Key Takeaways from COP28

The United Nations (UN) annual climate change conference, also known as the ‘Conference of the Parties’ or ‘COP’, brings together world leaders, ministers, and negotiators to agree on how to address climate change. The negotiating parties include governments that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and/or the Paris Agreement. The COPs are also attended by thousands of representatives from civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and the media.

A view from the launch of the COP 28 Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace Declaration at the 28th UN Climate Change Conference at Expo City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Dec. 3, 2023 Photo by: Mahmoud Khaled/UNFCCC/CC BY-NC-SA

Since COP21 in 2015, the COPs have revolved around how to implement the Paris Agreement, which has three main goals: keep the global average temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; adapt to climate change and build resilience; and align finance flows with ‘a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.

The COP is hosted by a different country each year. The 2023 U.N. climate summit, known as COP28, has been hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai from 30 November–12 December 2023. The summit is over; the dust has settled. Now we examine the key outcomes.

i) The end of fossil fuels?

This was the first COP to officially acknowledge that fossil fuels are the root cause of climate change. And it is worth remembering that fossil fuels were only first mentioned in an international climate agreement in 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow. Yet it still lacked ambition.

Most countries wanted a strong statement on phasing out or at the very least phase down (reducing) fossil fuels. Instead, countries agreed on a statement saying we must “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

This language – a “transition away” rather than a full “phase-out” – is not as strong as many wanted. In theory, the agreement heralds the end of the fossil fuel era, but it offers an intentional loophole for countries and companies to “abate” the use of fossil fuels by using carbon capture and storage. This justifies the continued burning of oil and gas.

ii) Loss and damage

“Loss and damage” is the term given for finance for developing countries that have suffered a major climate change-related disaster. A fund was agreed at COP27 in 2022 and recent announcements mean US$700 million has now been pledged.

A model displaying wind turbine generators at the China Pavilion during the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. (Xinhua/Wang Dongzhen)

While this is welcome news it is a drop in the ocean compared with the US$400 billion actually needed. It’s also insignificant compared to, for instance, the estimated US$7 billion cost of building the COP28 venue Dubai Expo City.

It is still not clear how the fund will work, what the major funding streams will be or whether the allocation of finance will be community-driven and corruption-free. And despite opposition, it has been agreed the World Bank will administer the fund for a negotiated fee of 24% – meaning one in four dollars pledged will never make it to the countries in need.

So overall, this summit did not deliver on climate finance and this key issue has been pushed to onward COP.

iii) Renewable energy and transitional fuels

A pledge signed by 118 countries to triple renewable energy capacity and double the global rate of energy efficiency by 2030 is a step in the right direction.

It is worth noting the text of the pledge also recognizes the role “transitional fuels” will have in maintaining energy security for the time being. This makes the use of climate-damaging liquefied petroleum gas acceptable. This isn’t ideal, but in developing countries, it is still a healthier and less polluting option for home cooking and heating than burning wood or other biomass. Nonetheless, there really should be a timeline attached to the use of these transitional fuels.

Attendees applaud after the announcement of the UAE Consensus during a closing plenary of the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dec.13, 2023. (Xinhua/Wang Dongzhen)

On the sidelines of COP28, green hydrogen also had its moment. Produced through a process that splits water using electricity generated from wind or solar power, industries pledged to scale up zero-emissions fuel derived from renewables-based hydrogen to 11 million tonnes by 2030.

iv) Global stocktake – 1.5°C is at risk

The “global stocktake”, finalized at COP28, was the first time the global climate regime took stock of how the international community has collectively reduced its greenhouse gas emissions since the Paris Agreement in 2015. The biggest takeaway from the stocktake told us what we already knew – the world is way behind and the 1.5°C warming limit agreed in Paris is at risk.

While the big takeaway from COP28 will be that countries have come up with a deal that calls for them to transition away from fossil fuels while acknowledging the need for a “deep, rapid” reduction in emissions, the weak language is at complete odds with the official global stocktake.

So what next? Well, another year of negotiation and pushing for countries to increase their ambition so net zero can be achieved by 2050 with increased financing. The next UN climate summit, COP29, will be in Azerbaijan, where the real challenge will be forcing countries to raise their commitment to cutting emissions so that the 1.5°C limit isn’t lost.

Written by-

Imran Khan
Banker | Policy Analyst
Member of Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs), UK

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