Decoding COP28: Assessing Success in the Global Climate Initiatives

Nestled on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in the UAE, Dubai transforms into a captivating destination in December, boasting pleasant weather and cosmopolitan allure. The city comes alive with a festive spirit, adorned in extravagant decorations and sparkling lights, creating a thrilling atmosphere. Along with vibrant Dubai festivities and agreeable weather, this past month played host to the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, held from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in the heart of Dubai. The conference, encompassing the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28), brought global leaders together to address critical environmental issues and formulate impactful solutions.

COP 28 and the Eventual End of the Oil Age

The Goals of COP 28 were 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 mobilizing for the most inclusive COP ever. (2023 UN Climate Change Conference, 2023)

Following deliberations, representatives from almost 200 nations reached a historic consensus to diminish global reliance on fossil fuels. Sultan al-Jaber, President of COP28, underscored the paramount importance of effective implementation. (Volcovici, Nations strike deal at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels, 2023)

While the accord was met with approval, smaller island states expressed dissatisfaction, contending that it lacked the necessary robustness. Over 100 nations advocated for more stringent language with respect to the “phasing out” of oil, gas, and coal but encountered resistance from OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia. The agreement aspires to effect a transition away from fossil fuels to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, aligning with scientific recommendations. It calls for a threefold increase in renewable energy capacity by 2030, a reduction in coal utilization, and the advancement of technologies such as carbon capture and storage. (Volcovici, 2023)

Critics, including Al Gore, underscored the undue influence of petrostates and perceived inadequacies in the agreement. Implementation now rests on individual countries. Challenges encompass concerns about funding and equity for developing nations. Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists stressed the imperative of addressing these issues for a globally equitable transition to clean energy. (Volcovici, 2023)

Loss and Damage Fund

In the context of climate change, “loss and damage” refers to the irreversible and severe costs caused by events like extreme weather and slow disasters such as rising sea levels. It holds major fossil fuel polluters accountable for the impacts of climate breakdown, including economic losses like lives, homes, and infrastructure, as well as non-economic losses like culture and biodiversity. Climate finance for loss and damage is separate from funds for mitigation and adaptation, specifically aiming to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change. Advocates stress the importance of climate justice to address disparities in both the causes and effects of climate change. (Why loss and damage funds are key to climate justice for developing countries at Cop28, 2023).

At the beginning of this COP, global leaders gathered for the World Climate Action Summit, uniting 154 Heads of States and Government. A historic breakthrough marked the conference’s kickoff as an agreement on the operationalization of the loss and damage fund and funding arrangements was achieved—an unprecedented decision made on the very first day. The commitment to the fund surpassed USD 700 million shortly after the decision was officially adopted. (UNFCCC, COP 28 signals beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, 2023)

A significant stride in addressing the challenges of climate change emerged with the agreement designating the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the UN Office for Project Services as hosts for the secretariat of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage. This innovative platform is poised to provide technical assistance to developing nations, particularly those most susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change.

Further progress was made as parties reached a consensus on targets for the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and its framework. These targets delineate the global destination for building resilience against the impacts of a changing climate and offer a yardstick to assess countries’ efforts. The GGA framework reflects a worldwide agreement on adaptation targets, emphasizing the crucial need for financial, technological, and capacity-building support to attain them. The outcomes of this conference underscore a collective commitment to fortify countries against the challenges posed by climate change, signaling a united front in the battle for a more sustainable future. (UNFCCC, 2023)

COP 28 and the Global Carbon Markets

In the realm of carbon finance, regulators and global organizations are actively shaping the landscape. Proposing fresh guidelines for Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) credits traded on exchanges, the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is contributing to the evolution of this sector. Simultaneously, the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) has introduced 21 principles underscoring the significance of integrity in financial markets. These principles prioritize well-established frameworks, organized trading, and openness. (Kelly, Week One Outcomes on Carbon Finance, 2023).

In a significant development, 18 global non-profit organizations have endorsed voluntary corporate action in carbon markets, emphasizing the positive influence of initiatives such as the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI) which functions as a multi-stakeholder platform. Notably, VCMI’s new regulations permit carbon credits to contribute to Scope 3 targets, encompassing categories like purchased goods and services, capital goods, and fuel- and energy-related activities. The guidance introduces tiers for claims and a “Scope 3 flexibility” claim, providing companies with the means to bridge the gap between estimated and actual Scope 3 emissions using high-quality carbon credits. (Kelly, 2023).

Article 6 discussions continue at the COP. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement from COP 21 is their rulebook for the carbon markets. It recognizes that some Parties choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity. (What You Need to Know About Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, 2022) In COP negotiations, Article 6 faced delays in becoming operational. Article 6.2 for bilateral cooperation and Article 6.4 for UN-administered mechanisms were expected to progress together, but disputes over oversight and attempts to shift discussions caused setbacks. While Article 6.2 pilot deals can continue, concerns were raised about the politicization of carbon markets, leading to delays and frustration among delegates. (Zwick, 2023, Piloting to Continue Under Article 6 Despite COP28 Failure)

Global Stocktake

COP 28’s conclusion featured a 21-page “Global Stocktake” to guide nations in limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Despite recognition of the need to move away from fossil fuels, the document faced criticism for unclear goals and timelines, giving a sense of tentative commitment. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), vulnerable to climate change, expressed disappointment with the deal’s incremental progress, especially regarding the absence of the term “phaseout” for fossil fuels. (Baker, Was COP 28 a Success or Flop?, 2023)

While the agreement promotes increased renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2030, it falls short on coal, only urging an “acceleration of efforts towards a phasedown.” Concerns arise over the inclusion of “transition” fuels, potentially including natural gas. The agreement acknowledges adaptation measures’ importance but lacks clarity on funding for poorer nations.

The U.A.E. and conference president Sultan Al Jaber are credited for bridging gaps between petro states and climate-affected nations. However, the talks’ success is in question due to mixed reactions and compromises in the final agreement. (Baker, 2023)

Conclusion

In 2023, declared the hottest on record, the need to address climate change is urgent. Thousands lost their lives due to extreme weather events linked to climate change, affecting nearly 2 billion people through droughts, floods, storms, and wildfires. Despite the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s goal since 1995 to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations, emissions continue to rise. Oceanographer Enric Sala warns that without a significant reduction in emissions, a clear shift from fossil fuels to renewables, COP28 may be deemed a failure (Baker, 2023).

COP28’s success depends on transparent actions by nations to fulfill their pledges. While the conference united diplomats and activists, its impact lies in ongoing efforts to implement agreed-upon initiatives. As the global community grapples with the climate crisis, COP28 tests the effectiveness of global climate governance. Whether seen as a success or a reminder of challenges, COP28 emphasizes the need for transformative action. Future conferences must show tangible progress and a collective commitment to the ambitious goals set in Dubai (Nevitt, 2023).

By Jarett Emert