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What does the current climate situation mean for you and your business? Dhesigen Naidoo investigates…

The fever of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 28th Conference of the Parties (Cop28), its proceedings, and outcomes are set to dominate conversations as the world looks expectantly for a better rules base and more global agreements to help us deal with the devastating impacts of an already heated planet, and hopefully a set of pathways to stem further global warming and kickstart a process to get the Greenhouse Gas emissions back to more comfortable pre-industrial levels eventually.

What does this mean for you and your business? Climate change is now well-established as a global crisis. The World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2023 pegs directly related climate risks as five of the top 10 risks to the global economy in the two-year timeframe, and they become the top four risks in the 10-year timeframe. This comes from a survey of perceptions of business and government leaders worldwide, and Climate Change is top of mind when considering their future prospects.

At a more immediate level, we have witnessed a dramatic change in the extreme weather landscape on the back of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists confirm as a 1.15 degree temperature increase as a result of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity, primarily from carbon emissions produced by the use of the fossil fuels oil, gas, and coal. In South Africa, this produces the bulk of our electricity, powers most of our transport, and drives most of our industry. Climate-related extreme weather events include floods, droughts, high-energy storms, heatwaves, and wildfires. These events as we know very well have acquired the characteristics of being pervasive, it now occurs all around the country, they are more intense, and have become alarming regular. We have recently witnessed the destructive nature of these events with the 2022 Kwazulu-Natal floods, simultaneously with extreme drought conditions in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The increased temperatures have seen each year successively become the year of new record temperatures recorded. 2023 is well-placed to become the new record holder. Outside the devastation of extreme weather, the increased land and sea temperatures mean a challenge to food security, as farming conditions become more difficult with both higher temperatures and associated higher evaporation rates and less water availability. Added to this is the challenge of increasing desertification, leaving less arable land available for agriculture. The threats to food security is real with the further devastation of loss of jobs and non-sustainability of businesses across the agribusiness value chain. At a very personal level, food price inflation will counter our ability to end hunger as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2). Research is now confirming that disease burdens are also increasing on the back of these changing climatic patterns. The boundaries of diseases like malaria and dengue fever threaten to spread as higher temperatures make the vectors more viable. This is true for many more diseases like dysentery and diarrhea. In addition, non-communicable diseases like high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases have the potential to increase radically in higher temperature environments. Then there is mental health with these compounding factors creating great anxiety, particularly among the youth as they visualise the very difficult world they have to inherit.

Climate Change affects the state of the economy. It affects your sector. It affects your company. It affects you. And what happens at the UNFCCC Cop intimately affects the trajectory of both future climate change rates, as well as our collective ability to manage the negative impacts. The expectation is that some 70 000 people will be gathering in Dubai in December 2023 to attend the various parts of the Cop28 gathering. If this number is realised, it will be the highest attended Cop. While the majority will be associated with the various parallel gatherings and events, the hub as always will be the formal negotiations. What are the key issues and what should we expect?

The climate change negotiations have a few critical streams, most long-standing that are looking to Dubai for either convergence by the parties or acceleration of agreements for implementation or sufficient progress on the financing arrangements. In most cases, it is all three. The country delegations have been meeting throughout the year post Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheik, to progress the negotiations and the science teams have been labouring in the background gathering and analysing mountains of data to ensure a scientifically informed negotiation. The extent to which science prevails over matters of politics, power balances, and trade matters will reveal itself in December. Regions and different negotiation blocks have also been meeting to converge group positions to make stronger cases at Cop. In September this year, President Ruto in his capacity as Chairperson of the Committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) convened the inaugural African Climate Summit in Kenya. The outcome document—the Nairobi Declaration—serves as the platform for the Common African Position for Cop28.

Let us take brief journey into some of the major issues that will be engaged:

The Global Stocktake

This is the monitoring tool of the Paris Agreement, assessing the progress made by countries and other players and stakeholders on the progress being made in terms of the agreements and decisions that stem from the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015 at Cop21. It is also important to note that in terms of the decisions that guides the stocktake, it is a “party driven process”, meaning that like the IPCC Assessment Reports, it is not an independent scientific audit of progress, but rather a scientifically informed negotiated statement of progress. More controversial than the state of play is the real negotiation on how to deal with the gaps in progress and the speed at which those gaps are both addressed and met. In the simplest terms, measuring the progress toward the mitigation goals to enable us to keep global warming to within an increasingly elusive goal of a 1.5 degrees temperature increase above pre-industrial levels by 2030. The slowdown of decarbonization and the reinvest in oil, gas, and coal to ensure national energy security driven in large part by significant conflicts like the War in Ukraine, all indicate that unless something miraculous is introduced at Cop, the 1.5 degree dream will remain increasingly elusive.

The Global Goal on Adaptation

We are already experiencing the devastating impacts of a world with a temperature increase of 1.15 degrees. The need for Climate Adaptation is critical. There a baseline theoretical scenario of a 1.5 degrees increase, with the reality as expressed by such instruments like Climate Action Tracker, a more likely 2-3 degrees range having a higher likelihood, means that the level of adaptation required is much higher than when the global goals were first negotiated. The quantum of investment required for most parts of the world to become sufficiently climate resilient is gigantic and is already in the range of trillions of dollars while the current North to South pledge remains at $100 billion, and this remains unfulfilled to date. An acceleration of action on the Global Goal on Adaptation is critical.

The Loss and Damage Fund

This was the great gain at Cop27, and the role of the African block was pivotal in landing this agreement to set up the fund. This is critical for many countries, including South Africa, that have incurred great losses and damage in the wake of global warming and climate-related disasters. A great leap forward in the conceptualisation of the fund, its permanent hosting, and the modalities governing the mechanisms will be a tremendous value-add at Cop28.

In addition, we remain hopeful that the voluntary deals in the margins of the Cop seeding significant global partnerships to more the climate change agenda forward. Movement on the reform of both the Multilateral system and the Global Financial Architecture will be a great boost.

Perhaps if enough is achieved in Dubai at Cop and then stewarded by the UAE in their Presidency year-2024, we will potentially see a turn-around and the promise of ushering us into a trajectory to low carbon future; with sufficient investment to help us all to become more climate resilient until we get there.

Dhesigen Naidoo is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria.

By Editor