December 06, 2023

CNAS Responds: COP28

The United Nations’s 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) is well underway. The two-week event, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, convenes key world leaders to discuss their commitments to climate change policies. CNAS experts respond to the occasion, and remark on the potential national security implications of the summit.

All quotes may be used with attribution. To arrange an interview, email Alexa Whaley at awhaley@cnas.org.

Emily Kilcrease, Senior Fellow and Director, Energy, Economics, and Security Program:

As COP28 lurches along, the need for coordinated international action to address climate change has never been clearer. Yet, internationally and domestically, the United States is pushing the rock up the hill when it comes to a swift transition to the clean energy technologies that will be critical to the climate transition. U.S. efforts to advance innovative clean energy technology policies with close partners have fallen flat, as seen most clearly in the U.S.-European Union efforts to bolster cooperation on clean steel, electric vehicle batteries, and other green goods. Efforts such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework include helpful initiatives to enhance clean economy cooperation, but lack the binding rules and firm commitments that can truly advance green trade. Prospects for international cooperation drop sharply from there, with the UAE committed to a fossil fuels future and cooperation with China inevitably running into national security concerns. U.S. initiatives to boost clean energy technologies domestically are at a high, but face an uncertain future with pending elections, complicated dynamics with labor, and a tough commercial outlook for these technologies. When COP28 wraps, the work of the United States to advance a clean energy technologies transition will be far from over.

Rachel Ziemba, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Energy, Economics, and Security Program:

This year’s COP kicked off with low expectations, as countries remain divided on the burden-sharing responsibilities necessary to get climate finance and mitigation goals back on track. A global stocktake, new climate mitigation funds, and agreement on methane reduction targets are all possible, but ultimately the funds allocated are rising far less rapidly than the needs. Despite (or perhaps because of) these low expectations, the conference kicked off with some quick wins, including a new fund, which the hosts and other capital-rich countries pledged to endow, and the removal of some of the most contentious issues including climate related trade policy from the agenda. 

The recent U.S.-China communications push, including the Sunnylands agreement on climate change, increases the chance of salvaging some sort of global agreement at this COP. Yet, the risk is that the global commitments will be vague. For example, the Indian pushback on limitations to the continued use of coal challenges agreements on phasing down fossil fuels. Given the impacts of higher interest rates, commitments that de-risk investment in emerging economies (which still receive much less renewable projects) will be important. This is an area where the state-led and long-term investment of GCC strategic funds may play a key role. 

In the short-term, ongoing conflicts and macro challenges (including rising interest rates) will overshadow the COP discussions. For example, as a result of difficulty reaching consensus, the opening day of COP coincided with a much-delayed OPEC/+ consultation. Questions such as how to allocate temporary cuts while incentivizing long-term investment highlight the mixed interests not just of the Emirati hosts, but also poorer countries like Nigeria who are worried about stranded assets.

Beyond COP, there is an opportunity for U.S. policymakers to develop more detailed plans for a safer critical mineral supply chain. The United States can further bolster the trade pillar of its relationships beyond developed allies to embrace emerging market producers, though that seems a tough sell in an election year, particularly given recent limited progress on trade.

Jocelyn Trainer, Research Assistant, Energy, Economics, and Security Program:

While climate financing and a clean energy transition are primary themes of COP28, critical minerals are nowhere to be seen on the agenda. This absence is glaring because critical minerals are needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals and ensure future energy security. Currently, the world is not on track to meet the internationally agreed upon 1.5-degree warming threshold and will need a massive adoption of clean energy technologies to course-correct. Popular clean energy technologies, like electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines, require vast inputs of critical minerals, such as aluminum, cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese, and graphite. Although critical minerals are not on the official agenda, the convening is a prime opportunity for policymakers, civil society leaders, and financiers to utilize the sidelines of COP to discuss securing diverse and sustainable critical mineral supply chains.

In 2022, the Biden administration launched the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—a historic U.S. climate change investment—which pledged billions of dollars to clean energy projects, sparked domestic and foreign investment in U.S. critical mineral extraction and processing sites, and prompted a discussion with trade partners as to how to build resilient supply chains to secure energy needs. While the IRA strained some relationships between the United States and its partners, it provided a blueprint for large-scale investment in clean energy technologies. A year later, the European Union adopted similar policy—the Green Deal Industrial Plan—to spur clean energy investment in Europe. The gathering of global governmental climate representatives in Dubai could allow nations to advance discussion on balancing national economic competitiveness and energy security needs while enhancing opportunities for cooperation to ensure financing and resources are mutually reinforcing to meet the shared goal of limiting the planet’s warming.

Cooperation between the largest carbon emitters—China and the United States—is necessary to limit global temperatures from rising. At the same time, cooperation between these powers on clean energy can be challenging to envision, especially since critical minerals are at the heart of U.S.-China economic competition. COP28 can provide a neutral ground for U.S. policymakers to speak with partner countries about diversifying and investing in critical mineral supply chains as well as meet with Chinese counterparts on climate change efforts that both countries can agree upon, perhaps adaptation funding in developing nations, to get closer toward the Paris Agreement in the face of intense competition. It would be wise for U.S. policymakers to prioritize gaining consensus among allies and partners on a global energy transition strategy to meet U.S. energy, economic, and national security goals at COP28.

LCDR Thelmar Rosarda, Senior Military Fellow, U.S. Navy:

COP28 provides an opportunity for the Department of Defense (DoD) to reaffirm its internal commitment to build a force equipped to take on climate matters in all domains. Climate-related issues in the military include damage to critical infrastructure and impacts on training facilities. In response to these issues, the department implemented the DoD Climate Assessment Tool, which provides leaders with a decision-making resource to address climate-related issues for military installations. Moreover, the military services have invested in environmentally- friendly infrastructure modifications and developed carbon-free power sources on installations, all while sustaining combat capability. Additionally, military departments are transitioning to carbon-free power generation and cyber-secure microgrids for critical mission systems; increasing the use of hybrid vehicles, accessing renewable sources for fuel, and improving personnel thermoregulation processes. These solutions and adaptations both mitigate climate challenges and demonstrate military innovation.

The Navy builds force resilience and mitigates climate threats under the guidelines of the Department of the Navy’s Climate Action Plan 2030. These efforts further enable the Navy to innovate. Recently, the Navy showcased the Hydrogen–Small Unit Power Ruggedized Expeditionary Power Source (H-SUP) during Climate Week New York City. The power source, which emits no carbon, fueled unmanned aerial vehicles with greater endurance and survivability than nonrenewable sources. The integration of a climate-focused solution into emerging unmanned technology in current operations demonstrates the Navy’s ability to make advancements towards climate resilience while maintaining operational capability to combat national security threats.

As the Navy develops and implements solutions across critical national security platforms and geographies, one specific maritime region requiring additional integration of technology and climate resiliency is the Arctic. As maritime traffic becomes prevalent in the Arctic due to melting ice, integration of solutions similar to technologies like the H-SUP will be required—and quickly. Technological advancements capable of tracking and distributing accurate ice movements, hardening of maritime systems and sensors to increase survivability in sustained arctic operations, and cooperation with partners in the region require a technology- driven climate resilient response. While the military is building respectable technological solutions for climate resilience, opportunities still exist for innovation in approaches to the Arctic region. If the military is unable to incorporated technological solutions in the region, it may produce negative outcomes for U.S. maritime dominance in the Arctic.

*LCDR Rosarda is the Navy Federal Executive Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the Department of Defense.

Arona Baigal, Research Assistant, Middle East Security Program & Securing U.S. Democracy Initiative:

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is hosting COP28, the UN’s annual conference on climate change. It is fitting that COP28 is taking place in the Middle East, as global participants can witness first-hand how communities in the region is currently and dramatically impacted by climate change. While the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas could prove a significant distraction from the thematic agenda, COP28 offers an opportunity for regional states (including Israel) to find common ground on an issue that threatens them all.

COP28’s four pillars —technology and innovation, inclusion, frontline communities, and finance—provide opportunities for attendees to engage the region’s oil and energy industries, growing technology companies, and activists for underrepresented communities. Additionally, the Middle East is notably vulnerable to climate change consequences via record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, and challenges to agriculture. While the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict is understandably the more pressing issue in the region, the negative impacts of climate change and conflict are not mutually exclusive issues. Beyond the devastating toll on lives and infrastructure, the war is worsening pre-existing climate-related consequences reflected by decreasing water and food security, increasing migration patterns, and increasing fossil fuel emissions.

COP28 provides Middle East nations a forum to work towards holistic, creative, and sustainable options to combat climate change. Though Israel will have a smaller presence at this year’s conference due to the war in Gaza, which has exacerbated tensions with its Gulf neighbors, the conference provides an opportunity for Israel and Gulf states to positively reengage to address an issue that threatens the stability and safety of all in the region.

Valeria Allende, Executive Assistant and Deputy Director for NextGen Fellowship:

Latin America is a region that has faced an increasing amount of insecurity due to the direct effects of climate change. COP28 is one of the most important global forums for leaders in this region to highlight their most pressing climate security priorities.

Since being elected in 2022, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, has made significant progress to the decline of deforestation in the Amazon. Unfortunately, deforestation is not the only environmental issue that poses a threat to human security in Latin America. Rising sea levels threaten significant floods, while longer droughts decrease access to clean water and lead to ineffective crop productivity.

As wealthy states consider alliances in a shifting world order, Brazil, a major global swing state and host of the future COP30, should lead conversations to address the economic challenges impacting climate security. Brazil should emphasize the need for debt relief amongst the most climate-impacted countries in the global south. Alleviating debt would allow countries to focus on projects to increase renewable energy production and help curb rising fossil fuel emissions. Recent examples of such practices are promising., Earlier this year, Portugal wrote off some of Cape Verde’s national debt and Germany swapped green investments for debt relief with Egypt and Kenya. These cases provided an effective way for countries in the global south to meet their climate and development goals more quickly.

Instead of choosing to join OPEC+ as an observer, a decision that does not sit well ahead of COP28 in Dubai, Lula should focus on engaging wealthy states, perhaps those part of the Paris Club, (an organization which Brazil is already a permanent member of), to help speed up the process of debt relief for countries most willing and capable of meeting their climate change goals.

Daniel Bonomo, Finance & Operations Associate:

The negotiations around the Loss and Damage fund at COP28 provide an opportunity for the United States to cement itself as the global climate leader over China. Previously, the Loss and Damage Fund was set up at COP27 to compensate the world’s poorest countries for the increasing costs of climate change-fueled national disasters. While the fund will ostensibly be paid for by developed nations responsible for the largest share of historical emissions, the question of who will contribute has been left to this year’s conference.   

So far, China has denied responsibility to contribute to the Loss and Damages Fund due to its UN designation as a developing country, a disputed position given that it is the world’s second-largest economy and the largest greenhouse gas emitter. At COP27, China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua declared that China had no obligation to contribute.   

In the face of this public abdication to contribute to the Fund, the United States can strengthen global leadership on this issue by formally declaring its contribution. A definite monetary commitment at this conference could push U.S. allies and partners to do the same. U.S. commitment would be a display of solidarity with the Global South, further positioning China to be seen as acting solely in its own interests. For an issue that is so pressing to dozens of countries in the Global South, the United States can reinforce that it, not China, is the trusted partner on climate change.   

Marielle Geerling, Intern, Middle East Security Program:

Since October 7, Saudi-Israeli normalization efforts have moved from the forefront of Gulf security conversations into the background. Despite ongoing turbulence throughout the region resulting from war in Gaza, COP28 could provide the ideal environment for Saudi leaders to recall the many factors that incentivized them towards normalization with Israel in the first place. Those incentives include a myriad of untapped economic opportunities, bilateral and multilateral security relationships, and perhaps most relevant to the subject of COP, ways in which Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab nations can organize around an effort to stem the worst impacts of climate change on the Middle East. 

COP28’s calls to collective action could remind Saudis that their country shares more with Israel than just a common foe and many lucrative financial opportunities. Saudi Arabia and Israel, despite their many differences, anticipate the same disproportionately severe impacts of climate change. Both of these odd-couple countries will experience the same severe droughts, rising sea levels, and massive human displacement. Climate change does not assume the state as an actor, and the effects of climate change will not discriminate on the basis of country.   

COP28 should remind the region’s leaders that collaboration is the Middle East’s only path forward if it intends to thrive despite the natural disasters to come. Middle East neighbors must cooperate on the development of new technologies and solutions, not just covertly, but also publicly and to the fullest extent possible. In this sense, honest conversations considering the realities of climate change’s inevitable consequences are an opportunity for adversaries of the past to see beyond political friction and move towards a more collaborative future.  

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, contact Alexa Whaley at awhaley@cnas.org.

Authors

  • Emily Kilcrease

    Senior Fellow and Director, Energy, Economics and Security Program

    Emily Kilcrease is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at CNAS. Her research focuses on the U.S.-China economic relationship; alignment...

  • Rachel Ziemba

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Energy, Economics, & Security Program

    Rachel Ziemba is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her research focuses on the interlinkages between economics, finance and security i...

  • Jocelyn Trainer

    Former Research Assistant, Energy, Economics, and Security Program

    Jocelyn Trainer is a former Research Assistant for the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at CNAS. She analyzes developments and trends in sanctions policy and evasion ta...

  • LCDR Thelmar A. Rosarda

    Senior Military Fellow, U.S. Navy

    LCDR Thelmar Rosarda, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a former U.S. Navy Federal Executive Fellow assigned to the Center for a New American Security. After enlisting, he reporte...

  • Arona Baigal

    Research Assistant, Middle East Security & Securing U.S. Democracy Initiative Programs

    Arona Baigal is a Research Assistant for the Middle East Security Program and Securing U.S. Democracy Initiative. Her research interests include Iranian security issues, nucle...

  • Valeria Allende

    Executive Assistant and Deputy Director for NextGen Fellowship

    Valeria Allende is the Executive Assistant and Deputy Director for NextGen Fellowship at CNAS. In this capacity, Allende manages scheduling for the Vice President and Director...

  • Daniel Bonomo

    Finance & Operations Associate

    Daniel Bonomo is the Finance and Operations Associate at CNAS. In this capacity, he performs a variety of administrative functions, including managing the Center’s financial d...

  • Marielle Geerling

    Former Intern, Middle East Security Program

    Marielle Geerling is a former Intern in the Middle East Security Program. Her research interests include sectarian conflict, political psychology, politics in the Arab Gulf st...