The 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN’s framework convention on climate change wrapped up on December 13 with a last-minute agreement that mentions fossil fuels, but promises little or no action. With over 90,000 people registered, including over 2,400 fossil fuel industry lobbyists, it was, as many observers commented, a debacle in the desert.
In an interview with Reuters, Greta Thunberg said the conference’s final text “is toothless and it is nowhere even close to being sufficient to keep us within the 1.5-degree limit. It is a stab in the back for those most vulnerable.”
The following summary was prepared by Carbon Brief, a UK-based website that covers climate science, but climate policy and energy policy. For more detail, see their in-depth report on Key Outcomes of COP28.
Fossils away: Nearly 200 countries have agreed to help the world “transition away from fossil fuels”, as part of the “global stocktake” decided at COP28, according to Carbon Brief’s in-depth summary of the talks. The deal “call[ed] on” all countries to contribute, using the weakest-possible UN legal language to ask for action. Yet even this was hard-won, with an earlier draft deal having left action on fossil fuels entirely optional.
Whither finance? The stocktake also called for the tripling of renewables, doubling of energy efficiency and “substantially reducing” methane emissions, all by 2030. These targets ticked four of the five “pillars” to keep 1.5C in reach, set out by the International Energy Agency (IEA) ahead of COP28. The crucial fifth pillar — finance for developing countries, which could have unlocked greater ambition elsewhere — was largely missing.
‘Moment of truth’: COP28 agreed new targets, but only countries can deliver action. The stocktake “encourages” them to submit ambitious new 2035 pledges aligned with 1.5C, with a deadline of 2025. This will be the “moment of truth,” one expert told Carbon Brief.
Action stations: The stocktake also launched a four-year “dialogue” on implementing the deal, as well as “mission 1.5C”, designed to boost “ambition…action and implementation.” This mission will be run by COP30 hosts Brazil – who said it would work towards cutting fossil fuel dependence — along with the UAE COP28 presidency and COP29 host Azerbaijan. The role of the “mitigation work program” — launched at COP26 to “urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation in this critical decade” — remains unclear.
Money talks: Negotiations over a “framework” to guide a “global goal” on climate adaptation faced significant tensions. African countries and others said they needed strong commitments that developed countries would financially support them. The US and the EU did not want to discuss money. Large, emerging economies were accused of blocking talks by insisting on references to the different responsibilities facing developed and developing countries.
New focus: The final text did not contain any of the developing countries’ major priorities. Parties agreed to focus adaptation on several key themes and decided on a handful of ill-defined targets. However, it kick-starts a formalized global effort for countries to scale up their adaptation efforts, with a first round of planning and reporting given a deadline of 2030.
Loss and damage
Fund agreed: Nations launched a new “loss-and-damage fund” on day one of COP28, in what one observer called a “diplomatic coup” for the UAE. This was welcomed as the first time a major outcome had emerged from a COP opening session. It marked the culmination of a decades-long effort by climate-vulnerable nations to secure funds for the unstoppable harm caused by climate disasters.
Money needed: With no obligation to pay into the fund, filling it will largely depend on the generosity of wealthy countries. Several parties, including the UAE, Germany and the EU, kick-started the fund with $770.6m of pledges, some of which were existing funds that had been re-pledged. Campaigners pointed out this amounted to less than 0.2% of developing countries’ annual needs.
Overshadowed presidency: COP28 president and oil executive Dr. Sultan Al Jaber hailed the “world-first” achievement of getting “fossil fuels” in a UN climate change agreement. However, his presidency was overshadowed by allegations the UAE intended to use COP28 to make oil-and-gas deals — and by resurfaced remarks he made questioning the science of a fossil-fuel phase-out at an online event on the need to include women in climate action.
‘Low-carbon’ oil: Mere hours after the summit, Al Jaber told the Guardian that his company, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), will continue investing in oil. He claimed to the paper that his oil can be considered “low-carbon” because it is “extracted efficiently and with less leakage than other sources.”
Food, forests and nature
Food: Carbon Brief has just published a separate in-depth look at what COP28 delivered for food, land, forests and nature. “Food day” at COP28 saw the launch of the Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation — a group of five countries committed to pushing the agenda of systemic change in food systems. But the Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on agriculture and food security failed to reach an agreement, leaving parties frustrated.
Forests: The global stocktake “emphasizes” that halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030 will be key to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement — the first time such a pledge has garnered formal recognition in a UN climate change legal text. Several countries put forward new ideas for protecting forests at COP28, but Brazil stole the show with its $250bn “tropical forests forever” fund proposal.
Nature: COP28 hosted an unprecedented number of high-level events on the links between climate change and nature loss. In a first-of-its-kind initiative, COP28 president UAE and COP15 president China released a Joint Statement on Climate, Nature and People acknowledging the interconnected nature of climate change and biodiversity loss, signed by 20 countries. The world’s landmark nature deal agreed in 2022, the Global Biodiversity Framework, was also referenced in a UN climate change text for the first time.
(Reposted under a Creative Commons license.)