- by Prof John Sweeney in Dubai

It is customary for civil society groups to nominate a country that they feel has done least to tackle climate change as
Fossil of the Day. These nominated are subsequently entered into Fossil of the Week etc. to hopefully embarrass countries into upping their game. It’s a bit of a stunt, but has been a feature of COPs for many years. Friday was Youth and Children’s day and the nominated country was Israel, narrowly pipping Russia and Australia. The nomination of Israel was emphasising that there can be no climate justice without social justice, and reflected on the tragic loss of young life presently occurring in the region. In the case of Russia, the fact that Mr. Putin landed in the UAE the day before and didn’t even come to COP was pointed out, together with the long standing opposition of Russia to emissions reductions. His potential motive in going from one petrostate,the UAE to another, Saudi Arabia, was also commented on by the nominators. The contribution of fossil fuels to the Russian economy is as high as 40% and new markets are needed following the EU boycott. This of course raises doubt as to what Russia will agree to in the final communique.

In the case of Australia, the fact that they have made no contribution as yet to the Loss and Damage Fund despite being one of the world’s leading exporters of fossil fuel was pointed out. The very limited contribution they have made to ameliorating climate change impacts in their neighbouringcountries was also a factor. Of course the awards are purely symbolic, but do tend to show up the real ‘laggards’ in the negotiations.

Also produced at each COP is the country ‘league table’ which positions 59 countries and the EU in terms of their climate performance. Rankings are decided by a panel of experts with inputs also provided at a national level. After improving briefly in 2022 to reach 37th place, largely as a result of the passage of climate legislation, Ireland has now slipped to 43rd place in 2023. Not quite in the relegation zone yet, but clearly being overtaken by other countries. The reasons given primarily relate to implementation failure, namely Ireland’s failure to convince the evaluators that the carbon budget agreed for 2021-2025 will be achieved. Indeed the EPA have also projected recently that the subsequent budget period 2026-2030 will also not be achieved. So despite ‘talking the talk’, Ireland is not ‘walking the walk’!

There is a striking presence of ‘Big Agriculture’ lobbyists at this COP. While the omni present oil lobbyists tend to get the greatest attention, industrial agriculture lobbyists are very active. Emissions associated with food production amount to about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions with over half of this due to livestock farming. Methane is particularly problematic, trapping 80 times more heat than the same amount of CO2 over a 20 year period. Yet the focus in this COP seems to be largely restricted to reducing methane from oil and gas flaring, rather than from livestock. Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture has arrived and will meet civil society groups tomorrow where the COP theme focus will be on agriculture and food. It should be interesting given that Ireland emits 3.7 times as much methane per capita as the average EU citizen.

Today there was a lot more activism inside the COP venue with noisy marches and demonstrations to rightly remind negotiators what is at stake. However there are growing concerns that the final decision will not signal an end to fossil fuels. Presently the negotiators have a number of alternative texts to argue over. These range from ‘an orderly and just phase-out of fossil fuels’ to no text at all being offered. Somewhere between the two there will be compromises suggested involving ‘unabated emissions’ and ‘phase down’ of fossil fuel emissions. The planet however can’t wait for compromises in this area. Nonetheless the requirement for unanimity which has bedevilled progress in this area for 28 years means that it will only take one country to veto what over 190 countries want to do. The next few days will tell the tale.