Another big climate summit, another round of lofty pronouncements with little prospect to curb the world’s dangerous fossil fuel appetite. Especially not China's seemingly endless hunger for coal.
As global leaders gather in Dubai in November for COP28, tensions around phasing out coal and ramping up climate financing for developing nations could boil over in what some predict may be the most contentious climate talks in years.
The summit follows this year's sobering global stocktake report, which made clear current efforts are dangerously inadequate to meet Paris Agreement goals and avoid catastrophic climate impacts. With the pact's legitimacy on the line, COP28 takes on heightened importance to strengthen climate ambition.
Yet the key obstacles remain unchanged from past summits, even as the stakes intensify. Foremost is China's resistance to winding down coal use despite urgent scientific warnings. With no formal plans to cut consumption of the planet's deadliest power source, Beijing looks unlikely to bend in the face of Western demands.
That grim status quo suits Mongolia just fine as it banks on China converting its coal into steel, not embracing phase downs despite the West's pleas. With forecasts that China's post-COVID rebound could drive record metallurgical coal needs in 2023-2024, Ulaanbaatar sees little risk of Beijing dropping its climate-be-damned commitment to economic growth.
Also familiar is the clash over climate financing. Developing nations are demanding increased funding and priority access as they bear the impacts of wealthy nations' historical emissions. Yet the US and other leading economies appear reluctant with midterm elections looming.
The biggest emitters seem primed to leave COP28 having defended the status quo, saved political face back home and made hollow pronouncements to fight another day. Meanwhile Mongolia will keep feeding its southern neighbor’s dirty steel mills and power plants with millions of tons of underground carbon. A diplomatic gale may kick up sand in Dubai, but the winds of change still look unlikely to reach Beijing or Ulaanbaatar when it comes to King Coal.