Wednesday Briefing: What to Watch at the U.N. Climate Talks

Two facts loom over the COP28 U.N. climate talks, which begin tomorrow in Dubai: Earth is careening toward climate disaster, and governments are acting too slowly to avert it.

Diplomats from nearly 200 countries, and many heads of state and government, will gather to try to draft a plan to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. The United Arab Emirates, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, is hosting COP28, drawing the anger of activists. The conference is taking place against a backdrop of wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, making international cooperation even more difficult.

For some insight, I reached out to my colleague Lisa Friedman, who is covering the annual conference for the 12th time.

What will you be watching this time around?

Lisa: There are a number of important things set to take place, including a global assessment of how successful nations have been in meeting the climate targets they set in Paris in 2015; and finalizing the details of a new fund to help vulnerable countries cope with the loss and damage caused by global warming. But the big thing I’ll have my eye on is the political agreement nations are debating around phasing out fossil fuels. Fossil fuel burning is the main driver of climate change, but so far nations have been unwilling to collectively call for a phase-out.

Of the two main issues — the “loss and damage” fund and a deal to replace fossil fuels with clean energy like solar and wind — which do you think is most likely to be finalized?

Lisa: The “loss and damage” fund has a deadline to be operational by the end of COP28, and it seems likely at this stage that it will happen. There have been a number of battles this year over how it would operate. Developing countries did not want to see the fund based at the World Bank, which many feel is dominated by the U.S. Developed countries, like the U.S., wanted to ensure that their taxpayers did not foot the entire bill, and that the wealthiest developing nations, like China, Qatar, Singapore or Saudi Arabia, would also contribute.

In early November, the U.S. signed off on draft U.N. guidelines for the fund that stipulate that the fund will be housed at the World Bank for at least four years. Neither developed countries nor anyone else would be obliged to pay into the fund.

As for the energy transition, I think most people expect there to be an agreement. It’s just a question of how ambitious it will be.

Here are more facts about COP28.

Leaked documents: Behind the scenes of the summit, the Emirates has sought to use its position as host to lobby on oil and gas deals around the world, according to an internal document obtained by the Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC.

Both Hamas and Israel accused the other yesterday of violating the truce as it entered a fifth day. The Israeli military said that explosive devices were detonated near its troops in two places in northern Gaza, and that militants in one area fired on them. Hamas said its fighters had engaged in a “field clash” provoked by Israel, without offering additional details. But neither side signaled that it was pulling out of the agreement.

In a worrying sign for China’s economic and political future, wealthy Chinese families have moved hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country this year, aided by a cheaper currency.

With Covid restrictions having ended, Chinese travelers have bought apartments in Japan — often with suitcases of cash — and have poured money into accounts in the U.S. or Europe that pay higher interest than those in China, where rates are low and falling. In some cases, Chinese are getting around Beijing’s controls on transferring money overseas by buying gold bars small enough to fit in carry-on luggage or stacks of foreign currency.

The group ministers to the vulnerable, calms the vexed and occasionally intervenes with the violent, working independently of — but in tandem with — the police.

Fawn Veerasunthorn was studying medicine in Thailand and hating it. Then she remembered a guest lecture at her Bangkok high school given by Paitoon Ratanasirintrawoot, a visual effects editor who had worked on “The Lion King” and “Mulan.” She sent him a letter. Should she switch careers?