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Emissions-only focus will ‘fail’, clean energy expert says

A programme to install solar-powered lights in Malawi enables people to work and study after sunset. SolarAid/Cover Images via Reuters Connect
Cop28 delegates were told we must look beyond emissions to 'deliver flourishing lives for everyone on this planet'. One project provided solar-powered lights to villagers in Malawi, letting them work after sunset.
  • Speaking at Cop28
  • Emissions focus insufficient
  • ‘Let’s focus on human needs’

Efforts to tackle the climate challenge will be a “failure” if they continue with an emissions-only focus, delegates were told at the opening panel discussion at this year’s Cop28 in the UAE.

Dennis Pamlin, a Swedish senior adviser at clean energy think tank Mission Innovation, said focusing solely on carbon emissions was a decades-old view and the world needed to also address the human impact of climate change. 

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Pamlin was speaking during a panel discussion at the United Nations’ Climate Change Global Innovation Hub on the opening day of Cop28.

The hub was founded in 2020 at Cop26 in Glasgow to explore how innovation can better support global climate and sustainability action. Mission Innovation, which aims to make clean energy affordable, attractive and accessible to everyone this decade, was involved in its creation. 

Pamlin told delegates: “When we came together, it was Covid and we saw it as a tipping point for something very different.

“We are stuck in the 1990s in the climate discussion. It’s about reducing emissions, that’s still the narrative. We haven’t broken that through and said no, let’s focus on human needs.”

This year’s Cop marks the conclusion of the “global stocktake”, the first assessment of global progress in reaching goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

The initial findings from the UN are stark: the world is not on track to limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C by the end of this century.

The UN has recognised that countries are developing plans for a net-zero future and that the shift to clean energy is gathering speed, but made clear in a pre-Cop28 report this month that the transition is nowhere near fast enough.

Pamlin said he is looking forward to Brazil’s opportunity to host the climate conference in 2025 and exploring “how we deliver flourishing lives for everyone on this planet”.

“There is this feeling that we’re close to something, but we still need to acknowledge failure,” he said. “At [Cop28], most people coming here are of the mindset that we should reduce emissions, not deliver flourishing lives for 11 billion people.”

In June this year, wealthy nations finally — three years later than intended — met their commitment to provide $100 billion in climate financing to the most vulnerable developing countries.

Kirsten Dunlop, chief executive of the European Union’s public-private climate innovation partnership Climate-KIC, told delegates the world is in a “race against despair and a race against fear and conflict and crisis and chaos”.

She added: “It is really critical to understand that we have to redefine need. Need is not simply the repetition of what we currently think we need.

“Need is a revolution and it’s [about] understanding what we could live with, how we learn to live well with less, with fewer tools and resources, a different relationship with the environment and how we learn to understand that and frame it.”

The two-week summit at Dubai’s Expo City is expected to draw more than 70,000 delegates, including heads of state and world leaders, non-governmental organisations, companies and youth groups.

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