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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

COP28: Why It Matters for Asia

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

COP28 must provide far-reaching climate solutions to better protect ecosystems and societies.

Towards the end of each year, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to discuss and negotiate strategies to combat climate change. This year, COP28, hosted by the UAE, will take place from November 30 to December 12. It could be a pivotal moment in the global effort to address the pressing issue of climate change. Asia, the world's largest and most populous continent, is both a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This article explores why COP28 matters for Asia and what the region stands to gain from this critical gathering.

The urgency of addressing climate change has never been more evident. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, melting polar ice caps, and a multitude of ecological disruptions have all become part of our daily reality. It is no longer a distant threat; it is a crisis that is unfolding before our eyes. As the consequences of climate change become more severe, the window for effective action is narrowing rapidly. However, geopolitical tensions, economic interests, and the domestic politics of individual nations can complicate the negotiation process.

Certainly, COP28 will see difficult debates about responsibility and equity, as well as financial commitments from wealthier countries to those less able to address climate change. Overcoming these hurdles will be essential for the conference to succeed. Asia can be taken as representative here, including a vast range of countries with varying levels of development and carbon emissions. Some Asian nations are among the world's top carbon emitters, making their contributions to climate change undeniable. On the other hand, many countries in the region are low- and middle-income nations struggling to adapt to the consequences of climate change, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and water scarcity.

Climate change threatens the lives of many, especially in low- and middle-income countries. ©Boudewijn Huysmans, Unsplash.

In this regard, COP28 brings about several intertwined objectives on its agenda. First and foremost, the conference is crucial for setting more ambitious targets regarding emission reduction and transitioning to cleaner energy sources, as pledged under the Paris Agreement. To assess achievements that have been made since its adoption, the conference will include the conclusion of the first global stocktake (GST), which gives an idea of the extent to which the Agreement has been fulfilled thus far.

Regardless of these conclusions, it is evident that current commitments are insufficient to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement. Climate action can bring significant economic and social benefits to developing nations. Investments in clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and climate-resilient infrastructure can drive economic growth and improve living standards. Thus, investing in clean and sustainable technologies is crucial to reduce emissions but also for boosting economic growth and assisting people in their everyday lives, such as for health issues surrounding small scale farming in Cambodia. Countries like Cambodia and others have enormous potential for renewable energy sources such as solar and hydropower. COP28 can facilitate partnerships and investments in the renewable energy sector to reduce carbon emissions and provide clean energy for development.

This becomes even more pressing as developing nations are increasingly feeling the impacts of climate change. Cambodia for instance is among the countries in Asia most susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change. The nation faces challenges such as increased temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more frequent and severe floods and droughts. With a predominantly agrarian economy and a high reliance on natural resources, these climate impacts have significant consequences for Cambodia's people and its development, showcasing impacts for many other Asian nations with similar challenges.

Renewable energies not only reduce emissions but also have practical effects for smallhold farmers. ©Rokas Skeivys, Unsplash.

Asia is home to a substantial proportion of the world's population, including those most vulnerable to climate change. Many Asian states, often situated in regions vulnerable to climate change, bear a disproportionate burden of the crisis. They frequently lack the resources, infrastructure, and capacity to cope with the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters, including hurricanes, droughts, and flooding. Hence, challenges like sea-level rise and monsoon variations require serious and adaptation and resilience efforts on a large scale.

Consequently, this will be another focal point for COP28, recognizing that climate change is already impacting communities worldwide. Discussions will revolve around how to support vulnerable regions and enhance their ability to cope with the changing climate. One key issue in this regard is financial assistance for developing nations. Developing countries require funding to implement climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, as they often lack the resources to combat climate change on their own. Many Asian countries also call for financial support to execute climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives effectively. Vulnerable Asian countries which are regularly confronted with natural disasters, such as Pakistan, need to have structures in place that are ready to help immediately in the case of emergencies. COP28 thus provides a platform for states like Pakistan and others to jointly seek support for implementing climate-resilient infrastructure and disaster risk reduction measures.

The principle of climate justice recognizes the historical responsibility of developed countries for greenhouse gas emissions and the right of developing nations to achieve sustainable development. This principle reinforces the need for global solidarity and support for vulnerable countries. In consequence, richer nations are expected to increase their financial contributions to help bridge this gap. The starting point for these efforts results from the previous COP27, which saw the establishment of a loss and damage fund. However, despite huge financial support pledges from richer states, there remains a lack of consensus on the question of which states should be eligible to benefit from the fund and which ones should not be granted access. This discussion is also highly relevant for the Asian context and the question of whether industrialized nations such as China, which nevertheless still describe themselves as developing countries, should be given access to international funds. In addition, there are geographical vulnerability factors that affect Pakistan or Cambodia, for example, and which play a role in the equation of who might be entitled to which sums.

The COPs are prepared throughout the entire year, especially at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn. ©Kris Duda, CC BY 2.0 DEED, Flickr.

Accordingly, COP28 can serve as a forum for Asian countries to collaborate on financial assistance and technology transfer, but also clearly shows the differences between Asian countries in terms of the impact of climate change. This year's COP will therefore not only be exciting to watch in terms of global commitments, but also with regard to the question of whether there are common Asian climate perspectives. Despite all the failures in climate action it is therefore worth following the COP and its outcomes closely, once again.

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