When Licypriya Kangujam, the 12-year-old climate activist from India, stormed the stage at the 28th Conference Of Parties in Dubai on Monday, holding a sign “End fossil fuel, save our planet and our future”, it was a clear message that any outcome this year can’t be devoid of strong wordings on fossil fuels. Predictably, when the annual UN conference extended by a day, all eyes were on the strong messaging that may come out of the outcome.
“It is a balanced plan that tackles emissions, bridges the gap on adaptation, reimagines global finance, and delivers on loss and damage,” said Sultan al-Jaber, the president of COP28, in his closing remarks while Simon Stiell, the United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary, called the accord the “beginning of the end” for fossil fuels, adding that the agreement was a “climate action lifeline, not a finish line.”
The two-week conference stood as the largest climate gathering to date, boasting an attendance of nearly 80,000 registered participants and around 4000 media personnel.
Let’s decode what worked and what failed to work at Conference Of Parties or COP28 in Dubai.
One of the key victories of COP28 was the activation of the loss and damage fund on the first day of the summit. A concerted push by developing countries culminated in a decision at COP27 last year to finally set up a loss-and-damage fund. By the end of the COP28 conference, commitments worth about US$ 800 million had been made. The money is meant to provide financial help to countries trying to recover from climate-induced disasters. However, the campaigners noted that $115.3million of which will go towards setting up the fund rather than directly helping people – would cover less than 2% of the developing countries’ annual needs.
One of the primary focuses of COP28 was conducting a Global Stocktake (GST), a comprehensive assessment determining the world’s progress in combating climate change and identifying necessary further steps to achieve climate objectives. Scheduled periodically by the Paris Agreement, the GST’s inaugural review was set for 2023 and subsequent assessments every five years. In the end, the COP “call[ed] on” all countries “to contribute to” a list of goals, including “transitioning away from fossil fuels…accelerating action in this critical decade”.
This is the first time, in the last three decades, that a Conference Of Parties decision has explicitly called out all fossil fuels.
“Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said Stiell in his closing speech. “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”
Also read: PM Modi At COP28
The global stocktake is considered the central outcome of COP28 – as it contains every element that was under negotiation and can now be used by countries to develop stronger climate action plans due by 2025. GST also calls on countries to contribute to the global tripling of renewable energy capacity and doubling of the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
Methane emissions, accounting for nearly 25% of all emissions and significantly potent in global warming, garnered attention in the agreement.Since it stays in the atmosphere only for a decade while CO2 emissions can stay close to 1000 years, any curb in methane emissions helps reduce warming in the near term. So the Global Methane Pledge, committing to reduce methane by 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030, was another key win at COP28. It holds the potential to prevent 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2050. Over 150 countries have endorsed this pledge, including countries such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
Moving ahead, the establishment of a Global Goal on Adaptation addressed the needs of developing countries, historically underrepresented in adaptation efforts. Even though the agreement lacks financial provisions and requires further strengthening, particularly in defining indicators and advancing financial support in subsequent years, it alleviates the status of adaptation to parallel that of mitigation within the UN climate process.
Even though the climate summit yielded significant outcomes by specifying transition away from fossil fuels, yet observers raised concerns that the call to move away from fossil fuels was only within the energy sector, leaving out reference to polluting plastics and fertilisers. Also the agreement lacks defined timelines, benchmarks, or investment targets. This omission came in response to resistance from fossil fuel-exporting nations and certain developing countries opposing these stipulations.
Health groups also denounced the summit’s failure to commit to a full phase out of fossil fuels, a critically urgent step towards protecting people’s health, and criticised the failure to commit to strong targets for adaptation to build resilient systems capable of protecting vulnerable people.
“Signals alone are not enough – only real action to phase out fossil fuels will protect people’s health”, said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, which represents 160 health professional and health civil society organisations and networks from around the world addressing climate change. “This year we saw superstorms, floods, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, yet with the severe toll climate impacts are already taking on people’s health and health systems, it is disheartening that world leaders still could not align themselves on the obvious and urgent need for fossil fuel phase out,” said Miller.
Prior to the 28th Conference Of Parties, the UN published a report revealing a trajectory indicating the world’s potential warming by an average of approximately 2.9 degrees Celsius, nearly double the threshold that climate scientists deem necessary to avert the most severe impacts of climate change. Even though US climate envoy John Kerry said, “We must maintain accessibility to 1.5 degrees…It remains the guiding principle,” yet it now seems to be an unattainable target with the commitments outlined at COP28 falling short of any harsh commitments.
Now, all eyes are on United Nations Conference Of Parties, COP29 which is set to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, next year.