Author: Steve Turton

Unpacking COP28: Key outcomes from the Dubai climate talks, and what comes next

Source(s): World Resources Institute
Young activists at the COP22 UN climate summit take part in a flash-mob dance protest in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the central plaza in Marrakesh, Morocco, November 10, 2016.
Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

The COP28 climate talks began with a new fund to address the increasingly severe losses and damage vulnerable countries face from climate impacts and concluded with the first international agreement to tackle climate change’s main driver: fossil fuels. 

Those bookends to the Dubai summit start to tackle the world’s core climate challenges: quickly transforming key systems to dramatically cut emissions and responding to the substantial impacts already occurring.

The main stage for much of this year’s COP was the first-ever Global Stocktake, the Paris Agreement’s process to assess progress every five years and mobilize stronger climate action. The Global Stocktake outcome in Dubai, dubbed the UAE Consensus, covered the full scope of climate issues, sending critical signals for energy, transport and nature, and providing direction for the next round of national climate commitments (NDCs) due in 2025.

The decision to transition away from “fossil fuels" was the first time the term appeared in a COP’s formal outcome since UN climate negotiations began 30 years ago. Despite immense pressure from oil and gas interests, key country negotiators stood their ground and landed a deal that marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era — a fitting close to the hottest year on record.

There was also significant progress outside the formal climate negotiations — including new commitments to reduce methane emissions, create more sustainable food systems, protect forests and more.

But it wasn’t all good news. The lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of 39 nations, said that while the agreement has many good elements, the deal’s support for carbon capture technology and other items are concerning.  She said the course correction needed to avert the climate crisis “has not yet been secured.”

And there was limited progress in other areas of the negotiations. Adaptation targets lacked detail. Finance got short shrift on many fronts; it remains unclear how the world will pay for the massive clean energy transition it’s now committed to. Next year’s climate summit in Azerbaijan (COP29) needs to offer breakthroughs on thorny and fundamental questions about finance.

Below, we explore COP28’s outcomes in greater depth and explain where the world needs to go on key issues:

  • Fossil Fuels & Clean Energy
  • Loss & Damage
  • Adaptation
  • Climate Finance
  • National Climate Plans (NDCs)
  • Food
  • Cities
  • Methane
  • Forests & Land Use

A Rapid Shift from Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy

What happened?

The UAE Consensus calls for the world to “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.” This signifies both a rapid near-term shift away from fossil fuels and a long-term direction of travel to a zero-carbon future. 

The outcome also included agreement to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double its energy efficiency by 2030, goals also reflecting a pledge made by 130 countries at the start of COP. In addition, the COP decision called on countries to accelerate emissions reductions from road transport through a variety of pathways — not only zero-emissions vehicles, but also shifts to public transport and safe cycling infrastructure.

The outcome calls for this transition to be just and equitable, and states that differing national circumstances must be taken into account. This recognition serves as an essential foundation for national policymaking as countries determine how they will contribute to the global energy transition and ensure no one in their country is left behind. But the overarching message is that every nation must be part of the transition.

But not all outcomes were positive. While renewables are the cheapest energy option for most people, they require more investment at the beginning of the project than other technologies, and are impacted by interest rates and misaligned policies that often put wind and solar out of reach for developing countries. The COP28 outcome does not tackle these financial challenges, an oversight that must be addressed at the next UN climate summit.

The final outcome also leaves oil- and gas-producing countries and fossil fuel interests with loopholes. For instance, the deal lends support to “transitional fuels,” which is widely understood to be a reference to natural gas, the third-most carbon-intensive method of generating electricity. And the outcome fails to recognize the limitations of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology (though it does say the technology should be focused particularly in hard-to-abate sectors). By all estimates, CCS can only play a very small role in our fight against climate change — for instance, the IEA net-zero scenario shows CCS capturing just 1 of 15 gigatons of carbon emissions reductions needed from the energy sector by 2030. Natural gas and carbon capture technology must not be used as excuses to slow the clean energy transition.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia unveiled a charter that committed participating companies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, but only for their own operations. The pledge doesn’t cover a drop of the fuel oil and gas companies sell, which accounts for up to 95% of the industry’s contribution to the climate crisis. The world won’t meet its climate goals unless governments require the oil and gas industry to address both its production and use of the fuels they make, while governments must also ensure that demand for those fuels is cut dramatically. 

What’s next?

To turn decisions into reality, countries now need to incorporate strong targets into their next round of NDCs, due in 2025. Another critical test is whether far more finance is mobilized for developing countries to help make the energy transition possible.

Loss and Damage Fund Operationalized

What happened?

After months of intense talks throughout the year, the Loss and Damage Fund was fully operationalized on the first day of the Dubai summit. The fund is designed to help climate-vulnerable countries deal with climate impacts that go beyond what people can adapt to. Getting the fund set into motion was a hard-fought journey where developing nations were forced to make significant concessions in order to reach a deal.

A number of countries also stepped forward with roughly $700 million to fill the fund. Though welcome, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the $580 billion in climate-related damages vulnerable countries may face by 2030.

Countries also agreed that the UN’s Office of Disaster Risk Reduction and Office for Project Services will host the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, which will provide critical technical assistance to vulnerable developing countries.

While loss and damage was included in the Global Stocktake decision, it was not properly recognized as the third pillar of climate action, alongside mitigation and adaptation. This is a significant oversight for vulnerable communities and developing countries, who face the brunt of climate change’s escalating impacts.

What's Next?

The soon-to-be-constituted Board of the Loss and Damage Fund needs to ensure that the fund’s policies are fit for purpose, responsive to needs, and mobilize resources at scale. The World Bank also has to respond to negotiators’ invitation to host the fund and determine if they can accept the conditions countries laid out. Institutional arrangements need to be in place by COP29 so the fund can start delivering finance to projects.  

At the same time, countries need to step forward with much larger pledges to meet the needs of climate-vulnerable communities, as well as mobilize innovative sources of funding such as taxes on fossil fuels and shipping. They will also need to provide finance for the Santiago Network. Furthermore, nations should also include detailed sections on loss and damage in their next round of NDCs, including providing cost estimates where possible to drive predictable and adequate finance.

Framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation Established, but Finance Lacking

What happened?

While the 2015 Paris Agreement established a goal to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change, negotiators had yet to define a framework for understanding this Global Goal on Adaptation, including clear targets or how they would be measured. After two years of discussions, negotiators agreed at COP28 to global time-bound targets for specific themes and sectors (such as water and health) and for the adaptation policy process. However, the targets were not quantified, nor did they include financial and other support for developing countries.

The Global Goal on Adaptation framework makes only a cursory reference to the fact that the adaptation finance gap is widening. But the Global Stocktake outcome recognized that financial support needs to significantly scale up beyond the current commitment to double adaptation finance, and that adaptation needs will evolve.

What’s next?

To further enhance the new framework, negotiators established a two-year work program to develop indicators for measuring and assessing progress towards the goal’s overarching targets. Going forward, the framework presents an opportunity to fill in missing pieces for adaptation in future Global Stocktakes. But without a clear roadmap on increasing finance for adaptation – especially the goal of doubling adaptation finance by 2025 – there is lack of accountability in how the adaptation finance gap will be filled. Negotiators will need to address these and other finance issues at COP29. 

Finance Challenges Deferred to Next Year As New Finance Goal Emerges

What happened?

The COP28 outcome punted most finance issues to COP29, with the adoption of a new climate finance goal — called the New Collective Qualitative Goal (NCQG) — being the big-ticket item for next year. This new goal will replace developed countries’ current commitment of providing $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing nations, first agreed to in 2009. The new goal will need to take into account developing countries’ needs and priorities, estimated at $5.8 trillion - $5.9 trillion up until 2030. Negotiators in Dubai further clarified the process for setting a new goal, rather than hashing out options for elements such as its timeframe, transparency arrangements, sources and structure.   The Global Stocktake decision included reflections on finance progress. This included acknowledging that countries failed to meet the $100 billion goal in 2021, but negotiators did not specify whether or how to make up the shortfall. The outcome also recognized the need to make all finance flows consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, as laid out in Article 2.1c. This could cover a broad set of public and private flows and require aligning finance so that it not only advances positive climate action, but also avoids harmful funding such as fossil fuel subsidies. To facilitate further discussion on these issues, the outcome at Dubai extended the dialogue process initiated at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh on the scope of Article 2.1c. The Global Stocktake decision also underscored the importance of reforming the multilateral financial architecture, including multilateral development banks, institutional investors and other financial actors.

COP28 also brought an additional $3.5 billion in new pledges to the second replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, the largest international fund dedicated to supporting developing countries in tackling climate change. The second replenishment now totals $12.8 billion, 28% more than the first replenishment. The challenge now will be ensuring pledges become actual financial disbursements to developing countries, with high quality investments that meet countries’ needs and leverage private finance.

What’s next?

Negotiators will hold at least three technical expert dialogues leading up to COP29 to address the elements of the NCQG, which include amounts the goal should aim for, its timeline, what it will fund, how progress will be measured and more. Negotiators will also develop a framework for a draft negotiating text, while ministers and others will engage in high-level dialogues and other political engagements leading up to COP29.

Strengthening National Climate Commitments

What happened?

The Global Stocktake outcome calls on countries to submit new NDCs well ahead of COP30 in 2025. With the next round, countries are expected to update their 2030 targets and present new targets for 2035. The COP28 decision underscores that these new NDCs have to be more ambitious, noting that the IPCC finds that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) requires reducing global greenhouse gas emissions 60% below 2019 levels by 2035.

Complementing revised 2030 emissions targets, the COP28 outcome states that the next round of NDCs should enhance current actions to reduce emissions, as well as include plans and priorities for adaptation, just transition efforts, and loss and damage. The outcome also states that NDCs should reflect transformation across multiple sectors, including clean energy, nature conservation, road transport and more.

What’s next?

Governments will start to prepare their next round of NDCs in 2024. COP28 calls for the UN to host a series of global and regional workshops and capacity-building sessions to help them. In 2025, the UN Secretary-General will hold a special event for countries to submit their new commitments.

Relatedly, negotiators agreed that the COP28, COP29 and COP30 presidencies will collaborate on a “Road map to Mission 1.5,” which is meant to enhance international cooperation over the next two years to secure more ambitious NDCs and deliver the finance necessary to incentivize action. 

Food Finally Gets on the Menu

What happened?

Outside of the negotiations, countries and others made major announcements on food, a milestone since the issue has historically been left out of the COP.  One hundred and fifty nine nations, covering nearly 80% of the world's land, signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, committing  to integrate food and food systems into their NDCs by 2025. Signatories include major emitters and global players in the food system, such as  Argentina, Brazil, China, the EU, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the US.

The Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation (ACF) also launched. Member countries including Brazil, Cambodia, Norway, Sierra Leone and Rwanda pledged a “whole of government” approach to drive faster action towards the goals of the UAE declaration. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a roadmap on how to curb climate change while also eliminating hunger.

Within the negotiations, the Global Stocktake encourages the implementation of integrated, multi-sectoral solutions, including "resilient food systems” specifically, while the new framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation sets a target for “attaining climate-resilient food and agricultural production and supply and distribution of food.” These new references to food and food systems marked a significant breakthrough on the nexus between food, agriculture and climate within the negotiations. Indeed, this was the COP when food truly came of age as central to the climate effort.

What's Next?

All countries must now incorporate food and food systems into their next round of NDCs and arrive at COP29 and COP30 with real progress in hand. In the end, the success of these pledges will be determined by whether countries follow through with substantial policy reforms and action at the national level. The same is true for companies, farmers and other civil society actors who made equivalent commitments.

Cities Elevated As Partners in Climate Action

What happened?

Cities and other subnational actors played a larger role at COP28 than any COP before. The first-of-its kind “Local Climate Action Summit,” supported by WRI, assembled more than 500 mayors, governors and other subnational leaders to elevate the role of cities in climate action, including through NDCs and financing. Seventy-one countries joined the Coalition for High Ambition Multi-level Partnerships (CHAMP) initiative, committing to incorporate robust urban climate actions in their NDCs, as well as enhance cooperation between local and national governments on planning, financing and implementation. UN-Habitat also hosted the second Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change.

The final COP28 agreement reflects growing understanding of cities as critical climate battlegrounds and partners for action—a fitting recognition since 70% of carbon dioxide emissions come from urban areas. There is enhanced language on “multilevel” action, as well as new language around zero-emission vehicles and reducing health impacts in vulnerable communities, which is particularly relevant for cities as hotbeds of air pollution, flooding, extreme heat and large numbers of vulnerable people.

What’s next?

How these commitments — including nearly $500 million in new climate financing for urban infrastructure — carry through to NDC development, city design and management, and improved living conditions in rapidly growing cities will be key in the months ahead. More ambitious urban targets in the next round of NDCs in 2025 are essential, reflecting joined-up national and local action on transportation, energy systems, housing, air quality, and more climate financing reaching the urban poor.

Pledges and Finance to Curb Methane Emissions  

What happened?

COP28 saw an encouraging slate of actions to address methane pollution, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Governments, companies and philanthropies announced over $1 billion in new grants, which more than triples the funding for projects focused on cutting methane in the oil and gas, waste and agriculture sectors, with the goal of mobilizing billions more.

Five more nations joined the Global Methane Pledge —Angola, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Romania and Turkmenistan—bringing the total number of signatories to 155. The pledge commits to cut global methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Meanwhile the U.S. unveiled new regulations on methane, and ahead of the negotiations, China committed to include methane in its next NDC.

The Global Stocktake outcome also calls on all countries to accelerate their reductions of non-CO2 emissions, including methane, and encourages them to include all greenhouse gases in their next NDCs.

What’s next?

Countries now have an opportunity to incorporate ambitious action on methane into their next NDCs in 2025, both in their topline emissions targets and with specific methane targets.

Small Steps Forward on Forests and Land Use

What happened?

COP28 demonstrated continued political will toward the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, where more than 140 world leaders pledged in 2021 to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by the end of the decade. This year, signatories released the Joint Statement on Climate, Nature, and People, committing to scale up finance, ensure participation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and improve data collection in tackling the climate and nature crises.  The Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP), which launched at COP27, announced four country packages, providing funds and capacity to help Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Papua New Guinea and Republic of Congo deliver their national plans for conserving and restoring forests.

There were also numerous announcements on new financing mechanisms, which will be needed to deliver the goals of the Glasgow Declaration. During the World Climate Action Summit, $2.5 billion was mobilized to protect and restore nature, including over $186 million in new financing. Brazil proposed a global Tropical Forests Forever fund, which would direct finance toward the protection of tropical forests. And the LEAF Coalition announced agreements with Costa Rica and Ghana to supply jurisdictional REDD+ credits worth over $60 million.

What’s next?

As countries progress on their commitments, there needs to be a way to ensure their actions are tracked consistently, such as through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration Dashboard. At the same time, national ambition needs to be matched by increased international public and private finance. Finally, it will also be critical to ensure that funding is getting to the right people on the ground. The Platform for Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities is an important forum in this regard, aiming to build partnerships with indigenous organizations and increase funding coordination for Indigenous territories for forest-climate action.

Turning COP28 Commitments into Action

For the first time, all nations formally agreed to move away from fossil fuels and rapidly ramp up renewable energy, while our cities and food systems were elevated in the climate fight like never before. Now that negotiators have left Dubai, attention turns to the next essential tasks: turning the goals expressed at COP28 into national action and ensuring the finance is there to implement them. Importantly, these commitments must be seen as the floor — not the ceiling — in the fight against climate change. Climate-vulnerable communities and countries cannot afford to be shortchanged.

It is up to countries to translate the UAE Consensus into their next round of NDCs and transformative domestic legislation and policies, including ramping up renewables and fossil-free transport and tamping down fossil fuels at every turn. Global agreements can send the right signals, but the world’s fate will ultimately be determined by whether countries play their part in addressing the climate crisis.

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