More talk and promises, or radical, game-changing action?
Tomorrow, representatives from 197 nations will convene in the United Arab Emirates for COP28, the annual climate summit organised by the UN.
After nearly three decades of COP conferences, it is clear climate change is no longer a distant threat.
This year will almost certainly be the hottest ever recorded, with extreme weather events intensified by climate change harming millions of people around the world.
In 2015, the landmark Paris Agreement set a global goal for climate action: keep global warming to 2°C by 2100 and to 1.5°C if possible.
But eight years on, greenhouse gas emissions have not yet decreased and as world leaders enter the towering, air-conditioned halls of Dubai’s Expo City for COP28, global average temperatures will climb towards 1.3°C above preindustrial levels.
With the window of opportunity to keep warming to 1.5°C becoming smaller and smaller, the outcomes of COP28 will be crucial for the planet.
Ahead of the summit, we asked leading Imperial College London researchers to outline their hopes and concerns for the UN climate conference.
Professor Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London:
“After 27 COP conferences, the world is still on a dangerous trajectory.
“Countries are failing to live up to the targets they have set themselves to keep global warming well below 2 and 1.5°C.
“The implementation of policy needs to be taken seriously and emissions reduction promises have to be delivered.
“At the same time, scientific analysis also shows a glimmer of hope: if progress on renewables and action on all emissions is continued, the year of 2023 might become the year in which global emissions peaked and started on a downward trajectory.
“This potential milestone should be cemented in the COP28 outcome, for example, by committing to peaking global emissions before 2025.”
Dr Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London:
“My message for COP28 is simple: climate change is already destroying lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems around the world.
“The Paris Agreement exists to uphold the most basic human rights by limiting the impacts of climate change.
“Until we radically cut carbon emissions, extreme weather events will become more frequent and intense. That means there is a human rights imperative to phasing out fossil fuels and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“Despite their carefully crafted, green-washed talking points, fossil fuel companies will not save the world.
“Since 2021, we’ve known that no new gas and oil fields could be developed if the world is to keep warming to 1.5°C. But fossil fuel companies continue to expand their operations, ignoring the suffering of millions of people around the world, so they can make more money.
“Future climate negotiations need to be highly sceptical of the influence and involvement of big oil.”
Mr Michael Wilkins, Executive Director and Professor of Practice at the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at Imperial College Business School:
“To make progress on mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, we need much more finance from both public and private sources.
“The level of finance currently committed to tackling and adapting to climate change is not nearly enough.
“While the huge acceleration of clean renewable energy is encouraging, much greater investment is needed to ensure the trend will continue in the right direction.
“To achieve net zero by 2050, public and private sector entities across the globe will need approximately $3.8 trillion in annual investment flows through 2025.
“At COP28 we need to see global investors genuinely commit to aligning their assets under management with a net zero transition. This means no more investments in new fossil fuel exploration and production.”
Dr Joyce Kimutai, Research Associate in the Analysis and Interpretation of Climate Data for Extreme Weather at the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London:
“At COP28, we need commitments from developed countries to deliver finance for loss and damage.
“Losses and damages from extreme weather are already huge and are going to continue to increase as our climate warms, impacting the world’s poorest countries who have contributed the least greenhouse gas emissions.
“After 27 COP conferences, it is painfully clear that talking about action is not enough.
“The creation of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP27 was a long-awaited win for developing nations. Now we need commitments from developed countries to deliver finance to the fund.”
Dr Emma Lawrance, Climate Cares Lead and Mental Health Lead at Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London:
“The climate emergency is worsening the mental health and wellbeing of people around the world.
“Compounding experiences of climate-related hazards, including extreme weather, forced migration, food and water insecurity and crop failures, increased costs of living, fracted communities and air pollution, are sadly leading to a higher risk of people developing mental health challenges or dying by suicide.
“Understanding the gravity of the crisis and insufficient action from leaders is understandably very distressing, particularly for people who are bearing the brunt of the crisis while contributing the least - including younger generations.
“While the climate crisis is a risk multiplier for mental health, conversely climate action is an opportunity to create a world that better supports good mental health.
“Health is at the heart of climate action. Leaders must prioritise clean energy and stop funding fossil fuel companies to undermine the health of humanity. Actions that reduce fossil fuels and protect us from current climate threats also have important win-wins for good mental health and wellbeing such as cleaner air, greener cities and more equal, active and connected communities.
“I am thrilled that COP28 will include the first ever themed day dedicated to health. But this is only the start of the discussion.
“Mental health and wellbeing must be a core metric of progress in how policy makers are creating a better future for humanity by integrating it into all climate policies.”
Dr Caterina Brandmayr, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London:
“The Global Stocktake synthesis report makes clear that, despite climate pledges, policies and promises so far, the world is well off track from keeping global warming below 1.5°C.
“At COP28, global leaders need to set out a robust plan for how they will address the current shortfall in action.
“This should include raising ambition for the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions to drive near term, deep emissions cuts across all parts of the economy and committing to an energy transition that will see a rapid move away from fossil fuels alongside scaling up clean alternatives.
“With extreme weather events already battering communities across the world, the case for action has never been stronger. Warm words won’t tackle this crisis. COP28 must set out an ambitious roadmap to drive forward real world action in line with the Paris Agreement goals.”
Peter Childs, Professor Peter Childs, FREng, Co-Director Energy Futures Lab, Imperial College London
“The rapid roll-out of renewable energy is a reason to be hopeful about global progress on climate change.
“Clean, renewable energy is becoming incredibly cost-effective and accessible.”
“At COP28, countries are expected to set a target of tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030. This would be a huge victory for decarbonisation efforts.
“However, to reduce carbon emissions, the world also needs to rapidly move away from fossil fuels.”
Dr Gbemi Oluleye, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London:
“The transition away from fossil fuels is vital to deliver on the Paris Agreement.
“Alongside high-level commitments, moving away from fossil fuels will require policy to drive real world changes.
“A commitment at COP28 for a global carbon pricing framework would be an important avenue to drive reduction in fossil fuels demand and supply, and create a fertile ground for international cooperation in advancing clean technologies and fuels.
“In the absence of a prior commitment to a global carbon pricing framework capable of reshaping the market, any agreement to 'phase out' fossil fuels would lack substantial impact.”
Dr Kristine Belesova, Senior Lecturer in Global Population at Imperial College London:
“I am delighted to see the first ever Climate-Health Ministerial and Health Day at COP28
“It is high time for health benefits of climate mitigation to come to the forefront of negotiations, commitments, and policies at COP28 and beyond.
“Climate action brings an opportunity to improve health and save lives. Major health benefits can be achieved through reduced air pollution from phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with clean, renewable energy sources; transitioning to healthier, more sustainable diets; and increased physical activity through the promotion of active travel alongside public transport.
“Health benefits must be integrated into corporate and governmental climate actions plans, including Nationally Determined Contributions and Long-Term Low Emissions Development Strategies, and should be monitored and reported through the Global Stocktake and corporate climate progress monitoring.”
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London:
“This will be the 15th COP since I became the founding Director of the Grantham Institute in 2008.
“After each, the first reaction is almost always one of disappointment but, stepping back, the overall progress is clear, if too slow.
“The world needs to rapidly move away from fossil fuels to keep warming below 1.5 and 2°C.
“Most people that that it is very unlikely that this year’s COP, hosted by a petrostate, will result in an agreement on fossil fuel phase out.
“However, I would love for them to be proved wrong!”
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.
Sam Ezra Fraser-Baxter
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change