COP28 – What’s in the text

Quick take on the COP28 announcement

It’s been two long weeks since COP28 kicked off, and with the final announcement coming out on the morning of the 13th of December 2023, words are flowing out of the UAE. But will it really have an impact on climate change? And what can we do, as citizens and non-state actors, to make a difference and protect the planet from the worst effects of climate change?

With the ink drying on the final text, we’ve looked at what was (and wasn’t) agreed, our analysis of the clauses in the agreement, and what this means for sustainability leaders and managers in businesses and organisations.

Summary

  1. This is as good an outcome as you can expect when you need agreement from nearly 200 countries, some of which are oil states.
  2. But it’s totally inadequate as a response to the Global Stocktake in terms of what we need to limit global warming to 1.5C

We’ve looked at the main clauses, de-mystifying UN language and commented on areas we believe are key. If you’re short on time, you can just read statements in bold to get the highlights(italics are clauses from the agreement).

2. Underlines that, despite overall progress on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support, Parties are not yet collectively on track towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals;

We are way off target.

5. Expresses serious concern that 2023 is set to be the warmest year on record and that impacts from climate change are rapidly accelerating, and emphasizes the need for urgent action and support to keep the 1.5 °C goal within reach and to address the climate crisis in this critical decade;

To reiterate the point above, it’s getting worse, and not enough is happening.

6. Commits to accelerate action in this critical decade based on the best available science, reflecting equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the light of different national circumstances and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty;

We all need to cut carbon, but it needs to be fair, and rich countries act fastest.

15. Notes with alarm and serious concern the following findings of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

If it was not clear enough above, this is a reiteration that we don’t know how much danger we are in.

15(a) That human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming of about 1.1 °C;

15(b) That human-caused climate change impacts are already being felt in every region across the globe, with those who have contributed the least to climate change being most vulnerable to the impacts, and, together with losses and damages, will increase with every increment of warming;

Humans are the cause, but it’s the most vulnerable  most impacted.

15(c)That most observed adaptation responses are fragmented, incremental, sector specific and unequally distributed across regions, and that, despite the progress made, significant adaptation gaps still exist across sectors and regions and will continue to grow under current levels of implementation;

We are not making enough progress on emissions, and we’re also not preparing well for the impacts of climate change.

16 (c) That feasible, effective and low-cost mitigation options are already available in all sectors to keep 1.5 °C within reach in this critical decade with the necessary cooperation on technologies and support;

We don’t need to invent anything to solve this!

17. Notes with concern the pre-2020 gaps in both mitigation ambition and implementation by developed country Parties and that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had earlier indicated that developed countries must reduce emissions by 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, which was not achieved;

Rich countries need to do more, but  are not doing what they said they would.

18. Acknowledges that significant collective progress towards the Paris Agreement temperature goal has been made, from an expected global temperature increase of 4 °C according to some projections prior to the adoption of the Agreement to an increase in the range of 2.1–2.8 °C with the full implementation of the latest nationally determined contributions;

You know how we said keeping below 2C was important? Well, we’re nowhere near that. So, it’s better than Paris, but we’re still looking at global warming that is much, much higher than any scientist thinks is safe.

22. Notes the findings in the synthesis report on nationally determined contributions that greenhouse gas emission levels in 2030 are projected to be 5.3 per cent lower than in 2019 if all nationally determined contributions, including all conditional elements, are fully  implemented and that enhanced financial resources, technology transfer and technical cooperation, and capacity-building support are needed to achieve this;

We need to cut by 50% this decade, but we’re on track for 5.3%. It’s worth reading that again and letting it sink in.

23. Notes with concern the findings of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that policies implemented by the end of 2020 are projected to result in higher global greenhouse gas emissions than those implied by the nationally determined contributions, indicating an implementation gap, and resolves to take action to urgently address this gap;

We only cut by 5.3% if countries hit their targets. So far, that’s not happening, which means it might be worse than we think, which is already bad.

25. Expresses concern that the carbon budget consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal is now small and being rapidly depleted and acknowledges that historical cumulative net carbon dioxide emissions already account for about four fifths of the total carbon budget for a 50 per cent probability of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C;

There is very little left in the 1.5C budget. Translated with a heavy heart, but basically the chances are very, very small right now or limited warming to 1.5C

27. Also recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C with no or limited overshoot requires deep, rapid and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions of 43 per cent by 2030 and 60 per cent by 2035 relative to the 2019 level and reaching net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050;

If we are to limit warming to 1.5C, the changes need to be dramatic, immediate, and very large. The conclusion from the prior clause remains, as this is not happening.

Now the part that has gotten the most attention

28. Further recognizes the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 °C pathways and calls on Parties to contribute to the following global efforts, in a nationally determined manner, taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches:

We  need to cut carbon fast, but we’ve only agreed to “call on” countries to do it as that’s the highest level of agreement possible in a big group. It’s more of a request than a stipulation.

(a) Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030;

Straight up good news on renewable. The momentum for this was already in place in no small part due to renewables being cheaper to build than fossil fuel generation.

(b) Accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power;

The biggest contributor to climate change needs to come down unless we can find a way to capture its emissions. There was no improvement from prior agreements to strengthen this statement.

(d) Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science;

So fossil fuels make it in, as a transition rather than the ‘phase out’  most countries wanted. This line will be much debated, and rightly so – there is good news here (fossil fuels are in), but also nothing like  the robustness needed given  the statements above.

(e) Accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production;

This offers plenty of get-out-of-jail-free-cards for sectors where it is going to be tough. That’s despite the point above, which highlights we have the technology to halve emissions, and carbon removals are not one of them because, currently, they are not commercially viable.

(f) Accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030;

This is good news. Cutting methane can have a material impact in a short time frame. More details are needed.

(h) Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible;

Phasing out ‘inefficient’ subsidies gives countries a lot of leeway. However, it’s also important to remember that many subsidies support the most vulnerable, so some flex is needed.

29. Recognizes that transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security;

An open ended statement, and the fossil fuel lobby must have been over the moon. Fossil Gas is probably a big winner.

30. Welcomes that over the past decade mitigation technologies have become increasingly available, and that the unit costs of several low-emission technologies have fallen continuously, notably wind power and solar power and storage, thanks to technological advancements, economies of scale, increased efficiency and streamlined manufacturing processes, while recognizing the need to increase the affordability and accessibility of such technologies;

Costs are falling, but note no mention of carbon abatement and removal where it remains very expensive.

33. Further emphasizes the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature and ecosystems towards achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through enhanced efforts towards halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030, and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by conserving biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards, in line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework;

We must protect nature and forests.

34. Notes the need for enhanced support and investment, including through financial resources, technology transfer and capacity-building, for efforts towards halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030 … through results-based payments for policy approaches and positive incentives

But protecting forests will need money. Also, what does this mean in terms of rich countries being able to pay poor countries to protect forests and using that to offset their emissions?

36. Notes the importance of transitioning to sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production in efforts to address climate change, including through circular economy approaches, and encourages efforts in this regard;

We all need to live more sustainable lives ,because now many are not.

38. Recalls Article 4, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement, which provides that developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.

Rich countries need to lead and do the most (see points above).

39. Reaffirms the nationally determined nature of nationally determined contributions and Article 4, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement and encourages Parties to come forward in their next nationally determined contributions with ambitious, economy-wide emission reduction targets, covering all greenhouse gases, sectors and categories and aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5 °C, as informed by the latest science, in the light of different national circumstances;

The next NDCs need to be much better as (see above) these ones are way off target.

50. Recalls the United Nations Secretary-General’s call made on World Meteorological Day on 23 March 2022 to protect everyone on Earth through universal coverage of early warning systems against extreme weather and climate change by 2027 and invites development partners, international financial institutions and the operating entities of the Financial Mechanism to provide support for implementation of the Early Warnings for All initiative;

We need a global early warning system by 2027 to avoid climate disasters killing more people.

67. Highlights the growing gap between the needs of developing country Parties, in particular those due to the increasing impacts of climate change compounded by difficult macroeconomic circumstances, and the support provided and mobilized for their efforts to implement their nationally determined contributions, highlighting that such needs are currently estimated at USD 5.8–5.9 trillion for the pre-2030 period;

The amount of money needed for developing countries is huge but the gap between what they need, and what they are receiving is getting bigger.

69. Notes that scaling up new and additional grant-based, highly concessional finance, and non-debt instruments remains critical to supporting developing countries, particularly as they transition in a just and equitable manner

Developing countries don’t need more debt they need other types of finance to support a just transition.

76. Welcomes recent progress made by developed countries in the provision and mobilization of climate finance and notes the increase in climate finance from developed countries in 2021 to USD 89.6 billion and the likelihood of meeting the goal in 2022, and looks forward to further information on the positive progress;

Developed countries may finally hit the $100 billion climate finance target. Sort of good news but…

80. Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation was not met in 2021, including owing to challenges in mobilizing finance from private sources, and welcomes the ongoing efforts of developed country Parties towards achieving the goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year;

A reminder the target was not hit in 2021!

81. Notes with concern that the adaptation finance gap is widening, and that current levels of climate finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building for adaptation remain insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country Parties, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change;

At a time when the need for finance is accelerating. A lot more is needed for adaptation as the effect of climate change hits more people, more often.

85. Urges developed country Parties to fully deliver, with urgency, on the USD 100 billion per year goal through to 2025, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, noting the significant role of public funds, and calls on developed country Parties to further enhance the coordination of their efforts to deliver on the goal;

A request (‘call on’ again) for rich countries to actually hit the finance targets.

92. Decides to continue and strengthen the Sharm el-Sheikh dialogue between Parties…

Noted only because we get our first decision at clause 92!

109. Notes the Technology Mechanism initiative on artificial intelligence for climate action, the aim of which is to explore the role of artificial intelligence as a technological tool for advancing and scaling up transformative climate solutions for adaptation and mitigation action in developing countries, with a focus on the least developed countries and small island developing States, while also addressing the challenges and risks posed by artificial intelligence, as referred to in decision

Can AI save us (or harm us)

121. Recalls Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, in which Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change…

An agreement was made on Loss and Damage a while ago but not enough has happened since. On a side note, there was good news at the start of COP28 on Loss and Damage funding.

158. Acknowledges the important role and active engagement of non-Party stakeholders, particularly civil society, business, financial institutions, cities and subnational authorities, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, youth and research institutions, in supporting Parties and contributing to the significant collective progress towards the Paris Agreement temperature goal and in addressing and responding to climate change and enhancing ambition, including progress through other relevant intergovernmental processes;

We all have a role to play

Often at the end of COP’s there is a feeling of deflation that after so much expectation so little seems to have changed. However, it’s at times like that when it’s best to step back and remember there is progress here and, away from the text wrangling, there was a flurry of initiatives launched with real potential. Whilst the picture is not good there’s enough to keep active hope alive and remember that it is possible, just.