Time is running out on opportunities to limit global warming to a maximum of two or preferably one-and-a-half degrees Celsius, as the world leaders agreed to in Paris eight years ago. The COP28 climate negotiations are taking place at a geopolitically sensitive time, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is still ongoing and Israel is at war with Hamas, among other tensions.

The new European Commissioner for Climate Action, Wopke Hoekstra, hopes that the United Nations COP28 climate summit in Dubai will serve to give global impetus to the fight against global warming. “Scientists tell us that much, much more ambition is needed and the window of opportunity is actually closing,” he stressed in an interview with the European Newsroom.

In Dubai, the EU wants to get major CO2 emitters such as China to do more to combat climate change. In return, the EU is willing to help pay for climate damage in poorer parts of the world, for instance.

In order to reach a compromise final accord at the COP28 climate conference which starts in Dubai next week, “we do have an uphill climb that we face, because the ambition simply is very high“, said Hoekstra.

He also said that recent trips to China, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa had shown him the difficulties to overcome. He heard the different countries’ formal and informal positions and parsed them to look for a possible “landing zone”.

“In each of these domains – renewables, energy efficiency, methane, carbon markets, phasing out fossil (fuels) –, you know, I’m always looking for cues, tabling proposals, listening to opinions, trying to reformulate certain positions“ in order to narrow differences, he said.

Loss and Damage fund: ‘Economic power comes with responsibility’

The EU’s climate commissioner made it clear that he believed China, now boasting the second-biggest economy in the world, should be a contributor, not a beneficiary of the loss and damage fund. “China made tremendous progress. It is the second economy in the world. It has roughly the same number of electric vehicles as the European Union. (…) With all that affluence and with all that economic power also comes responsibility,” he said.

He added that this “is the case for China. It is also for others. Whoever has the ability to pay, should pay”. The “loss and damage [fund] should really be there for those most in need”, concluded Hoekstra.

The commissioner said the fund should pay out to “only a limited number of countries, rather than for whoever experiences climate disasters“. For example, small islands and African states who are not responsible “for any part of climate change” and who are “on the receiving end of droughts, flooding and heavy rains” should benefit. He noted that the fund “is not to compensate (for) loss and damage” as such, only to ensure that a country hit by a climate calamity “has the ability to continue“ to function.

Some countries going to COP28 are even “a bit iffy on whether it should be called ‘loss and damage'” because of that, though he called such questioning secondary. “It’s just important that we explain what the criteria are for eligibility and what (…) the fund is meant for,” he said.

The loss and damage fund, agreed upon at the last COP, is meant to deliver 100 billion US dollars in aid each year for vulnerable countries to draw on.  Developing countries expect rich industrialised countries in particular to give money. And some are hoping for annual sums worth hundreds of billions.

While substantial, the promised money is a fraction of the two trillion US dollars the UN estimates will be needed annually by 2030 to fund efforts to adapt to climate change and related aid for developing countries.

Climate Fight ‘can only succeed with broad consensus’

The EU is only responsible for seven percent of global emissions and the climate fight “can only succeed with a broad consensus” with countries, large corporations and citizens, said Hoekstra.

In a month and a half, the former Dutch foreign minister has travelled to 13 countries besides Belgium, among them Brazil, Chile, Spain and Saudi Arabia, and has held 55 meetings with ministers, special envoys, negotiators and leaders of international organisations.

“We need to do much more also in the decade ahead of us making sure that we build bridges to the rest of the world,” said Hoekstra. The Dutchman has a negotiating mandate under his arm, validated by all 27 EU countries, which includes calls for a tripling of installed renewable energy capacity by 2030, a doubling of the energy efficiency rate and a cap on hydrocarbon subsidies.

It also aims to convince the rest of the world, including oil-producing countries, that it is necessary to move away from fossil fuels in general and “coal in particular“, he said. “Coal, amongst fossil fuels, is the one creating the most damage.”

Looking at the “various positions and the various interests countries have” it is already complicated “already in a more normal circumstance”. Looking at the last years during which “things have only become infinitely more difficult because of (…) geopolitics” it would be difficult to meet the target. At the same time, there is no choice but to reach an agreement, Hoekstra says. The planet itself is drawing “red lines“, he argues. The high ambitions are dictated by science, Hoekstra stresses. “And we’re unfortunately not nearly there yet.”

This version has been edited. In an earlier version, one sentence indicated a quote, although it was indirect speech.

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