Skip to main content
COP28 – Trials, Triumphs and Takeaways

29 January 2024

Written by Sangeeta Mahawar

An air of anxiety and anticipation percolated as the world watched COP28 unfold in the UAE in early December 2023. It was the first COP to do a global stocktake report on the progress of the pledges and commitments made by 200 member countries at the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to cut emissions and mitigate the impacts of global warming, capping it at 1.5 Degrees Celsius tipping point. 


It is unfortunate that before COP28 started, the world already strayed from global warming and greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts. 2023 earned the infamy of being the hottest year on record, breaching the 1.5 Degrees Celsius threshold, experiencing excessive flooding, and severe droughts in North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia Pacific compounded by the effects of El Niño. It wasn’t a desirable situation during the time of receiving the crucial climate report card. 


As one of the major countries contributing to global warming through their core oil production business, UAE’s hosting of the COP28 and leading a conference to limit   Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions failed to convince even those who are not very familiar with climate change. However, the COP28 leadership and its team must be credited for major triumphs amid concerning pitfalls. 


Transitioning away from fossil fuels 

The event made history as an agreement was reached with 200 member countries to actively transition away from fossil fuels. It’s a significant moment of alignment and acknowledgment by member countries on the contribution of oil, gas, and coal production to GHG emissions and its effects on global warming resulting in climate change. Although it is a step in the right direction, the agreement falls short in its language to “phase out fossil fuels.” Many countries, especially the smaller vulnerable island nations and poorer countries that bear the disproportionate brunt of climate change impact expected stronger affirmation. 


The agreement focuses on the transition of fossil fuels within energy systems. The anchor point is, “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly, and equitable manner while accelerating action in this critical decade to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with science.” 


The desired outcome can be achieved by investing now in renewable and electric energy sources to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030 and developing removal technologies such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors and low-carbon hydrogen production, building infrastructure, and bolstering science and technology efforts. 


The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are expected to implement the action and each party that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement will outline detailed plans with set targets for mitigating GHG emissions and adapting to climate impacts. The logistics and mechanics in achieving these targets are monitoring, tracking, and verifying progress as well as climate financing and finance strategies. 


Implementing NDCs and completely transitioning away from cheaper fossil fuels by the 2050 deadline in poorer, smaller, and vulnerable countries is concerning in terms of economic sustainability as they lack the required resources. 


On the flip side, industrialized and developed nations are already transitioning by passing policies, providing funding to start-ups and private enterprises, jointly working with governments to expand research and infrastructure development, spearheading efforts in building alternative energy sources, and working toward NDC targets. 


For COP28 President, Sultan Ahmad al-Jaber, getting his fellow members from the oil rich Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) onboard this agreement to fight climate change by cutting emissions rather than fuels was a coup. 


Loss and Damage Fund 

Day 1 of COP28 witnessed the landmark announcement of the setting up of a Loss and Damage Fund to assist poor nations in coping with the impact of damages caused by climate disasters.  


The poorer nations with lower emissions when compared to developed nations have desperately called for such a fund for years so they can assuage the disproportionate climate change impact on their land, livelihood, and lives. (YouTube link) 


Developed nations have pledged over US$700m but the severity of the problem runs so deep and vast, the amount is nowhere close to the estimated US$100 – 580 billion needed annually. 


Details around the mechanics to operationalize the fund and its administration haven’t been elucidated. Moreover, the action to ensure proper flow of money to the fund every year and the guarantee on developed countries providing the continuous and necessary funds requires clarity and concrete steps. 


Another critical concern is the source of the money that will go into the Lost and Damage Fund. A dilemma prevails on whether it is newfound money or reappropriated from other climate change and mitigation aid projects such as adaptation financing which supports developing countries and smaller vulnerable nations acting on their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). These initiatives enable proactive implementation of adaptation actions, reducing the risk of damage or loss due to a climate event. 


Developing and smaller vulnerable nations need the Loss and Damage Fund for recovery efforts in the aftermath of catastrophic climate events. They also need adaptation financing to proactively implement adaptation and mitigation measures to lessen the impact of climate change ahead of a climate event. 


Keeping the global rising temperature within 1.5 C as a target 

Member countries remain aligned to keep the increase in temperature rates below the 1.5 Degrees Celsius target. 


However, based on the current trajectory which changed from the time the 2015 Paris Agreement was signed, the 1.5 Degrees Celsius rise will be reached 11 years earlier unless all nations mobilize a massive effort to implement their NDCs to cut emissions by half before the end of this decade and to net zero by 2050.


There is growing doubt among the most vulnerable small island states that this target will not be achieved as evidenced by the First Global Stocktake draft report that the developed countries failed on mitigation ambitions and implementation to reduce emissions by 25 - 40% to pre-1990 levels by 2020 as outlined by the IPCC. 


The UN Environment Program’s Emissions Gap Report 2023 highlights the widening of the emissions gap i.e., the difference between the projected greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions levels needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement in limiting global warming to below 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, with other data pointing to the trend going off course. It is still feasible to navigate in the right direction and narrow the gap through immediate and ramped-up mitigation action. Making steep cuts in annual emissions by strictly adhering to NDCs can help global temperatures get back on track by 2030. 


The draft agreement does not address all concerns and is not by any means perfect. Nevertheless, considering the high stakes involved in “fixing” the state of the climate to avert a global crisis, the way forward is immediate action to adapt and mitigate climate change impact, cut emissions, and close the emissions gap to ensure the survival and protection of the planet and all its inhabitants.