Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

It is very clear that humanity closes the books on the hottest year in 2023 on record, it’s worth asking whether the strategy is still working — and what might be lost by continuing to embrace it.

At COP28 in Dubai, 1.5°C will be front and center — in part because this year has offered a sobering glimpse of it. By early November 2023 had seen more than 80 days with temperatures at least 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, according to the UN, along with second-order effects that include deadly wildfires, damaging flooding and historic drought.

“We are already unsafe and we have not reached 1.5°C yet,” says Rachel Cleetus, the policy director of the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate and Energy program. COP28 will also include the first “global stocktake,” a rigorous review of how country-level climate efforts are stacking up against Paris goals. The process, intended to inform the next round of national climate pledges due in 2025, is sure to highlight how few countries are moving as quickly or aggressively as is needed to keep 1.5°C within the realm of reality.

Never before has the finance industry attended a United Nations Conference of the Parties in such vast numbers, according to provisional registration data from the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. Attendees include BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink, as well as HSBC Holdings Plc CEO Noel Quinn and Brian Moynihan of Bank of America Corp.

They will be rubbing shoulders with numerous oil executives, which is another notable feature of this year’s talks. Sultan Al Jaber, president of the COP28 summit and head of the Abu Dhabi national oil company, Adnoc, has said he wants as many interests as possible represented to ensure a “successful” outcome. Against that backdrop, Darren Woods just became the first ever Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO to attend a COP since the summits started in the 1990s.

The mantra of this year’s summit is fast becoming that finance needs to go where emissions are, meaning it’s no longer feasible to blacklist firms that pollute, according to Huw van Steenis, vice-chair and partner at Oliver Wyman Inc. It’s about “financing emissions reductions” rather than just “reducing financed emissions,” he said.

Attendees will also turn their attention to the voluntary carbon market, which has been hit by a string of scandals that have raised serious questions as to the validity of the offsetting claims made by those buying carbon credits. Discussions on how to overhaul the voluntary carbon market come as executives from the world’s biggest banks and investment firms explore new funding structures and partnerships, as they use finance day at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai to devise viable pathways to a low-carbon economy.

Beijing ‘attaches great importance’ to COP28 decision to have 2035 carbon goals laid out within two years, climate envoy Xie Zhenhua says in Dubai. China will set up new emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2035 as part of global pledges to fight climate change, the country’s top climate envoy said, while urging a greater push for methane control. On methane emissions, Xie says China is ‘willing to act’ but still lacks the capabilities, as he calls for global joint efforts.

Meanwhile, on December 6, Hong Kong hosted its first forum at the United Nations climate talks to promote the city as a green and sustainable financial centre. The event was co-hosted by the Financial Services Development Council and Friends of the Earth at the COP28 summit.

“We will co-host a forum at the China Corner side event of COP28,” said Plato Yip the chairman of Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong. “This marks a significant and meaningful milestone for our Hong Kong-based NGO Friends of the Earth as it is our first opportunity to deliver our message directly.”

We are looking forward to seeing a meaningful and fruitful outcome of COP28!