“We are what we do, not what we say.” These were the words of Sultan Al Jaber, President of COP28 in his speech following the signing of the agreement, before adding: “It is an enhanced, balanced, but make no mistake, historic package to accelerate climate action. [...] We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible action.”
Several days have now passed since the final agreement of the COP28 in Dubai and we have already seen numerous (and often diverging) assessments from various figures. For instance, UN climate change executive secretary Simon Stiell had the following to say: “We didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era, but this outcome is the beginning of the end.” Along similar lines, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, remarked that “Today's agreement marks the beginning of the post-fossil era.”
From yet another angle, the Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa concluded that “Today’s agreement represents a hopeful stride in our collective journey limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. However, its true value will be measured by the tangible actions it prompts, particularly in the communities that have long borne the brunt of climate change.” Meanwhile, from the academic community, Professor Nick Robins of the prestigious Grantham Research Institute summed it up eloquently by saying: “Historic but inadequate, but not sufficient either to keep the goal of holding global heating to 1.5 Celsius alive or to protect those increasingly harmed by climate impacts.”
Have we made meaningful progress with COP28?
We have certainly made progress toward a final agreement, with genuinely unprecedented commitments made on climate change mitigation. Highlights include the express mention of the ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels in line with science; the objective of tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling the improvement in energy efficiency by 2030; and accelerating the reduction of methane emissions, also by 2030. Ultimately, it was a rather unlikely looking agreement, especially when we consider that the process was headed up by a country whose wealth stems from the exploitation of fossil fuels. Yet this leadership was actually key to its success. Had there not been a UAE presidency, we would have been very hard pressed to achieve such a clear expression of the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.
Had there not been a UAE presidency, we would have been very hard pressed to achieve such a clear expression of the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.
In terms of climate finance, we can also describe as historic the establishment of the “loss and damage” fund agreed a year ago at the previous COP27 summit held in Sharm el Sheikh, albeit with a token initial allocation of $792 million, which is a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of billions that will be needed to alleviate the effects that climate change is already having on the most affected countries. On the downside, no further progress has been made in quantifying the target on financial support that developed countries will need to provide to developing nations for climate change mitigation and adaptation purposes. The current target of $100 billion per year was agreed at the Copenhagen summit and while this year it looks like we will finally get there, it is essential to set a new, more ambitious target at the next COP29. A mobilization of funds which, together with the reform of the World Bank and multilateral institutions, should allow us to attract private capital on a large scale in order to close the huge investment gap that currently exists among these countries. According to the International Energy Agency, clean energy alone needs to triple in size from its current level of $770 billion to $2.8 trillion per year by 2030, while also achieving greater deployment across all countries. China currently accounts for two-thirds of investment and, together with India and Brazil, for more than three-quarters of the total.
Little progress has been made so far in adaptation and carbon markets, so some seriously hard work will be needed next year to make them key topics at the next summit.
Yet aside from the unanimous agreement reached by the 198 members of the Paris Agreement, COP28 has also been successful in helping to deliver on commitments and plans by governments and companies alike. Highlights here include the oil and gas decarbonization charter signed by 50 companies representing 40% of global production to reduce their Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030; the Industrial Transition Accelerator (ITA); and the Global Cooling Pledge, which aims to achieve a substantial 68% reduction in global cooling emissions by 2050.
Also noteworthy in terms of climate finance is the support being provided by multilateral development banks, which have committed upwards of $180 billion over the next few years, as well as the mobilization of more than $85 billion in public-private funds, notably Altérra, the $30 billion fund promoted by the United Arab Emirates, alongside Blackrock, TPG and Brookfield, in a bid to open up private finance in emerging countries. A further highlight is the new zero net emissions partnership of the export credit agencies, which will complement other partnerships being forged in the financial sector.
All of this has been accompanied by new declarations signed by more than a hundred countries on key topics such as climate and health, agriculture and food, and cities and urban planning.
The climate summit in Dubai has therefore marked a significant leap forward in the climate agenda, though ultimately not enough to accelerate the profound transformation we desperately need. Once again, we must ask ourselves whether we are making meaningful progress with these annual summits and the kind of global governance systems we are running today. While the model is undoubtedly flawed and could do with an overhaul, the final COP28 text astutely points out that since the Paris Agreement in 2015 we have been able to move from an expected global temperature increase of 4 ºC according to various projections prior to the adoption of the Paris Agreement to an increase in the range of 2.1ºC to 2.8°C, assuming the full implementation of the latest nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
We still need to pick up the pace and by quite some measure. Therefore, the progress made at this summit should, as always, be assessed to the extent that it leads to the effective implementation of concrete plans and policies. To quote Al Jaber: “We are what we do, not what we say.”