COP28: Unanimous agreement on final deal, but is it enough?

In the conclusion to the climate summit in Dubai, the COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber sealed the event with an agreement aimed at a gradual transition away from fossil fuels. Despite this, the agreement introduces provisions for carbon capture, acknowledges gas as transitional fuel, and allows for fossil fuel subsidies. The negotiation process extended until 3am Dubai time on 13 December, following significant criticism of the previous version of the Global Stocktake by major economies.

Several key players, including the EU and the Alliance of Small Island States, insisted on a complete fossil fuel phase-out. While Saudi Arabia and the Africa Group, advocated for a phase-down strategy and a loophole for carbon capture. The finalised draft, published at 6am Dubai time, incorporated feedback from consultations, leading to no last-minute objections during the official plenary session, concluding the two-week summit attended by approximately 100,000 participants.

While the revised text demonstrates improvements in areas like adaptation and Indigenous rights, concerns persist, particularly among small island states, citing numerous loopholes in addressing fossil fuels. Here, we outline the key elements of the final COP28 text.

Fossil fuels: Transition acceleration and non-CO2 emission reduction

The finalised text calls upon nations to transition away from fossil fuels in their energy systems “in a just, orderly, and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade to achieve net zero by 2050.” Notably, a new requirement for accelerated action within this decade has been introduced. The text also emphasises the need to “substantially” reduce non-CO2 emissions, particularly methane, from the energy system during the same period.

Countries are urged to expedite the adoption of zero and low-emission technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement, and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization.

Parties are called upon to contribute to these solutions voluntarily, aiming for “deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5C pathways.” However, the language used in these calls is considered relatively weak in the UN context, indicating voluntary but encouraged commitments. Specific timelines are provided for some initiatives, such as tripling global renewable capacity by 2030 and doubling the annual average rate of energy efficiency improvements this decade.

COP28 Loopholes and subsidies

The text calls upon nations to “accelerate efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power” and urges the phased-out removal of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions as soon as possible. This is particularly relevant given the record-breaking $7 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies reported in 2022.

G7 nations have committed to ending “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, while G20 nations, having made a similar commitment, have provided no end date or clear definition of inefficiency. The text introduces a concerning new line recognizing the role of transitional fuels in facilitating the energy transition while maintaining energy security, potentially added by major gas-producing nations.

Adaptation

Although the final text outlines some 2030 goals for the adaptation framework, it lacks clarity. There is no clear establishing of specific objectives for scaling finance. The text urges parties to accelerate action by the end of the decade to address climate-induced water scarcity, climate-resilience in food and agricultural industries, health impacts, nature-based solutions, resilient infrastructure, and poverty eradication.

However, the text falls short of defining the necessary ‘level of action’ to be achieved by 2030. It also lacks clarity on implementation strategies, particularly regarding funding. While recognising the gaps in adaptation finance and the need to mobilise $5.8 trillion before 2030, it does not outline a clear pathway to achieve this objective. Nevertheless, the text takes a step forward by deciding to hold a high-level ministerial dialogue during its sixth intersessional meeting in Bonn, aiming to address the pressing need to escalate adaptation finance.

Climate finance

The final agreement displays minimal progress on finance-related language. Noting the failure of wealthy nations to jointly scale annual climate finance provisions to $100 billion by 2020. The text urges urgent full delivery by 2025, with initial OECD estimates indicating likely achievement in 2022. There is no new collective qualified goal on climate finance, and work on this goal is set to conclude in 2024.

The lack of a new goal may increase the $100 billion target, with a potential option for developed nations to explore back payments. A proposal is expected before COP29, placing pressure on Azerbaijan, the newly confirmed host, to prepare within a year.

Carbon markets

Late on 12 December, contact groups addressing the implementation of Article 6, relating to carbon markets in the Paris Agreement, faced challenges in reaching agreements on key agenda items. Two out of three agenda items were left unresolved, postponing decisions to COP29. The final text calls on nations to submit their views on tools, guidance, baselines, and additionality for interacting with carbon markets by February 2024 .

The establishment of a Supervisory Body is noted to develop parameters for a functioning market. However, crucial decisions on “emissions avoidance” measures and calculations have been delayed to 2028.

Mixed reviews

Professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh Dave Reay commented…
“Make no mistake, this is real progress on the road to consigning the fossil fuels to history. All nations will now need to look again at their national actions on climate change and up their ambitions by 2025 in a way that delivers global alignment with the Paris climate goals.
“The tripling of renewable energy will be central to this, but so too will be the overt commitment to a just transition.”

John Kerry said “Again, I say how deeply impressive I believe this multilateral effort is”.
“The spirit of cooperation is palpable and significant – a major statement by all countries who participated about what we would like to see in so many other sectors of global relationships in this day and age.”

Whereas a delegate from Samoa, representing small island states (a group of 39 island nations) stressed they ‘weren’t in room’ when the deal was finalised.
“It seems that you just gavelled the decisions when the small island states weren’t in the room,” she said. After reading a statement listing their objections to the text, the delegate received a standing ovation.

We hope that our COP28 blog has been both interesting and valuable to you.

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