COP28: growing problems, shrinking credibility

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 30th November 2023

As 60,000 delegates gather today in Dubai for the opening of COP28, scant progress on long-standing climate goals and an emerging scandal over the fossil fuel industry’s influence over the UN climate conference is undermining COP’s credibility. On the eve of the summit, leaked documents suggested that the UAE, a major oil producer which is hosting the summit, has been using the occasion to press for oil deals – a charge denied. What’s more, the heads of the world’s two largest and most polluting economies won’t even be there: US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are skipping the event altogether. Another notable absentee is Pope Francis, because of ill-health.

One major item on the agenda is finding money for the so-called ‘loss and damages fund’, that delegates agreed to create last year. By 2030, the fund is meant to disburse $100 billion to help developing countries recover from climate-related disasters and adapt to a worsening trend of climate change that they themselves played almost no role in bringing about. But, so far, the fund has been hamstrung by disagreements about how much major polluters like the US, the EU, India, and China should have to contribute – the Chinese and Indians don’t want to put up nearly as much money as other major polluters. There’s also no agreement about how quickly to phase out fossil fuels. The US and the EU want to move more quickly on those phaseouts than many emerging market countries in Asia and Latin America are comfortable with.

But it’s not all doom and gloom; there’s some good COP too. All the major players appear ready to commit to tripling renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, for example. An agreement to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050 also appears promising, though some EU member states, like Germany, are likely to object. Some important topics are new to the agenda, including addressing growing water scarcity and finding ways to balance the needs of food production with emission reduction. That’s good news, according to Shari Friedman, Eurasia Group’s managing director for climate and sustainability. “If you approach climate separate from water, separate from agriculture, separate from biodiversity,” she warns, “you end up creating problems that then you have to fix later.”

Still, the biggest challenge for COP28 is about something bigger than any one policy area: Does the UN-backed climate agenda still have credibility? The world is making agonisingly slow progress on carbon emission reductions, and its targets to reach net zero emissions by 2050 will require changes so large as to be unrealistic.

World economy will slow next year, says OSCE

The global economy, which has proved surprisingly resilient this year, is expected to falter next year under the strain of wars, still-elevated inflation, and continued high interest rates. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated Wednesday that international growth would slow to 2.7 per cent in 2024 from an expected 2.9 per cent pace this year. That would amount to the slowest calendar-year growth since the pandemic year of 2020. Despite the gloomier outlook, the organisation is “projecting that recessions will be avoided almost everywhere,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said at a news conference.

However, he added, there are risks that inflation will stay persistently high and that the Israel-Hamas conflict and Russia’s war in Ukraine could affect prices for commodities, such as oil or grain. A key factor in the slowdown is that the OECD expects the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, to decelerate next year. The US economy is forecast to expand just 1.5 per cent in 2024, from 2.4 per cent in 2023, as the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases continue to restrain growth and make borrowing far more expensive for consumers and businesses.

Also likely to contribute to a global slowdown are the 20 countries in the European Union that share the euro currency. They have been hurt by heightened interest rates and by the jump in energy prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The OECD expects the collective growth of the Eurozone to amount to 0.9 per cent next year – weak but still an improvement over a predicted 0.6 per cent growth in 2023. “A key takeaway today is the stronger outlook for the US, which we’ve revised up for 2024, but a weaker outlook for Europe, which we’ve revised down,” OECD chief economist Clare Lombardelli told reporters.

Photo credit: The Associated Press

China proposes UN Security Council action over Israel-Hamas war

The UN Security Council should intensify its diplomatic mediation, relaunch the two-state solution, and convene a “more authoritative and effective” international peace conference at the soonest, China proposed in a position paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict released on Thursday. China also urged the Security Council to heed the general call of the international community for a comprehensive ceasefire to be put in place to stop the fighting, China’s foreign ministry said in statement listing the proposals. “A ceasefire is no longer diplomatic rhetoric but a matter of life and death for the people in Gaza,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as Beijing attempts to play a more prominent role in mediating the conflict. In doing so, China has thrown its weight behind Middle Eastern countries frustrated with what they see as Washington’s unwillingness to sufficiently pressure Israel to agree to a truce. Wang Yi was speaking when hosting a delegation from Islamic countries, led by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The meeting was also attended by foreign ministers from Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Palestinian Authority as well as the secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Beijing’s decision to host the talks was seen as part of an ongoing, broad effort to present an alternative to the US-led global order.

Photo credit: EFE/EPA/JUSTIN LANE

‘Extended  truce to continue’ – Israeli army

The Israeli army said this morning that the truce in the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which was set to expire at 6am Malta time, has been extended “in light of the efforts of the mediators to advance the process of releasing the hostages and in compliance with the terms of the agreement”.  The Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry stated that the truce in Gaza will be extended today “under the same previous conditions – that is the ceasefire and the entry of humanitarian aid – in framework of mediation” shared by Qatar with Egypt and the United States. On its part, Hamas also confirmed the extension of the agreement for the seventh day. Previously the Israeli Defense Forces had written in a post on their X account that the truce in Gaza will continue “in light of the mediators’ efforts to advance the hostage release process”.

Hamas hand over new list of hostages to Israel

The Israeli government announced this morning that it has received a new list of names of women and children held hostage in the Gaza Strip who will be released during the day in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, in accordance with the ceasefire agreement. Meanwhile, 16 people who were being held hostage in Gaza were handed over to Israeli officials last night, the second and last day of an extended truce. So far Gaza militants have freed more than 70 Israeli women and children while Israel has released 180 Palestinian detainees, all women and teenagers.

Photo credit: Menahem KAHANA / AFP

Netanyahu reiterates resuming strikes on Gaza after truce

Amid talks to extend the ceasefire in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Wednesday that his country will resume the military campaign to eradicate Hamas. “There is no situation in which we do not go back to fighting until the end. This is my policy,” Netanyahu said in a video statement Wednesday afternoon, adding that the entire security cabinet and government, the soldiers, and the Israeli people are all “behind it”. “From the start of the war, I set three goals: eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again go back to being a threat to the State of Israel. These three goals still stand,” he stressed. Netanyahu noted that in the past week “a very great achievement” was made.

Photo credit: Israel Government Press Office/Zuma Press

West Bank clashes kill two Palestinian boys

Meanwhile, in a clash in the West Bank city of Jenin between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, two young males and two militants were killed, Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported. An eight-year-old boy, a 15-year-old male and two senior militant commanders died, the report said. The Israeli military said people threw explosive devices at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire.

Photo credit: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dies at 100

Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, has died. He was 100. Kissinger was born in 1923 in Germany to a Jewish family, who fled the country when Adolf Hitler rose to power. Kissinger entered the national political scene after Richard Nixon won the 1968 US presidential election, and appointed him National Security Advisor (NSA). He played a major role in foreign affairs, including the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia, and the Paris Peace Accords. He was appointed Secretary of State in 1973, giving him even greater prominence on the international scene. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for “jointly negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam”. His co-recipient, Le Duc Tho, refused to accept the honour, and two members of the Nobel committee resigned in protest. Despite the Watergate Scandal in 1974, which led to Nixon’s resignation, Kissinger retained his position as Secretary of State under Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford. Kssinger’s primacy in foreign affairs was reduced after Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976. Carter’s own successor, Ronald Reagan, did not work as closely with Kissinger as his Republican predecessors. Kissinger moved into private consulting and remained an active commenter on foreign affairs for the rest of his life.

Photo credit: PL Gould | Archive Photos | Getty Images

‘Endgame’ book pulled from Dutch shelves

Royal author Omid Scobie’s new book ‘Endgame’ is being temporarily pulled from shelves in the Netherlands. The Dutch translation of the book, which chronicles the breakdown of the British royal family and the weakening of the modern monarchy, reportedly names the members of the family involved in a conversation that included a controversial comment about the skin colour of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s child before he was born. It’s unclear if the Dutch translation is incorrect or if the translation has been based on an earlier draft. The book’s English version does not name the family members.

Main photo credit: Ali Haider/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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