COP28: Five things from ‘leaders day’ at UN climate summit

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1. Japan to end dirty new coal power plants by 2050

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida told world leaders that the country would stop building new coal power plants by 2050 that do not feature technologies to capture the emissions.

“In line with its pathway to net zero, Japan will end new construction of domestic unabated coal power plants, while securing a stable energy supply,” Kishida said.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, Fumio Kishida, prime minister of Japan and Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates. © COP 28 via Getty Images

The pledge is in line with commitments made by G7 countries earlier this year at meetings chaired by Japan to accelerate a gradual phaseout of unabated fossil fuels to achieve net zero emissions from energy by 2050.

Fossil fuels accounted for about 70 per cent of Japan’s electricity in 2022, and the country has been trying to build support for an Asian hydrogen and ammonia supply network.

2. UK draws fire for Sunak green ‘accounting trick’

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, with British prime minister Rishi Sunak during the Transforming Climate Finance session at COP28
French president Emmanuel Macron, right, with British prime minister Rishi Sunak during the Transforming Climate Finance session at COP28 © AFP via Getty Images

On a flying visit to Dubai, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak unveiled £1.6bn for green finance projects. He said it delivered on the UK’s commitment to spend £11.6bn over five years, while taking it further with new funding.

The commitments include £500mn to protect forests, £60mn towards the new loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries, and £316mn for renewable energy projects.

“The time for pledges is now over — this is the era for action,” he said on the first day of the leaders’ summit at COP28.

But the most immediate action came in the furious criticism from climate campaigners.

ActionAid UK described it as an “accounting trick”. Zahra Hdidou, senior climate and resilience adviser, said the funding was “neither new nor additional, but a reheated pledge from years gone by”.

Sunak had “misread the room,” according to Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, which is campaigning for a fossil-free UK.

“While the head of the UN implores countries to urgently phase out fossil fuels, the UK is one of just a handful of wealthy nations that is continuing to greenlight major new oilfields,” she said.

Ed Miliband, shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero, said Sunak’s complacent announcement reflected a “weakening of the UK’s standing abroad”.

3. Climate Club targets industry with 36 sign ups

German chancellor Olaf Scholz officially launched the Climate Club, an initiative that was conceived at UN COP27 to tackle emissions from industry, with 36 countries signed up as members.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives to deliver a speech at COP28
German chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives to deliver a speech at COP28 © ALI HAIDER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The list included economies that are fossil fuel reliant, such as Argentina, Australia, Japan, Korea and Canada, as well as Spain. 

The members would develop the “right strategies and standards” for a carbon-free industrial sector, working together to share knowledge, Scholtz said. The club would also help match countries with technical and financial support from both private and public sources. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the Club was “becoming a unique hub of knowledge” for “advancing the decarbonisation of our industry”.

4. Women leaders shortage

World leaders are pictured at the start of COP28
World leaders are pictured at the start of COP28 © REUTERS

Only 15 out of 133 world leaders in a photo taken at the start of COP28 were women, the non-profit CARE International UK said, prompting the group’s senior adviser on gender equality to complain that “Women and girls are the most affected by climate change, yet they are silenced.”

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen (above), Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen and Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the IMF are among the women attending COP28.

The only woman at a six-person briefing on the UAE’s $30bn investment fund on Friday afternoon, Jessica Tan, BlackRock’s head of sustainable and transition solution, did not speak. Other speakers included her boss Larry Fink and Ambassador Majid, director-general of COP28.

5. Banks resolve voluntary standards debate

A debate among the private sector banks about how best to represent their role as facilitators for fossil fuel and green finance was resolved in a voluntary standard-setting group led by Barclays and Morgan Stanley.

The first voluntary climate standard for capital markets activity told banks on Friday that they would only have to account for a third of the emissions linked to deals such as underwriting bond issuances.

Noel Quinn, chief executive officer of HSBC at COP28: the bank pushed for voluntary rules on emissions disclosure © Bloomberg

Under the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, banks must already account for the entire carbon footprint of their on-balance sheet activity. 

HSBC, which refused to publish more underwriting climate data until an agreement was struck, said the move paved the way for its science-based target setting to include a broader range of activities.

Jeanne Martin, head of the banking programme at the advocacy group ShareAction, described the move as a “get-out-of-transparency-free card, by allowing [banks] to under-report their climate impact by two-thirds for years to come”

Attracta Mooney in London, Alice Hancock in Brussels and Aime Williams, Simeon Kerr and Kenza Bryan in Dubai.

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