Dec 5, 2023

The climate change conference in Dubai.

The climate change conference in Dubai.
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

COP28 features hundreds of world leaders and some controversy.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

A climate change conference in Dubai is garnering a lot of attention. Plus, an under-the-radar story about someone short-selling Israel stocks before Hamas's attack.

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Quick hits.

  1. Israel has pushed further into southern Gaza, ordering residents to move west toward the Mediterranean coast or south toward Egypt's border. (The latest) Separately, the White House condemned a pro-Palestine demonstration that targeted a restaurant in Philadelphia owned by Jewish Israeli restaurateur Michael Solomonov. (The incident)
  2. A former American diplomat was charged with serving as a secret agent for Cuba. (The charges)
  3. Spotify, the music streaming giant, cut 17% of its workforce in a third round of layoffs this year. (The layoffs)
  4. The remains of five crew members who died in a U.S. military aircraft crash off the coast of Japan were recovered. (The discovery)
  5. Russia's President Vladimir Putin will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday. (The visit)

Today's topic.

COP28. The United Nations 28th Climate Change Conference, or Conference of the Parties, features a record 70,000 registered attendees. The two-week-long conference is under way in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with a laundry list of presidents, prime ministers, royals, and industry leaders in attendance.

Dozens of world leaders have spoken in the first few days of the summit, which began on Friday, saying they believe the planet is becoming dangerously hot and pledging to keep it from getting worse. While roughly 150 leaders from across the world are present, notably absent are the leaders of two of the world's biggest emitters: President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping, who recently announced a bilateral agreement to cut down on methane emissions. Vice President Kamala Harris and China's First Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang are attending in their absences.

During their public commitments, global leaders insisted that their words must be followed by tangible commitments, including deals to reduce emissions across the globe. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who criticizes oil and coal use, said the only way to hit the climate change goal of limiting warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit is to eliminate oil, coal and gas use — "not reduce, not abate. Phase out," he said. 106 nations signed a statement calling for a full exit from fossil fuels.

However, Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the Emirati leading the summit, used his time on stage to criticize media coverage of his contradictory remarks about phasing out fossil fuel. Despite previously calling for drastically slashing the world's emissions, al-Jaber heads a state-run energy company that is planning to ramp up production of crude oil and natural gas. On Sunday, The Guardian published video from a recorded video conference al-Jaber attended a few weeks ago, in which the Emirati pleaded with a group of reporters to explain to him how the world could phase out fossil fuels. 

“You’re asking for a phase-out of fossil fuel,” al-Jaber said. “Please, help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves... There is no science out there, or no scenario out there that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 (degrees Celsius) — 1.5 is my North Star. And a phase-down, and a phase-out of fossil fuel, in my view, is inevitable, it is essential, but we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it.”

Emissaries began the conference by signing onto a slew of non-binding agreements, which already include promises to triple renewable energy and nuclear power capacity globally, to speed up the shift away from coal, and to work to help farmers improve soil quality. The United Arab Emirates has pledged $30 billion to help the Global South with a clean energy transition, and attendants have already pledged close to $400 million to help nations facing climate emergencies.

Some of those pledges have already become contentious, with oil and gas companies saying they would decarbonize their operations but refusing to reduce production of fossil fuels more broadly. The conference has also been interrupted by a rare sight in the UAE — public protests. Activists are being allowed to protest inside the summit under strict guidelines, and over 100 have used the opportunity to gather in solidarity with Palestinians. Others have gathered to call for an end to fossil fuel use.

Today, we're going to explore some commentary about the summit, some of the commitments, and the state of climate change from the left and right — then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right dismisses the conference as a meaningless gathering of global elites.
  • Some suggest the COP28 leaders have no intention of pursuing their stated goals or grappling with the economic implications of them. 
  • Others say the cost of enacting certain proposed policies would be greater than the risk of climate change itself. 

In The Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker wrote “that we can expect an ‘ambitious’ goal that still won’t be enough to save the planet.”

“The climate propaganda is so well-rooted now in the West’s media that we are given to understand that everything is the result of global warming,” Baker said. “This isn’t to suggest that a cold winter is enough to prove the mendacity of the climate-change thesis and its proponents. I am well aware that global temperatures have on average risen, and that there’s a plausible case that man’s carbon dioxide emissions are a significant factor. But the awkward persistence of normal weather continues to remind us of how at odds with realities the extremism of the global climate lobby is.”

The conference attendees “flew the several thousand miles in their private jets, churning more carbon into the air in a week than the average American, whom they like to lecture about his evil ways, does in a year,” Baker added. “Meanwhile the real work — developing technology that runs on more sustainable energy, continues to cut the carbon footprint of traditional energy production and mitigates the effects of climate change — will get done by the capitalists whose economic system many in this crowd like to denounce as incompatible with a sustainable environment.”

In The Daily Caller, Gage Klipper said “global elites take climate propaganda to a whole new level” at COP28. 

“After seemingly endless administrative nonsense, the world will hear from technocrats hellbent on ‘fast tracking the energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5° C (2.7° F) above pre-industrial levels.’ This won’t be cheap — ‘delivering on finance’ means keeping ‘old promises’ to ‘developing countries;’ in other words, a massive wealth transfer from America to the rest of the world. And of course, ‘gender’ and ‘inclusivity’ must be taken into account,” Klipper wrote.

“What’s meant to be a very serious convention of experts and global leaders is, in reality, a veritable schmooze-fest of who’s who. Leaders throughout the West will all show their faces. John Kerry will represent the U.S., while billionaires, activists and ‘spiritual leaders’ will all make appearances of their own. Middle Eastern royalty, enjoying home court advantage, are set to turn out in force. And naturally, the list would be incomplete without the real stars — the Hollywood actors who inevitably pop up at the event every year. Does anyone really believe that most of the attendees care about climate change as anything more than just a vanity project?”

In The New York Post, Bjorn Lomborg argued COP28 “will again push multi-trillion dollar ‘cures’ that are worse than climate change.”

“Underpinning the climate summit farce is one big lie repeated over and over: that green energy is on the verge of replacing fossil fuels in every aspect of our lives,” Lomborg said. “The claim ignores the fact that any transition away from fossil fuels is occurring only with enormous taxpayer-funded subsidies. And while major energy players like Exxon and Chevron are moving back to investment in fossil fuel, big bets on green energy have failed spectacularly. Over the past 15 years, alternative energy stocks have plummeted in value, thus sending the pensions of ordinary workers tumbling due to virtue signaling finance companies while general stocks have increased more than four-fold.

“What won’t be acknowledged in the United Arab Emirates — because it has never been acknowledged at a global climate summit — is the awkward reality that while climate change has real costs, climate policy does, too,” Lomborg wrote. A study from the Climate Change Economics journal found that the annual costs of net zero carbon emissions policies “range between $10 and $43 trillion. That’s 4-18% of global GDP… The only thing that could avoid this summit being a retread of 27 other failures is if politicians acknowledge the real cost of net zero policy — and instead of making more carbon cut promises, vow to dramatically increase green energy research and development.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is skeptical that significant change will come out of COP28 and say world leaders are shirking their responsibility to the planet. 
  • Some criticize the presence of lobbyists representing industries the conference is supposed to be reining in, such as energy and agriculture. 
  • Others bemoan the gathering’s voting structure, which creates too high a barrier for meaningful resolutions. 

In The New York Times, Erle C. Ellis said “1.5 degrees is not the problem.”

“As leaders around the world meet for the 28th time to address the climate crisis — this time in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil producers — they need to rethink this threat and some of the other central challenges of our times,” Ellis wrote. “Those other challenges include devastating losses of biodiversity and plastic pollution so widespread, it is now found on the world’s tallest mountain, in its deepest ocean trench and in our veins. In the long history of this planet, our current time, the human age known as the Anthropocene, is the first in which a single species will so rapidly reshape the future of Earth’s climate and all the other conditions that make life as we know it livable.

“These crises are not about the planet going haywire. They are crises caused by failures to assign and enforce social responsibilities. And the wealthiest, most powerful and most capable societies that have ever existed on this planet are behaving as if they owe nothing for what they have gained at the expense of imperiling life on Earth. Such behavior is not only unethical. It is precisely the opposite of what deep history tells us has enabled societies to avoid collapse in the face of severe environmental challenges,” Ellis said. “The ultimate solution to major societal challenges is clear: leadership by those most responsible to invest in the solutions and restitutions required to mitigate the damage.”

The Guardian’s editorial board wrote “energy companies are not the only ones with a carbon addiction.”

“While the ostensible purpose is to safeguard the planet for the future, the fear is that the Cop process has been captured by the short-term interests of carbon-emitting industries that will do anything to protect their wealth,” the board said. “In petro-states such as the UAE, the economic interests of rulers and fossil-fuel businesses are the same. But other rich nations with more mixed economies are also culpable.”

“So far the Cop process has failed to reduce the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere, although the rate of increase has slowed. The remaining carbon budget — the amount that can be emitted while holding on to a 50% chance of staying within the 1.5C limit — stands at 250bn tonnes. One key question for negotiators in Dubai is how that budget is allocated. Another is how the people and ecosystems most harmed by global heating will be helped. On the latter, there has been some progress with the establishment of a loss and damage fund. But the battle over the continued production of fossil fuels, and the future of carbon-intensive industries such as animal agriculture and aviation, is raging.”

In Bloomberg, Lara Williams suggested “we already know what will happen at COP28.”

“There’ll be a big fight over some words on fossil fuels, particularly over whether we ought to ‘phase out’ or ‘phase down’ their use. Plenty of concessions will be made at the behest of powerful polluters. And the culmination will be a series of political statements and perhaps an operational Loss and Damage Fund, but none of it will be enough to save the planet,” Williams wrote. “We’ve had nearly three decades of summits, yet emissions continue to climb. There are clear problems: The voting structure means that all decisions must be made by consensus, meaning that all 198 countries who are members of the UNFCCC must agree. That ensures that the lowest common denominator wins out.”

“I think there’s probably still a role for a big annual gathering. There’s nothing like in-person networking to foster new partnerships and international collaboration, which we’ll need to move the needle on many clean technologies and financing,” Williams said. “Still, it’s clear the current format isn’t producing what we need. So as you keep track of the barrage of news set to come out of Dubai for the next fortnight, just think: Wouldn’t COP be so much more exciting, so much more hopeful, if we were talking about concrete action plans rather than, in Greta Thunberg’s famous words, ‘blah blah blah’?”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Sure, COP28 is a little frivolous, but it can still produce tangible results.
  • As I’ve said consistently, human-caused global warming is a real and global threat that requires a strategic response instead of nihilism or denialism.
  • The impressive everyday progress on important factors like energy innovation matters more to me than COP28.

To me, events like COP28 don't evoke a strong feeling. Is it, in part, a gigantic vanity project where hypocrisy abounds? Yes, it is. Is it significant for world leaders from across the globe to gather at a single event and pledge their support for a unifying vision about the planet? Yes, actually, I think it is. These things can coexist. The vanity is real — but so are the actual international pledges (binding and non-binding) that will have real, tangible impacts for countries across the globe.

It's worth remembering that while the U.S. has seen historic heat waves and other natural disasters in the last decade that have contentiously been linked to climate change, there are dozens of nations across the planet who are seeing far less ambiguous impacts: Sea level rise flooding out coastal towns (and whole countries), droughts that last for decades, once-in-a-lifetime floods happening every year or two, and so on. So while COP28 might feel less relevant for us, there are plenty of places where hearing about multi-hundred-billion-dollar pledges to bring on new energy sources or climate emergency funding is incredibly important.

As for the actual state of the global effort to reduce emissions and address climate change, there is a lot to say. Anyone who has been reading Tangle for some time should know where I stand on the issue of climate change: I think the science is very clear that climate change is happening and that it needs to be addressed. I think climate nihilism is unhelpful, whether you are lighting yourself on fire or pledging not to have children. And I think there are sincerely held disagreements about the best way to go about addressing climate change — especially when considering how to allow the developing world access to cheap and reliable energy sources. Personally, I have long advocated for an “all of the above” energy approach.

I've also cautioned people about "renewable" energies and the ways in which sources like solar power are not actually renewable in the way people think. It will take a combination of solar, wind, nuclear, and natural gas development while also just seeing general use go down for us to come close to the goals laid out in conferences like this. And of course, we should assuredly still be using — but also reducing — oil and coal as energy sources.

The only way to describe where we are now is that there is good news and there is bad news. Here's the bad news: There are plenty of climate change scientists who are convinced that we have entered a new era of danger. Dr. Zeke Hausfather recently made this case in The New York Times, saying the latest data was "Staggering. Unnerving. Mind-boggling. Absolutely gobsmackingly bananas."

Hausfather explained that there is "increasing evidence that global warming has accelerated over the past 15 years rather than continued at a gradual, steady pace," and that things like extreme heat waves, wildfires, rainfall, and sea level rise are all going to grow more severe in the coming years. If Hausfather is right, the picture is grim. On top of that, there are a lot of climate scientists who continue to be understandably skeptical and cynical about events like COP28 and the commitments global leaders make to addressing climate change.

And yet, the good news abounds. Even if you are someone who does not believe climate change is a genuine threat, or someone who thinks people worried about climate change are brainwashed lefties, you should still celebrate much of this good news:

First, even Hausfather concedes some encouraging signals: The world "has made real progress in slowing down the growth of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions," he wrote in his piece about the "gobsmackingly" bad data. Hausfather also notes something many people ignore: That some of the warming we are seeing right now is actually the result of a positive trend, which is the reduction of air pollution. That pollution has had a temporary cooling effect on the air around us, and as nations across the globe clean up our air we are seeing that cooling effect drop. Perhaps most importantly, the shocking data Hausfather points to is also, as he notes, pretty much what our climate models have predicted. Put differently, as the years go on, the reliability of our models is increasing, which is critical for charting the best path forward.

There is more direct good news, too. The most apocalyptic projections about what climate change would look like this century — the ones that dominated so many news stories for so long — are now fading to the background. As David Wallace-Wells put it last year, "Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years."

Energy all across the globe is getting cheaper because electricity from solar, wind, and batteries are getting cheaper. And whether you are a red-blooded free market capitalist who wants to drill, burn, and frack or a tree-hugging hippie praying for a Green New Deal, it’s just straightforwardly good that energy is getting cheaper because there are more options to get energy. In fact, it’s great news — whether it is happening organically or with assistance from governments across the world.

Or, as Noah Smith recently wrote, our debates about climate exchange are stuck in 2010. Decarbonizing our global economy no longer requires huge cutbacks in standard of living, nor is it prohibitively expensive. Solar power and batteries are driving a genuine technological revolution — and that revolution is happening right under our noses. 

Given all this context, COP28 is just… hard to care about. It’s neither an important story about climate nor is it meaningless. But the real action is happening in the real, everyday world, where so many of us can see and feel an energy revolution that is going to dramatically change our economy and planet — hopefully for the better. 

Your questions, answered.

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Trump 2.0.

On our YouTube channel, we just published a new video exploring what a second Trump term might look like. You can watch it below:

Under the radar.

Researchers are flagging a suspicious surge in the short-selling of Israeli stocks the day before the Hamas attacks. A new draft paper posits that a trader or traders were informed of Hamas's plans to attack and potentially made millions of dollars by betting against the market. Authors of the paper include a former SEC commissioner who analyzed spikes in short-selling on the principal Israeli-company exchange-traded fund the day before the attack. There was a similar build-up in short positions in early April, just before a Hamas plan to attack Israel on Passover. The papers present a compelling case for further investigation, but the researchers concede they "are unable to link particular market participants to the pre-attack developments we see in securities markets — to say nothing of the underlying sources of information that produced the trades we study." Axios has the story.


  • 1,600. The approximate number of attendees at COP2 in 1996. 
  • 22,400. The approximate number of attendees at COP25 in 2019.
  • 70,000. The approximate number of attendees at COP28 in 2023. 
  • 22.8 billion. Global CO2 emissions (measured in gross tonnage) in 1996. 
  • 36.8 billion. Global CO2 emissions in gross tonnage in 2022.
  • 250 billion. The amount (in tonnes) of CO2 remaining in the “carbon budget,” a guideline for maintaining a 50% chance of staying within a 1.5C limit for global temperature increases. 
  • 2. The number of days in 2023 that the planet exceeded a global average surface temperature more than 2°C  above preindustrial levels, the first time this threshold was breached since the beginning of instrument records.
  • 12th. The rank in global oil production of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., whose CEO Sultan al-Jaber is president-designate of COP28.  
  • 17. The number of fossil fuel projects approved by the Biden administration that are projected to create more emissions in 2030 than will be eliminated by White House climate policies, according to a study by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the Twitter files on Hunter Biden.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the ad in the free version with an exclusive offer to The Dispatch for Tangle readers.
  • Had to be a better way: 621 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking about Henry Kissinger's legacy, with 39% saying it is a mix of positive and negative. 22% said it's mostly negative, 17% said it's mostly positive, 15% said it's overwhelmingly negative, 4% said it's overwhelmingly positive, and 2% were unsure or had no opinion. "I wouldn't have wanted to be in his shoes, but by gum there must have been a better way to reduce the casualties left in the wake of his decisions. I guess we'll never know," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: An amazing short video of dense low-lying fog in Vancouver, British Columbia.
  • Take the poll. Do you think COP28 is worthwhile? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Arizbeth Dionisio Ambrosio has earned a well deserved promotion for her exceptional display of compassion following the devastating Hurricane Otis. Dionisio was deployed to Acapulco in the recovery effort on October 25. That’s when the 33-year-old mother encountered a four-month-old baby crying from hunger and went above and beyond the call of duty to help. The baby’s mother was too distressed to feed him, so the officer, understanding the situation, offered to nurse the hungry infant herself. The moment was captured in a moving photograph later posted to social media. Mexico City Security Minister Pablo Vázquez Camacho praised Dionisio's dedication to service and compassionate response, declaring her promotion on Twitter/X. In recognition of her extraordinary act of compassion, Dionisio was promoted from "policía primero" to "suboficial." Sunny Skyz has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.