COP28: Key Headlines and Outcomes Explained By Will Glover

With just 7 years left to halve emissions by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, COP28 UAE represented a prime opportunity to rethink, reboot, and refocus the climate agenda.

So what happened, what did it achieve, and what does it mean for the future of the fight against climate change? Read on to learn about the background, key headlines, pledges, reactions and on-the-ground experiences from this year’s climate conference.

Background to COP28

So far, 2023 has been breaking various climate records all for the wrong reasons. According to the Natural History Museum, there have been “over 38 days this year (2023) that were more than 1.5⁰C hotter than average – higher than any other year on record.” The World Meteorological Organisation also warned that 1.5⁰C of warming will start to become the norm in the next 5 years.

This set the stakes high for the climate negotiations at COP28.

Similar to those surrounding COP27 in Egypt, the controversies surrounding COP28 began even before the conference had kicked off. The host nation, United Arab Emirates, is one of the top 10 highest oil-producing nations in the world. Furthermore, Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, CEO, Sultan al Jaber was appointed president of the conference. Given that oil is one of the largest contributors to climate change, several critics pointed these issues out as serious conflicts of interest.

Key Headlines from COP28:

2023 will be the hottest year ever recorded

On day one of COP28, The World Meteorological Organisation stated that 2023 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres said that world leaders must “fire the starting gun” at COP28 to keep the 1.5-degree limit alive and commit to triple renewables, double energy efficiency and phasing out fossil fuels with a clear time frame aligned to the 1.5-degree limit.

World’s first-ever Global Stocktake report

The global stocktake, which takes place every five years, analyses the state of climate action and support and the progress made towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.

During COP28, discussions took place surrounding the findings from the first-ever global stocktake report (published in September 2023). Crucially, the report found that the global community is currently not on track to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

The biggest criticism of the stocktake is that the report does not use enough language that requires countries to actually respond to the ‘calls to action’ of the report. With climate action needed now, this is extremely disappointing.

Loss and Damage Fund agreed

The first decision agreed at the conference was the ‘loss and damage fund’, aimed at assisting nations that are most vulnerable and impacted by the effect of climate change. The UAE and Germany led the way, both pledging $100m to the fund, while the EU, UK, USA and Japan also pledged significant amounts. The deal has faced some criticism, as the total $700m pledged barely covers the estimated $100bn-$580bn that is needed every year.

Adaptation Framework agreed

The 2015 Paris Agreement established the concept of a ‘global goal on adaptation’ (GGA). In parallel to the global mitigation goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, GGA relates to climate adaptation – the process of adjusting to the effects of climate change through different infrastructural, technological, behavioural and natural solutions. It aims to reduce the damage caused by climate change to people and nature. As such, GGA is high on the agenda for many countries most vulnerable to climate change.

COP26 established a programme to devise an operational framework for GGA by COP28. Parties at this year’s conference agreed on targets for the GGA and finalised the framework, which reflects the importance of financial, technological and capacity-building support. The reaction from developing nations was that the framework does not offer quantifiable targets and sufficient financial support for them.

Photo taken by Stef

Nearly all countries agree to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels

On the final day of the conference, as part of the Global Stocktake report’s list of goals to achieve, an agreement was reached to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels.

Considered to be the central outcome of COP28, nearly 200 countries agreed to contribute to global efforts to move away from the use of fossil fuels in a ‘just, orderly and equitable’ manner. The focus of this is to stick with the science and achieve net zero by 2050. However, nations failed to agree to a ‘phase down’ or ‘phase out’, which many critics were pushing for to ensure a stronger commitment to reaching this goal.

Key International Pledges

130 countries pledge to triple world’s renewables capacity

123 countries agreed to the ‘Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge’, which aims to “triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030 and to collectively double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around two per cent to over four per cent every year to 2030.”

In supporting the transition away from fossil fuels, this pledge could play a huge role in getting the world back on track for 1.5⁰C the Paris Agreement goal. As such, it is considered by many as a key highlight of COP28.

New Fossil Fuel Pledges and Alliances

At COP26 in 2021, the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) was established, agreeing to phase out ‘unabated coal power’. This refers to coal power that has not involved some form of method to reduce its environmental impact such as Carbon Capture Storage (CCS). The USA were 1 of the 10 countries to join the commitment at COP28.

Another alliance launched at COP26 that received new members was the ‘Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance’ (BOGA) declaration. This is a commitment to phase out oil and gas production through international climate dialogue, mobilising action and developing best practice on fossil fuel phase-out. Spain, Kenya and Samoa all joined BOGA at COP28, growing the alliance to a total of 24 Members and Friends.

Attending COP28

Stefanía attending COP28

Our Sustainability Consultant Stefanía Chica-Jácome attended COP28 UAE as an overflow delegate for Ecuador. Stefania closely observed various proceedings and negotiations in the Blue Zone, showcasing Ecuador’s unwavering leadership on climate and biodiversity.

Here is what Stefania Chica-Jacome had to say about her experience attending COP28 in Dubai:

Participating in COP28 was an incredible opportunity to witness the collective momentum driving climate action. It highlighted a critical reality: we can’t effectively address climate change in isolation. We need synergies to tackle multiple challenges simultaneously, including biodiversity loss.

This COP not only emphasised the importance of diplomatic discussions but also stressed the crucial role of local initiatives and small-scale cooperation—a grassroots approach that can bring meaningful change. It’s the fusion between global collaboration and community-driven action that truly makes a difference in our fight against climate change.”

Conclusion:

My general reaction to COP28 was one of disappointment. While there were some big agreements made, such as the ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels and the adaptation framework, it was the language of these agreements that were seen as a let-down in failing to hold countries to account or require the type of commitments that many feel are needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Looking forward to next year, it was announced that COP29 will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. This decision has already been met with criticisms of Azerbaijan being another high-producing oil and gas nation, similar to the UAE. According to the US government’s International Trade Administration, nearly half of Azerbaijan’s GDP and more than 92.5% of its export revenue last year came from oil and gas production.

Despite these issues, those of us seeking to build a more sustainable future hope that COP29 can build on the outcomes of this year’s conference and agree on more concrete actions to combat climate change.


Action Sustainability can provide strategic advice and tactical support on your company’s approach to climate change and our planet. For more information on how we can support you, please contact our team.

For more information

Will Glover
Consultant Researcher
will@actionsustainability.com

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