CR2 Analysis | COP28 in Dubai: A Glimmer of Hope or Half-Baked Progress?

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By Fabrice Lambert, CR2 Associate Researcher

The 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) concluded in Dubai on December 12th, 2023. Its results produced a range of mixed reactions from various actors. While some see it as a step towards a greener future, others criticize its shortcomings, loopholes, and unfulfilled promises. Let’s delve into the key results and shortcomings of COP28 to understand its true significance.

Results:

  • Financial commitments: Developed nations reiterated their commitment to providing $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries by 2025. Additionally, the “Loss and Damage” fund established during COP27 to address the impacts of climate change already being felt in vulnerable regions was made operational with the first $700 million pledged by various nations.
  • Progress on 2030 mitigation targets: The conference acknowledged the urgency of closing the gap between current emission reductions and the goals set for 2030 in the Paris Agreement. Concrete steps towards achieving these targets, particularly in developing countries, were outlined. For the first time in the history of the COPs, fossil fuels were explicitly mentioned in a COP text, calling on Parties to “transition away” from then.
  • The Global Goal on Adaptation: COP28 witnessed the finalization of the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), aimed at accelerating adaptation efforts globally. This framework sets a target for all countries to submit National Adaptation Plans by 2030, outlining strategies for building resilience to climate change impacts. Inter alia, this text urges Parties to reduce climate-induced water scarcity, attain climate-resilient food production, resilience against climate change related health impacts, and reduce climate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Focus on food, water, and agriculture: Recognizing the critical role these sectors play in climate resilience, COP28 prioritized discussions on sustainable food systems, water management, and climate-smart agriculture. This focus on adapting to the changing climate alongside mitigation efforts is seen as a positive shift.
  • Emphasis on youth inclusion: COP28 saw unprecedented participation from young people, with dedicated spaces for their voices to be heard and their ideas incorporated into the discussions. This recognition of the vital role youth play in climate action is a promising development.

Shortcomings:

  • Financial commitment: The initial capital of $700 million falls far short of the estimated hundreds of billions (or even trillions according to UNEP) needed annually by 2030, raising questions about its ability to provide meaningful support for rebuilding shattered communities and restoring livelihoods. Meanwhile, the GGA lacks concrete mechanisms for securing the estimated $7 trillion per year needed for global adaptation, particularly in developing countries.
  • Fossil fuel phase-out remains elusive: COP28 failed to secure a concrete commitment to phasing out fossil fuels: Calls to transition away from fossil fuels is restricted to energy systems, excluding other sectors and industries (transport, plastics, etc.), and with no quantitative deadline; Nations are being urged to “accelerate efforts to phase-down unabated coal”. The inclusion of language like “accelerate efforts” and “unabated” leaves countries free to expand coal power if they so wish.
  • Global Goal on Adaptation: The agreement lacks concrete mechanisms for securing adequate funding for adaptation projects, particularly in developing countries. In addition, it is not defined how adaptation progress will be monitored and how countries will be held accountable for delivering on their commitments. The lack of transparent accountability measures highlights the need for the quantification of adaptation measures globally.
  • Implementation remains a challenge: Translating the agreements reached at COP28 into concrete action on the ground remains a significant hurdle. There are currently no mechanisms to hold countries accountable for their commitments and measures.

Conclusion:

COP28 delivered mixed results. While it made progress on some key issues, like focusing on food security and water management, and acknowledging the urgency of closing the gap to 2030 targets, it fell short on others, particularly regarding the crucial phase-out of fossil fuels. The true success of COP28 will depend on the implementation of its agreements and the continued commitment of all nations to tackling the climate crisis during subsequent COPs

The final text is a significant step forward, but it is not the transformational success story many had hoped for. On its own, it will not get us to 1.5°C and it will not save small island nations and the most vulnerable countries. In addition, the next COP will be held in Azerbaijan, another oil producing nation. Many people, in particular the youth, are justifiably disappointed and angry at this moment. There is very little time left to decarbonize and every delay increases suffering and makes the transition harder.

Nevertheless, all the people involved in climate action should not to feel defeated and disenchanted. All the efforts involved in COP28 and all the work and time invested beforehand led to this text that brings us one step closer to the phrasing we need. This text can and will be improved upon in the next COPs. Every year, a gradual improvement of the text will need a tremendous amount of dedication and pressure from people, organizations, academics, governments, and the private sector, just as we have witnessed it at every COP. By nature, the UN texts will never be perfect, and these multilateral and intergovernmental negotiations based on consensus, as we say for democracy, are the least bad system we have. One day, a tipping point will be reached, and a transformational agreement will be reached. In the meantime, let us all continue to work hard for any large or small gain we can get. To limit the impacts of global warming, every fraction of a degree avoided matters!