We reported here the transcript and comment of an interview with Tom Evans.
Tom Evans is a Policy Advisor in E3G’s Climate Diplomacy and Geopolitics programme.
Since joining E3G in 2020, he has advised governments and helped shape global political strategy towards COP26 and COP27. He engages and coordinates global NGO, civil society, and non-state actor networks to support their climate advocacy, including serving as a co-coordinator of Climate Action Network’s Global Stocktake working group.

During COP28, as Osservatorio Parigi we engaged with Tom a conversation in a form of an interview,  to know more on his views on the ongoing debate on the main open questions to the last draft of the texts.
A great possibility to understand better the negotiation processes and the geopolitical processes behind them

Q1: Dear Tom thank for accepting our invite and thank you for your time. Can you give us a general overview of the negotiation status?

It seems like the big matter is how these issues are connected. 

Today we saw the Africa group of negotiators, the AGM, very clearly saying adaptation is a priority. 

We’re not seeing that being addressed.

We’re not seeing the Global Goal on Adaptation, this framework for adaptation being addressed properly, nor are we seeing enough finance for adaptation. 

So that feels like a really important area where, for the developed countries, for the EU, they’ll need to address, they’ll need to see what they can do to improve that section. 

And whether that, does that then build confidence from some of those countries to say yes, this is maybe a deal we could get on board with, with higher ambition on mitigation and on the energy transition.

On that issue, for many developing countries, the question isn’t about whether they can commit to something ambitious, but it’s more that they need to see language in there that addresses their concerns around responsibility and equity and fairness. 

Like, is this an equitable transition? We can’t all necessarily commit to the same pace of transition.

There needs to be some, maybe give and take on what a fair transition would look like.

And also, again, the finance

Like, right now, we don’t see in that text enough clarity on where the money for the transition will come from for these developing countries who are facing very high cost of capital, high levels of debt, and are struggling to service their debt payments, let alone invest in the clean transition. 

So can we start to maybe address those, you know, recognize those challenges, commit to do more to address them through the text? A lot of that action happens outside the UNFCCC.

We don’t come to the UNFCCC and then negotiate ways that you can address debt.
That happens elsewhere, but you need to start connecting the conversations and showing how things move forward. 

So those pieces are where the kind of the conversation’s heading.

Our hope is that these countries can come together and say, you know, the small island states, these developed countries, the Europeans, some of the other developed countries, maybe Australia, who were very clear that they want a strong fossil fuel outcome. 

Can these countries rally together and find a common set of proposals that they think they could put on the table and convince the presidency that they’ve got enough support, critical mass behind it, to ultimately change the text in a significant way?
So the big factor there, of course, let alone the dynamics between those countries, is also the relationship that they have to the US, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and some of the other like-minded developing countries who are going to be the hardest to persuade. 

The US is hard because we know how difficult it is to raise finance from the US.

They make pledges, they often can’t deliver them, they have a very deadlocked or gridlocked political system where they can’t get congressional approval for new climate finance. 

That’s always eluded them. 

 So it’s very hard to, you know, they have to, they will take a lot of convincing to get them on side.

And likewise for, you know, for Saudi Arabia and some of the other developing countries, they remain very clear that the fossil fuel phase-out is difficult for them. 

They don’t see how this is something that’s practical.

And there’s going to have to be some give and take there.

But right now, if those countries, those high ambition champion countries can’t come together and deliver something, then it’s not clear where the text goes. 

So that’s broadly where we’re at. And yeah, as you said, you know, we’re expecting text at some point today.We’ll have an update from the presidency at 6pm.
We might find out more then as to how today’s negotiations have gone. (3:58) Maybe they’ll announce a process to kind of get to the finish line.

We’re already, however many hours, six hours past than they thought we might finish. (4:10) I think everyone’s expecting a long night.
And then, you know, very, very hard to say what will happen tomorrow.

But that’s at least where we are right now. 

And a quick follow-up on the role of the presidency, because this morning there seemed to be a little bit of a spin to the narrative of this GST text from the Director General of COP28, Ambassador Algeres,) who said, we knew this text wasn’t enough.

This was just to elicit red lights.

Now, this is quite a risky approach to do, especially in the last 48 hours of the formal, like the regular time of these negotiations.

Q2: Do you think that this kind of a last sprint approach could encourage the consensus building? Or was it more on the risky side of the negative, just polarizing too much narrative much late into this process? 

It was, you know, according to their timelines, releasing the text with less than 24 hours until I suppose the end of the COP, and releasing a text which immediately elicited such a negative response from so many parties. It was obviously a risky, you know, risky move.

If the theory was we could get something over the line by 11 this morning. (5:21) So I think I have no clue what the UAE strategy is or what they’re thinking.
But I think they, I think, you know, to some extent, we have seen parties come out in a strong reaction.

 I think what they really, you know, never mind the past few weeks and what they’ve done and what they’re trying to do. 

The focus really from them has to now be on firstly creating the process and the conditions where parties can have this exchange, where parties can clearly see red lines, where parties can clearly cooperate and try and find bridging proposals that will get past the kind of muds that we’re stuck in. 

But also being receptive and kind of trusting the process, but giving a fair and transparent process to play out.

And if countries do come back and say that we’ve got something, we think it will work, it will raise the ambition, then letting that, then working to deliver that. (6:17) Like that has to be the priority of the presidency, being fair, but also championing an ambitious outcome and getting what the Paris Agreement needs. 

So I think partly it’s very hard because we haven’t had a clear, you know, in part today we haven’t had an open setting where parties have all sat in the room together.

We had the HODs, the heads of delegation meeting last night, which was closed. 

 You know, we haven’t had another Majlis, we haven’t had another plenary where we’re able to see all of these dynamics play out together. 

 So it’s harder for the people watching to understand what is going on, what are the red lines and where the critical massive support is coming from.

But, you know, I think they’re very well aware that now we are really, you know, into overtime and into this final sprint and they need to be working with everyone to make sure that people are connecting and able to come up with something. 

Earlier today he talked about it’s up to parties. It’s a give and take.

The presidency has a huge role to play here too. 

But they had informal meetings with the EU and the UNFCCC. Do you think that that’s a positive point of potentially them pressuring towards some edits that we don’t see from yesterday? (7:28) I would hope they’re having meetings with absolutely everyone.

Of course, yeah. assume they are. I mean, yeah, it’s very hard to tell.

Q3: A question about Article 6, what is stuck and why is it so hard to achieve? Which are the main barriers that you can see? 

Yeah, so I’m not a deep technical expert on Article 6, so I might not be able to speak in huge detail. (8:01) My understanding at the moment is largely around how under Article 6 they’re trying to kind of finalise some of these technical rules which will enable a functioning system.

What I understand is that that current text is not up to scratch for countries that had hoped for a high integrity outcome. 

There aren’t sufficient checks and balances in place in that text which would, if adopted, allow a high integrity system.

The last time I was talking to someone about this it sounded like they were in a situation of is it a kind of take it or leave it moment.

It’s no deal better than a bad deal when it comes to signing something or gathering something through on Article 6.

I haven’t read anything about it in about a day or so, so I’m not sure where it’s currently at or where it’s going. 

But my understanding is that there is this sense of if the text isn’t good enough, countries might just say, look, we’re not going to agree to this

And we would rather have no deal than a bad deal that actually undermines the Paris Agreement.

And that’s the risk. It’s the risk in Article 6 because if you don’t have good carbon trading markets, you’ll start to actually just increase emissions when you think you’re decreasing them. 

And likewise, it applies to the fossil fuel phase-out and this kind of language that we might end up with abatement or CCS.

The challenge is if you agree to something that isn’t going to actually deliver real emissions reductions, but you put that into the UNFCCC and put that into the Paris Agreement process, it becomes something that you have to live with for years to come. 

So tough calls have to be made as to what is acceptable when it comes to these solutions and technologies which could risk negative unintended consequences. 

Q4: A few more questions. Again, we are at the end of this process. We’re seeing the main roadblocks, but definitely the so-dubbed dirty five are there. Hss  bilateral pressure has also played a significant role in this negotiation?

Definitely Saudi Arabia has been at the centre of this conversation. 

We have seen last week the release of this report and the historical synergies in these negotiations,

especially between the UAE and Saudi Arabia when it comes to fossil fuel negotiations.

How would you describe so far the arc of the success of the Saudi strategy? 

Yesterday they were the only ones not to comment on the GST tax.

I’d say so far, I mean, I don’t think it’s even significantly different from what we’ve seen before. 

I mean, as you said, the Saudis have a very long history of engaging in these kind of negotiations, and we’ve seen over 30 years how they have continually restricted the process. 

 To be fair, many parties have been difficult in this process, but the Saudis have undoubtedly been hesitant to ensure that this process delivers the highest condition.

And unsurprisingly, when we’re now talking finally about phasing out fossil fuels, (11:27) they are digging their heels in and trying to make sure that this outcome doesn’t exist. 

So I think it’s clear that there is a lot of pressure being applied from the Saudis, but also not just the Saudis. 

 I mean, I’d say there are all sorts of countries which would fall into this.

The Saudis inevitably become perhaps the figurehead of that. But it’s a challenge that we’ve seen before. I’m hopeful that we can find a way, as we have done before, to make sure that ultimately the multilateral process delivers,which is by showing the strength of feeling from countries, by showing that there are a handful of countries who are the odd ones out, that they have to recognize that that international consensus is forming and learn to accept it and embrace it.

 And it is always going to be tense when you have that. When you have many countries saying we need to go faster, further, more ambitious, (12:24) and you have a country like Saudi Arabia saying, hang on a minute. 

So the diplomacy, if it’s done well, will lead to an outcome that the Saudis can agree with.

This year, it is just how difficult that landing zone is. 

It’s so narrow, the box of what we’re trying to, like the bullseye on the target is so small this year

because of how deeply political the conversations become for, and existential the conversations become for, 

 a fossil fuel producing country.

 It’s also, you know, I think we have to be serious about their concerns.

 They’re not made up, you know. 

 This is true of almost every country in the world, whether you’re a fossil fuel producing country (13:05) or you’re even a fossil fuel consuming country.

 You have serious challenges for the transition,  because you need to find a way to re-divert economic revenues from fossil fuel production to other means of revenue production.

 If you are a fossil fuel consumer, you charge taxes and levies on fossil fuel consumption, (13:27) which then gives you income revenue, and you have to find ways to tax things which are clean. (13:31) We don’t know how to do any of these things. 

It’s a global economic challenge.

So we shouldn’t dismiss all of the concerns. 

They are real challenges, but we can’t just say we won’t do anything because of those challenges. (13:45) The process demands us to actually step up and say, OK, let’s solve that challenge together.

Let’s use international cooperation to find a better way out of it. But we can’t just then say, oh, it’s too hard. 

So I’d hope part of the deal that we reach here in Dubai is to find practical ways to deliver a fossil fuel phase-out.

And say, we need more finance on the table.

 We need more capacity building for developing countries  who don’t know a different development pathway.

 We need more collaboration around very basic things of what does a basic, (14:20) but fundamental and hard things of what sustainable development means.

Like how do you actually sustainably develop as a developing or emerging economy  when to date, for the past 100 years, there’s been no example of non-fossil development. 

So it goes to the very heart of these countries’ futures.

And I think we do need to take that seriously.

Q5: I had a question about the NDCs being mentioned in the text.
Considering the next two locations being set for COP and the fact that for each there has been set targets for the NDCs, what do you see forward to it?

So potentially, what would be the ideal according to the text that we have so far and what we might hope to see better instead in the text they are coming? In consideration of the tasks that have been set for the specific NDCs. 
I think we need to see the very clear signal in the text that all countries will submit those new NDCs.

They have to submit them by 2025, ideally earlier. And that they need to cover their entire economy, which a lot of countries’ targets don’t. 

And they need to collectively deliver that 1.5 trajectory, which by 2035 would look like a 16% emissions cut. That is what a robust outcome on the NDC process would look like.

And if countries commit to that here, we then need to hold them to that for the next two years ahead of COP13 in Brazil. 

And we need to build the pressure from the Europeans, from the Brazilians,  from other countries who want to see that work, to do the diplomacy and get into each other’s countries and say,

 OK, are you increasing your ambition? Am I increasing my ambition?How do we do that in a functional way? So that’s, I think, what’s at stake.

The current text has some of those elements.t’s not as strong as it could be. It’s not awful.
It talks about encouraging countries to do some of those things. 
I think it could be stronger and actually tell countries,  this isn’t encouragement, this is a direct request.
So it’s not mandatory for the time being to show something by 2025?
It is mandatory to show something by 2025.
It’s more that what you show.
What you show, of course. So, again, some countries have set targets which only apply to certain parts of their economy, but not all of their economy.
Sometimes they’ve been done from baselines which aren’t really clear,  so you’re not cutting emissions from a year. You’re just cutting emissions from where you think you might be  in 20 years’ time or 10 years’ time. 

And it’s very hard to understand what that actually adds up to.

So much more consistency and clarity is needed. 

But also, NDCs can only be higher in ambition if there is finance on the table to deliver that.
We know we don’t have the finance needed to enable that uplift.

 So I think it’s also incumbent still on countries to say,

OK, yes, we want more emission, but we will provide finance.

 We will find, we will reform the financial system  to deliver not $100 billion, but trillions of dollars going in the right places for the clean economy. 

And that gives countries the confidence to say, 

 OK, so I actually can significantly increase my ambition for a next target.

It’s something I can deliver. It’s a vision I can fulfil. So that’s where things are at.

I think Brazil are very aware that this is a big deal for their COP. 

So I’d also really, you know, after COP, very much be looking to see where they see that going and how do they want to ensure they foster a community which will come forward with new targets.

OK, thank you….last hours, but it’s not just about the GST. 

Also, the mitigation work programme has been on hold for the past four days. 

There are placeholders for GST to avoid repetitions, as the building blocks version was saying.

 So we know the outcome that science tells us that we would need.

But as the state of play is currently depending on mutually interlinked elements, how do you see the most likely evolution of this next 24 hours? 

 For the mitigation, for the whole… 

 Just the state of play. So we know like Article 6 has been breaching a little bit of the scope.

And it’s been kept very hidden as well. 

 I think on some of the items, all of this will come into the GSD. ( So the GST, really the GSD and the Global Goal on Adaptation, the GGA, those two texts will be kind of key parts of a package which will include the mitigation work programme,  also the just transition work programme, some of the finance decisions that still need to be approved. 

Those will all kind of speak to each other as an overall package,  with the GST at the centre as the most iconic and kind of political one.

And I think parties will have to consider the outcome on the basis of all those texts. (19:16) And ideally they will speak to each other. 

So what’s agreed in the mitigation work programme is the same and reflects the GST

And there’s no kind of confusion there. 

I think it still comes back to over the next 24 hours, really even the next 12 hours, how many countries rally together, club together and build something which is a credible proposition for the task at hand, an ambitious mitigation outcome, an ambitious adaptation outcome and strong finance to deliver all of it. 

 That’s always been the deal that we needed to reach.

It’s clearer than ever that that still remains the deal that we need to reach. 

I think if they are able to do that,  all the other negotiating issues can be resolved much more easily because they no longer require, they don’t need to be resolved by themselves. 

They just become part of the package and everything kind of falls together neatly in place. 

That’s the theory at least.

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