The Dubai climate talks were bookended by arguably its two most significant outcomes. It started with the loss and damage (L&D) fund being agreed on during the opening session, while the transition away from fossil fuels was finally recognized in the decision text during the final days.
The summit was also notable for multiple pledges that covered themes not usually emphasized under the global climate regime, signaling a growing recognition of the wide-reaching impacts of this crisis. Notable pledges include a declaration on climate and health and a joint statement on both the Paris Agreement and the Global Biodiversity Framework.
It might be too early to look ahead to the next round of climate negotiations right after COP28 just ended. But as climate action requires long-term thinking and strategizing, it can be said otherwise.
After all, as pivotal as the Global Stocktake was, it did not really produce any groundbreaking news; it simply formally confirmed what was painfully obvious for decades. Even the decisions on L&D funding and transition from fossil fuels have loopholes that may undermine either’s intended impact.
So how do we continue to course-correct over the next 12 months and beyond? Here are some of the most critical themes that the world must tackle on the road to COP29.
How countries would translate “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner” into concrete actions would determine if limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement, is still realistic.
COP28 provides some opportunities to achieve this. The pledge to triple renewable energy (RE) capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030 quickly gained traction among many Parties, and became part of the decision text. The announcement of new commitments for reducing methane emissions, mobilizing funding for protecting forests, and cutting pollution from cooling systems may also contribute to global mitigation efforts.
Yet the door remains open for artificial carbon capture, use, and storage technologies and even nuclear power capacity to be expanded. These may give fossil fuel corporations and other energy stakeholders an excuse to keep emitting more greenhouse gases and slow down RE development.
It must be emphasized that justly attaining the 1.5°C target is impossible without drastically reducing emissions through RE growth and protecting natural carbon sinks. It is also clear that developed countries, as historical emitters, have to take the biggest responsibility on this, both in reducing their own pollution and providing finance, technologies, and capacity-building support to developing countries.
Just because “fossil fuel phaseout” was not part of the decision text does not mean it can no longer happen. Its exclusion, however, means that global climate action remains lagging behind what the most vulnerable countries and communities need not just in terms of sustainable development, but as a matter of survival.
While a USD700-plus million pledge to the L&D fund is notable, it still needs to be translated into actual funding that can help the hardest-hit communities from extreme impacts. While a transition away from fossil fuels is a welcomed, yet long-overdue step, addressing the resources needed by developing countries from developed nations is still a contentious matter.
Aside from mitigation, finance has always been a difficult issue to discuss in the climate negotiations. But with reports showing that the needs of developing countries are much higher than what the current COP-related processes are aiming to raise, especially on adaptation, the urgency for scaling up finance and unlocking multiple sources of it grows with each passing year.
With progress on L&D and mitigation attained in the past two years, the 2024 summit in Azerbaijan is poised to become a “finance COP”. In Dubai, Parties made some progress on the new collective quantified goal (NCQG) on climate finance, which should be finalized by COP29. Parties also agreed to start developing a post-2025 finance target.
These next goals should aim for a much higher floor than the USD100 billion pledge of developed countries, which was supposed to be delivered by 2020 yet, as of this writing, remains unfulfilled. They also need to address how to involve the private sector, which holds a lot of the needed finance, and establish financial flows that will not burden the most vulnerable countries.
They must also not only aim to have a 50/50 split in finance between adaptation and mitigation, but also account for how L&D funding, which should be additional and predictable, would be factored in the allocation process.
On one hand, COP28 saw the highest number of delegates in the history of the climate negotiations, with over 80 thousand delegates participating, almost twice as much as the previous record. On the other hand, there was a much higher presence of fossil fuel lobbyists at this conference, with their total outnumbering every national delegation except for Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.
These facts are important to highlight in the context of making future COPs more inclusive. Given that Azerbaijan is also a major oil- and gas-producing country, we might see the continuing influence of the fossil fuel industry in the negotiations, as they are likely to have more direct access to negotiators compared to other non-government sectors.
Furthermore, the drastic increase in participants may also cause concerns for the selection of future host countries and cities with the capacity to handle these many people over a two-week span. This is especially a concern for developing countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, that are hoping to influence the flow of the negotiations as hosts.
COPs have become more than just the actual negotiations; they also now serve as a platform for non-government stakeholders to directly engage with policymakers, showcase innovations and best practices, and establish partnerships that could scale up solutions from the global to the local levels. Even with logistical concerns in mind, limiting the number of total participants while allowing the big polluters to continue delaying the needed climate action would not be looked at in a good light.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.