The 28th Annual Climate Change Conference (COP28), held at Expo Dubai concluded negotiations earlier this week. This was the largest COP in history, with a record number of 2,456 attendees, held over a two-week period. Here we take a look at some of the biggest topics of conversation at the conference and what they mean going forwards...
Loss and Damage Fund
The first day of the conference saw a positive start with a new deal agreed for the long-awaited fund to pay for loss and damage caused by climate change, which is to be managed by the World Bank. Since its creation during the conference, the fund currently totals $700 million, pledged by some of the richest nations, including the host country, UAE, who pledged $100 million.
The fund, which was agreed in principle during last year's COP27, is clearly a positive initiative and has been a long-standing demand for developing countries who experience the worst of the destruction caused by ever-worsening extreme weather events.
However, the total value needed for this according to previous estimations are at least $400 billion and rising. Lien Vandamme, a senior campaigner at the Centre for International Environmental Law commented that "Hundreds of billions of public, grants-based, new and additional money is needed, and we cannot call this loss and damage fund a success as long as this is lacking."
Carbon markets are systems where countries can buy and sell carbon credits which are a representation of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The markets can encourage a cost-effective way of doing this, thereby increasing a country's likelihood of meeting their climate targets.
The obvious concerns surrounding these systems relate to how credible they are - COP28 saw discussions take place around how these would be policed and importantly, how the representation of a reduction in emissions would be accounted for.
Unfortunately, no outcome was reached surrounding this, and as such, negotiations regarding Carbon Markets will play a big role in COP29.
Climate Finance Targets
This was a huge focus at COP28, given the ever-growing amount of climate finance needed vs what's currently on offer. Particular attention was on developing countries that are further behind in the battle to slow global warming.
As such, France and Japan announced that they would both be supporting the African Development Bank's facility to leverage SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) for the purpose of climate change.
As well as this, long awaited progress was made on the new collective quantified goal (NCQG), which set the climate finance goal at $100 billion annually up to 2025, prioritising the need of developing countries. Before COP28, concerns were raised about this short-term pledge for a number of reasons. Firstly, there were criticisms regarding the amount of money being significantly below what is needed, and secondly questions were raised over what would happen after the date was reached. The conference saw an agreement to draft a new finance target for post-2025 before the commencement of COP29 next year.
Leading up to COP28, all eyes were on the Global Stocktake (GST) as the first of its kind. As expected, the text was heavily examined, resulting in the draft GST being released on 11th December, the day before the conference was set to end. The modifications required resulted in the event being concluded a day late, with the final version being released on the morning of Wednesday 13th.
The GST saw a standoff in negotiations into the night, specifically surrounding the transition away from fossil fuels between nations wanting to completely "phase out" the use of fossil fuels, and those who were against this evolution, such as Saudi Arabia.
Ultimately the deal acknowledged the end of the fossil fuel era, and wording was increased in strength towards greenhouse gasses and CO2 emission reduction in 2030 and 2035. However, the words "phase out" and "phase down" were removed, instead calling for "reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels." The feelings surrounding this end agreement were not positive on all sides, with the US declaring that the wording needed to be "substantially strengthened" .
The GST discussions also came up against additional controversy regarding the Alliance of Small Island States. This arose as the deal was approved when the delegates from the Alliance were not in the room. Anne Rassmussen (the Samoan representative) also expressed disappointment regarding this, stating "it seems that you just gavelled the decisions when the small island states weren't in the room." Her closing statement described the deal as an "incremental advancement over business as usual, when what we really needed was an exponential step-change in our actions and support."
Throughout the conference, nations were locked in discussions surrounding who the next country would be to host COP29. According to UN rules, it was eastern Europe's turn to host but on the condition of unanimity from all parties. Russia had vowed to veto any European country based on the continent's censure from the Ukraine invasion. The gridlock then remained between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the decision for COP29 to be held in Baku was formed three days before the conference was set to end.
However, there are concerns over this for two main reasons. The first is that Azerbaijan is a country which heavily relies on fossil fuels, with oil and gas production accounting for nearly half the country's GDP. Secondly, there are concerns around Azerbaijan's human rights standings. However, by the end of the conference, many people were also relieved that a decision was reached over the host country next year, which will be the beginning of the key year regarding new climate targets being set (2024-2025).
What does this mean for the future?
It is clear that COP28 has been quite a controversial event and even, at times, disappointing for those looking for accelerated climate action. Whilst some progress has been made surrounding several of the larger points at the conference, it feels as though much of this was inevitable. Other points which needed heavily addressing this year such as the Carbon Markets, have not made enough progress and will need further negotiations next year in Baku - climate change is an ongoing battle, and it is important for us to take drastic action now to bring about the necessary changes.
However, what is obvious from the conference is that renewable energy is the future and holds the key to meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting global warming. The final COP28 deal and GST text calls for countries to triple their renewable energy capacity by 2030. Whilst this is manageable, it will mean that countries will need to double their energy efficiency, with heavy investments into solar and wind.
These are tough targets to reach and in order to do so, world leaders will need to start acting upon this now, before the issues we are seeing are irreversible. As UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, pointed out at this year's COP, "whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable. Let's hope it doesn't come too late."
Jessica Edom, Clean Energy Capital.