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Kyiv’s top prosecutor is tallying burned forests and dead dolphins in an unprecedented and quixotic ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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December 8, 2023

Net Zero

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Tim McDonnell
Tim McDonnell

Hi everyone, welcome to another special COP28 edition of Net Zero.

Thursday was a chance for COP28 to take a breath. (Quite literally in my case — I joined a ragged band of diplomats and journalists here to visit the world’s largest water park. Don’t call the climate cops on me.) In the evening, I went to a Japanese restaurant in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa to munch on sushi with a cluster of bankers and asset managers. The conversation was somewhat encouraging: There’s no dissent that clean energy is an attractive investment, and financiers are getting better at finding and structuring those deals.

“Climate finance looks different this year, and is getting much more mature and evolved about where public and private capital need to go,” said Lucy Heintz, head of energy infrastructure at the private equity firm Actis.

The elephant in the room, of course, was oil and gas. There’s still plenty of money to be made in these industries, and there was a prevailing sense that there will be lucrative opportunities in those companies’ decarbonization efforts. But ESG pressure from regulators and the public has some investors spooked about touching the space. One thing that might actually push more capital into the sector, somewhat counterintuitively, is a political commitment at COP28 to “phase out” fossil fuels: As of Friday evening, that language was still on the table (despite the private urging of OPEC’s top official) and if it got adopted, “I think you’d see a lot more momentum among oil and gas companies to decarbonize,” Heintz said.

Speaking of fights, our story today explores the climate dimensions of one that’s drawing high-profile attention at COP28: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On the ground:

  • Negotiators haven’t made much progress on the most controversial bits of the Global Stocktake, as ministers and other high-level officials begin to arrive over the weekend to push for a timely close to the summit. Talks on adaptation are apparently especially frozen, possibly in a bid by oil-exporting countries to hold “phase out” language hostage.
  • The big protest march that traditionally takes place at the midpoint of COP will happen tomorrow at 3:30pm, in the Blue Zone, moving from the Civil Society Hub to Plenary 1.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and other members of Congress are due to swoop in over the weekend and tout their strategies for carbon border tariffs, among other topics. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Coons will discuss climate finance at 12:30pm Saturday at the WWF Panda Pavilion.
  • The chicken ceasar wraps from Ben’s Farmhouse are fine but I’m getting sick of them. Please send tips for other quick bites.

If you like what you’re reading, spread the word.

  1. Location, location, location
  2. The boom continues
  3. Environmental war crimes
  4. Loss and damage shortfall
  5. COP’s climate tech scene

A fossil fuel exec on phasing out fossil fuels, and yet another big carbon removal deal.


Location, location, location

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

The battle over who hosts COP29 is — unusually — still playing out, with Azerbaijan, Serbia, and Moldova all pushing for the right to host next year’s climate summit. COP hosting duties are typically plotted out well in advance: COP30, for example, is already scheduled to be held in Brazil. But the site of COP29 has fallen victim to geopolitics. Due to be held in eastern Europe because of a rotational system, Russia has vetoed the summit being hosted by a European Union member state, while conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan this year effectively ruled out both countries. But in a sign of the latter pair resolving some of their differences, Yerevan publicly backed Baku’s bid to host COP29 in a joint statement yesterday. Moldova has meanwhile volunteered to preside over the talks, though not officially host them, while Serbia is considering putting itself forward to host and run COP29, Reuters reported.


The boom continues

Clean energy investment in the U.S. hit $64 billion in the third quarter, according to the latest data from Rhodium Group, the consultancy.

That’s 42% higher than the same quarter last year, and includes investments in renewable energy, electric vehicles, building electrification, and carbon management. The single biggest category by far: EV battery manufacturing, which continues to surge and may grow further now that most EVs from China or with Chinese batteries will soon be disqualified for tax credits.


Ukraine’s COP28 mission

Tim McDonnell
Tim McDonnell
REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko

Ukraine’s mission at COP28 is a bit different than most. Like many, it is here to tout its clean energy accomplishments, including a $500 million expansion of wind farms just a few miles from the front line. But it is also in Dubai to promote an unprecedented campaign to hold Russia legally accountable for what top officials describe as environmental war crimes.

“The environment should no longer be a silent victim of war,” Maksym Popov, a prosecutor leading the investigation, told me.

Ukraine’s effort presents a daunting task for prosecutors, both in terms of gathering evidence and in ultimately holding individual Russian military officers accountable. But it’s grounded firmly in international law, experts say, and may provide an opening for the International Criminal Court to more easily prosecute environmental damages in other future conflicts.

Tim McDonnell/Semafor

“The fact that Ukraine is committed to putting resources into accountability here is an opportunity to breathe life into underused provisions of international criminal law, and leave a legacy of protection for the environment,” said Kate Mackintosh, executive director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at the University of California-Los Angeles law school.

Documenting environmental impacts of the war is an urgent priority, a top official said — but that won't make it easy to hold individual Russian officers responsible. →


Loss and damage shortfall

Combined contributions by rich countries to the climate reparations fund that was an early victory of COP28. That’s a decent start, but only about 0.2% of what is really needed to address losses and damages in developing countries. In an interview, World Bank Senior Managing Director Axel van Trotsenburg told me he expects the fund could be set up in as little as three months. Responding to a complaint raised by some developing countries that the bank will charge too much to host the fund, van Trotsenburg said: “We don’t do this to make money. The only thing we want is to make sure that development occurs. That is our profit. But to operate you will need to have staff, and that needs to be covered.”


COP’s climate tech scene

Tim McDonnell/Semafor

Climate tech startups at COP28 say they’re in a race against time to scale up. Outside the confines of the summit’s diplomatic “blue zone” is the sprawling “green zone,” essentially the world’s biggest climate-tech trade show. In the center is the “startup village,” home to dozens of cutting-edge companies hoping to attract the attention and money of the financial institutions and big corporate emitters in neighboring pavilions. Here you’ll find models of electric motorcycles and airplanes, mushroom-based fake sausages encased in plexiglass, alternative-chemistry EV battery packs, carbon-sucking concrete, and soy sauce made from algae fed on emissions captured from a coal-fired power plant.

The main thing on the minds of most entrepreneurs here is “compressing the financing timeline,” said Val Miftakhov, CEO of ZeroAvia, which is building small airplanes that run on a combination of electricity and hydrogen. Even as more large financial institutions and corporations become willing to invest in scaling up innovative climate tech, accessing that capital requires a lot of piecemeal, hit-and-miss pitching and long due diligence processes, repeated with every financier, that “just don’t align with the timeline of the energy transition,” he said. In conversations at COP28, Miftakhov found more banks showing an interest in getting involved with early-stage climate tech venture funding, with an eye to sticking with promising companies all the way from their early stages to full commercialization. That should speed up the process and be a big profit opportunity for those willing to gamble on a vision of the future, he said.

High-emitting corporations, too, are getting more frantic about purchasing decarbonization tech, said Amane Kimura, CEO of Algal Bio, of the carbon-capture soy sauce.

“Climate tech is in a new phase,” he said. “The phase of setting long-term dreams is over. Now our clients are better educated and their questions are more detailed. They want numbers, they want near-term solutions because they’re under so much pressure to decarbonize.”

Davos 2024

January 14-19, 2024 | Switzerland

Semafor will be on the ground at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, covering what’s happening on the main stages and lifting the curtain on what’s happening behind them.

Sign up to receive our pop-up newsletter: Semafor Davos (and if you’re flying to Zurich let us know so we can invite you to one of Semafor’s private convenings).

Power Plays


  • The U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said Washington supports a phase out of fossil fuels. The debate over whether to phase out or phase down fossil-fuel use is a central one at COP, with major oil and gas producers such as Saudi Arabia opposed to language supporting a full phase out.
  • Canada expects to publish the final version of a plan to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil-fuel sector by the middle of next year, its environment minister told Reuters.

New Energy

  • A giant wind farm that began operations off the coast of New York offered some rare good news for the global wind industry. Wind power is significantly lagging behind the pace of growth required to triple overall renewables capacity by 2030, according to analysts at BloombergNEF.
  • Solar power, meanwhile, is actually ahead of its required pace of growth, with the U.S. alone adding a record 33 gigawatts of solar energy capacity this year, a new report from Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association showed.
  • Investors are beginning to “regain trust” in the renewables market after a protracted period of high interest rates and supply-chain bottlenecks, analysts at HSBC said in a note to clients.


  • More than $3 trillion worth of green bonds and similar financial products have now been issued globally, a new report said. Issuance is slowing, however, in part due to a wider fixed-income slowdown.
  • Severe thunderstorms caused more than $60 billion in insurance losses this year, the reinsurance giant Swiss Re said, the highest-ever such figure, and the biggest contributor to global insurance losses that topped $100 billion for a fourth consecutive year.
  • The carbon-removal alliance Frontier signed what it said was the world’s first offtake agreement using enhanced weathering. The $57 million deal will remove more than 150,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere using the technology, which accelerates the pace at which rocks absorb carbon dioxide.


  • Chinese electric-vehicle companies are grappling with a major talent shortfall. Engineers and skilled technicians are most in demand, with the country only having about half as many skilled technicians as it needs. “We are already very concerned about the shortage of hands,” one executive at the carmaker Nio told The New York Times.
One Good Text

Toby Rice, CEO of EQT, one of the largest U.S. natural gas producers.

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