The devastating floods, heat waves and record temperatures (exceeding 50ºC in some parts of the world) experienced in 2023, as well as the ongoing droughts causing disruptions to livelihoods in Brazil and significant reductions in shipping levels in the Panama Canal, provide a clear sign of what we can expect from climate change on a more regular basis.
It is with deep sadness that this year's COP is also taking place in a world where conflict continues to dominate headlines and the lives of so many, most notably the heart-breaking events in the Middle East and the unabating Ukraine-Russian war. However, climate change does not pause to provide humanity with the breathing space to deal with the immense challenges it faces elsewhere. In such circumstances, can the world still come together to find solutions to accelerate the change required?
The global stocktake
COP28 marks the first official global stocktake (GST) under Article 14 of the Paris Agreement. The GST is a key part of its enforcement mechanism, assessing collective progress every five years towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. It is designed to encourage increased ambition in each party's next nationally determined contribution (which set out their efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change). The GST is not limited to the 1.5ºC goal, but also incorporates other objectives across finance and adaptation, including loss and damage.
There are three components to the GST: the first (information collection and preparation) and second (the technical assessment, taking stock of progress and identifying opportunities for strengthening action) have already taken place. A synthesis report produced during the technical assessment was released in September 2023. This highlighted the significant emissions gap to a pathway consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, as well as the need for enhanced support for funding for adaptation and loss and damage, and making financial flows (international, domestic, public and private) consistent with a pathway towards low GHG emissions. The third stage, considering the outputs, will take place at COP28.
Call to action: four paradigm shifts
To get us closer to where we need to be, the COP28 President-Designate has now written two letters to the parties setting out his vision for the COP28 talks. He has made it clear that the intention of this COP is to create a call to action focused on four paradigm shifts:
- Fast-tracking the energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030;
- Transforming climate finance, by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance;
- Putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action; and
- Mobilising for the most inclusive COP ever.
These overarching ambitions will be the focus not only of the formal negotiations, but also the Presidential Action Agenda, a series of initiatives by the COP28 Presidency to build momentum outside the negotiated outcome. The Action Agenda will be framed by a two-day world Climate Action Summit on 1 and 2 December (where heads of state and government, alongside leaders from civil society, youth, indigenous people's organisations, science and other sectors, will come together to discuss plans to scale climate action) and a two-week thematic programme from 3 to 10 December (with events across health, finance, accountability, just transition and nature, amongst others). There are four cross-cutting themes to these events: technology and innovation, inclusion, frontline communities and finance.
- Fast-tracking the energy transition
The COP28 President-Designate is inviting all countries to join COP28's pledge to triple global renewable capacity and double the energy efficiency improvement rate by 2030, working towards an energy system free of unabated fossil fuels by mid-century. There seems to be good momentum behind this aim. The G20 pledged at its summit in September to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. In September, the International Energy Agency also estimated that global demand for fossils fuels would peak before 2030 and advised that proven policies and technologies are available to align energy security and sustainability goals (although OPEC has since released a statement disagreeing with the position). China, in particular, has taken significant strides in its investment in and development of green technologies.
We expect there to be debate on whether to 'phase out' or 'phase down' fossil fuels (something that has been a point of contention for some time – see our COP27 blog), and the extent to which there is scope to rely on carbon capture and other abating technologies. The private sector has also raised its voice – a letter from companies representing $987bn in global annual revenue to heads of state has called for an outcome that will lay the groundwork to transform the global energy system towards a full phase-out of unabated fossil fuels.
The COP28 President-Designate has made it clear that responsibility does not only fall on governments, and is urging all companies to develop credible net zero transition plans, demonstrating a commitment with transparency. In particular, there will be a focus on those in heavy emitting and energy sectors to decarbonise by dramatically increasing investment in clean energies.
- Transforming climate finance
The COP28 President-Designate has made it clear that climate finance as it stands is not fit for purpose, and real progress in this area is required to retain trust in the COP negotiations. The failure of developed countries to meet their commitment to provide $100bn annual climate finance promised by 2020 is a constant reminder of the question mark that remains around whether countries will fulfil the pledges made at COPs. There is ongoing pressure on developed countries to meet the $100bn commitment (albeit it is expected to be met in 2023), provide a new commitment for climate finance post-2025, and show progress in at least doubling adaptation finance by 2025.
Operationalising the loss and damage fund will also be a key focus of the conference. The agreement at COP27 to create a loss and damage fund to assist developing countries most vulnerable to climate change was considered a breakthrough in decades-long negotiations. The Transitional Committee, tasked with drafting recommendations on implementing the fund, has faced difficult and contentious rounds of talks in the run up to COP28. Final recommendations were produced, but the US has made it clear that they do not reflect consensus. While the COP28 President-Designate has said we cannot delay the loss and damage fund by a multi-year process to agree the governance around it, negotiations on adopting the Transitional Committee's recommendations are not going to be straight forward.
- Putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action
The third paradigm shift reflects the increasing recognition of the interrelationship between nature and climate. As well as driving enhanced adaptation finance and operationalising the loss and damage fund, the talks are expected to focus on protecting and enhancing biodiversity and natural carbon sinks, as well as championing those who are at the frontline of the conservation and adaptation efforts, including women and indigenous peoples.
- Mobilising the most inclusive COP ever
The aspiration is to "elevate, profile and support the leadership, decision-making, and resourcing of women, indigenous people, youth, people of determination, subnational actors, and faith-based organisations". However, there are ongoing concerns about the influence of the fossil fuel industry on COP negotiations, exacerbated by the COP28 President-Designate, Mr Al Jaber, being the head of ADNOC, the UAE's national oil company and one of the largest oil producers in the world. A joint civil society submission called for the establishment of an Accountability Framework to protect against the undue influence of polluting interests.
COP28 is a fresh opportunity for governments, businesses and individuals across different communities, regions, religions and genders to ensure we keep this planet viable for our children and our children's children. DACB will be following negotiations and events closely to see the extent to which negotiators manage to find common ground and consensus in pursuit of the ambitions set out above. We will summarise our key takeaways following the conclusion of the conference.
Please contact our climate change experts if you have any queries.