December 18, 2023


Did COP28 deliver?

(Image credit: Alexis’ X post)

The United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) met for the 28th time to discuss the climate emergency and work out solutions. This year’s edition took place in Dubai amid global geo-political tensions and a sense that we’re losing the race to mitigate the effects of climate change. If it’s a race against time, then there’s not much of it left to come up with solutions.

As the conference reached its conclusion, everyone waited to see what the final agreement that countries agreed on would be. In many ways, COP28 was historic. For the first time in its history, countries agreed on a pledge to phase down fossil fuel use, and over 100 countries agreed to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. However, many experts, scientists and others aren’t convinced, and the fine print might tell us why this wasn’t all that historic.


Since last year’s COP27 in Egypt, the world has experienced worsening heatwaves, droughts, and floods. The prevailing thought, supported by evidence, is that the effects of climate change aren’t felt by all countries equally. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), 16 countries comprise 60% of global humanitarian needs.

Take Afghanistan and Syria, for example. Climate change is exacerbating existing issues caused by conflict and poverty. The injustice here is that these countries have done the least to contribute to the current climate crisis. As countries headed to COP28, they did so in what’s expected to be the warmest year on record.

Even before the conference began, controversy brewed. It was to take place in Dubai, an oil-rich nation, and COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is also the president of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the UAE’s largest oil and gas company.

Fossil fuels were expected to be a thorny issue going into the conference, as it had been for several years. Al Jaber’s comments about “no science” to indicate a phase-out of fossil fuels necessary to restrict global temperature rise understandably didn’t go down well.

What was on the table was the option to formally phase out fossil fuels. A draft text before the conference proposed “an orderly and just phase-out of fossil fuels”. Not a moment too soon. Some research showed that emissions from burning fossil fuels were set to reach a record high this year. On the other hand, at least 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists registered for COP28.

For Jaber, questions about his company’s role in the climate crisis came swiftly. He responded by saying solving the climate crisis won’t happen by pointing fingers and contributing toward already increased polarisation. That 1.5 degree Celsius roadmap was crucial to COP28 and how it needed to be achieved. That included other issues like increasing renewable energy capacities and the global stocktake.

The stocktake is literally taking stock of our progress, seeing how far we’ve come in tackling climate change and assessing our performance. It’s the first time this will be done since the 2015 Paris Agreement. The first Stocktake report from September made clear there was progress, but more needed to be done and faster.

So, this is what was at stake ahead of the conference. Did it deliver?

VIEW: Good and significant progress

Kudos to the COP28 delegates on getting over the line. It’s perhaps a bit ironic that some have credited a COP28 in Dubai with a petroleum company CEO as President for delivering the strongest-ever call to end fossil fuel use. As Mohamed Adow, a climate campaigner from Kenya said, “We’re finally naming the elephant in the room”. If we’re looking at the broader context of when this conference took place, amid rising geopolitical tensions, then, according to Al Jaber, they’ve helped restore some faith in multilateralism.

There was some good news for developing and smaller countries on the front lines bearing the brunt of climate change. A fund was formally set up to offer them money to compensate for economic losses and damages. If we look away from the day-to-day negotiations, there were a few significant steps forward. Several new pledges covered everything from oil-and-gas company emissions, tripling renewable energy capacity, bolstering food systems, and how countries can better integrate action on global warming and biodiversity loss.

For the first time, a climate document explicitly calls for countries to move away from fossil fuels. It has been a long time coming. Combined with tripling renewable energy by 2030, countries will have to reduce the demand for dirty fuels while simultaneously replacing that with green energy. For some, this is a good start. It means leaders and negotiators are actually listening to the science. Getting nearly 200 countries to agree on this is a landmark moment.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s all in the fine print

When you’ve got a comprehensive agreement poured over by 190 nations, it’s all in the fine print. Not every country will get what they want. Some have criticised the final COP28 agreement for being light on substance. Fossil fuels have naturally grabbed a lot of headlines, and rightfully so. What’s clear is that if you’re an oil-producing country or an oil company, you’re not too worried. That’s because it’s all about “phase out”. Previous versions called for “rapidly phasing down” coal. But thanks to OPEC+ countries, the language was watered down.

Irrespective of what the agreement stated, the ground reality seems different. The US is increasing its oil and gas production. Europe is building liquified gas terminals to ensure they don’t run out of energy as the supply from Russia dries up. China is on a coal binge. India will have a massive increase in power demand in the coming years. Renewables alone won’t cover it. How does this square with those wanting to do away with fossil fuels? Transitioning away in an “orderly fashion” is a win for oil-producing countries.

What about money? Transitioning away from fossil fuels and tripling renewable energy capacity aren’t cheap. Unless the World Bank changes how they loan money for energy projects, all these plans are just talk. Speaking of money, the loss and damage fund was allocated $700 million. For many countries, that’s a paltry sum, especially since the US committed only $17 million and the UAE only $100 million. The negotiations throughout COP28 showed that there’s still a lot of mistrust between developed and emerging economies. Unless the former steps up, any targets set are meaningless.

Reference Links:

  • COP28: Your Guide to the 2023 UN Climate Conference – The Nature Conservancy
  • COP28: Expectations from around the world – ESG Clarity
  • Fossil fuel phase-out among options on COP28 table – Reuters
  • COP28 Agreement Signals “Beginning of the End” of the Fossil Fuel Era – United Nations Climate Change
  • Four Takeaways From the COP28 Climate Summit – The New York Times
  • COP28 climate summit signals the end of fossil fuels — but is it enough? – Nature
  • Does COP28 Mark the Beginning of the End for Fossil Fuels? – Bloomberg
  • COP28 has become a shameless exercise in the fight against climate change. But can we afford to walk out? – LA Times

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) COP28 did deliver.

b) COP28 didn’t deliver.


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