-party group of influential politicians urged Sunak to set an example by attending the UN climate summit this November, as both Labour and his Conservative party came under pressure over their net-zero policies.

The group of MPs and peers wants Sunak to commit to attending COP28 in Dubai, and to appoint a secretary of state as special envoy for the climate ahead of the UN general assembly in September, where preparations will be made for COP28.

“The UK has an important role to play in leveraging its international influence, and working constructively with all [countries], to help secure an agreed package that clearly names the requirement to phase out all fossil fuels and set goals for the upscaling of renewables,” they wrote, in a letter from the all-party parliamentary group for climate, seen by the Guardian newspaper.

Fossil fuel phase down

Earlier in the month on 22 July, energy ministers from some of the world’s largest economies failed to agree on phasing down fossil fuels and setting ambitious renewable energy targets at a G20 meeting in Goa, India.

The summit was expected to lay down groundwork ahead of the COP28 in Dubai. But it unearthed deep divisions between governments over some of the key issues at stake, piling pressure on the UAE to find a consensus around its vision for the climate summit in November.

Phasing down unabated fossil fuels by mid-century and tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 are among the pillars of the plan outlined by COP28 chief Sultan al Jaber.

On 13 July in Brussels the president of COP28 told governments they must face up to their failures to tackle climate change at the next UN climate summit.

The COP28 meeting in November should agree to triple renewable energy by 2030, Sultan al-Jaber told climate ministers from countries including Brazil, China and the US in Belgium.

Green groups welcomed the speech as a “kick up the backside” to governments.

It came as several global heat records were broken last week and a deadly heat wave swept across southern Europe.

At the same time, researchers are raising red flags over allegations of more covert influence campaigns.

Members of the COP28 team were found by the Centre for Climate Reporting and the Guardian to have been editing Wikipedia pages about the conference’s chief, and an army of fake social media accounts has appeared, promoting the country’s climate record.