Another year, another COP. The latest global climate conference, held in Dubai, saw leaders from across the world once again meet to discuss one of humanity’s most pressing challenges.
After 28 years of UN COP meetings, a distinct air of disillusionment has settled as activists and climate campaigners remain disappointed with a lack of tangible action or ambitious enough commitments. But many are heralding this year’s COP as the most hopeful conference in recent years after explicit discussion about fossil fuel use was centre stage for the first time in COP history.
Alongside the light being shone on fossil fuel use, here are five key takeaways from this year’s COP.
1. Fossil fuels are out
For the first time in COP history, leaders explicitly discussed the need to phase out fossil fuels. Though the increasingly dangerous consequences of their use makes up a huge part of the global climate crisis conversation, prior to this year’s COP they had yet to be included in any formal agreements between the world’s powers.
The final deal of the conference called for a global effort to “transition away” from fossil fuels and triple renewable energy capacity in order to meet net zero emissions by 2050. It’s been celebrated as a hallmark moment in the process of shifting the centre of the global energy supply away from fossil fuels.
However, there is still considerable ground to cover. Many have criticised the wording of the deal. Initially, stronger language to “phase out fossil fuels” was supported by more than 100 countries including the US and EU, but opposition from fossil fuel states like Saudi Arabia led to the language being amended. Now, the agreement is to “transition away” from coal, oil and gas.
It leaves questions over the discrepancy between words and action at a time where evasive steps are needed if we are to meet the target of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.
2. The loss and damage fund has come to fruition
At COP27, plans for a loss and damage fund were put on paper, aiming to provide financial support to poorer nations facing the most extreme effects of climate change while having contributed the least.
This year’s conference kicked off with delegates approving the operationalisation of the fund. The approval – marking the first time a decision has been made on the first day of a COP conference – was praised by COP28 President Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as setting “a clear ambition for [delegates] to agree [to] a comprehensive, ambitious Global Stocktake decision over the next twelve days.”
National contribution pledges were quickly underway: UAE ($100 million); UK ($51 million); US ($17.5 million); Japan ($10 million); European Union ($245 million, including $100 million pledged by Germany). The pledges soon totalled more than $700 million and the fruition of the fund marks a historic end to thirty years of campaigning.
3. Business continues to be engaged
Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, business’s presence at COP conferences has grown. This year, Reuters reported that business executives outnumbered government officials (prompting some critics to label it a ‘trade show’), while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest synthesis report stated that the private sector, alongside governments, “play a crucial role in enabling and accelerating shifts in development pathways towards sustainability and climate resilient development.”
It’s clear that COP has caught the private sector’s attention and this year was further evidence that corporations continue to show up in a big way. One entrepreneur, Thomas Demmel, who runs a concrete business Bton Holding GmbH, was surprised at the value to be gained by businesses engaging in the conversation: “We have gained reach within this conference that was completely beyond our expectations; private equity, banks, massive project developers, construction companies, concrete and cement companies.”
And it’s increasingly clear that it’s a two way street. Jespir Brodin, CEO of Ingka Group, IKEA’s parent company, asked a simple question in the first few days of the conference that encapsulates the relationship between private sector and nations at its best: “How can we support you?”
“Remember this: behind every line you work on, every word or comma you wrestle with here at COP, there is a human being, a family, a community, that depends on you. Turn the badge around your necks into a badge of honour, and a life belt for the millions of people you are working for. Accelerate climate action. Teach it to run.”Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary
4. Geopolitics didn’t derail agreements
After an extremely turbulent year in geopolitics, many expected tensions to be running high over wars in Gaza and Ukraine, lingering difficulties arising from access to Covid vaccinations and the competing energy needs of powerful countries.
But the first day, with its swift decision on approving the operationalisation of the loss and damage fund, provided a refreshing glimpse at productive discussions that put aside ongoing tensions in order to prioritise climate change.
For many, it signifies a recognition of the severity, urgency and gravity of the threat that climate change poses to all nations – rich and poor. The ability of world leaders to, in broad strokes, put geopolitics aside indicates a positive step towards accelerating a collaborative global response to the crisis.
5. Renewables are the future
Alongside the historic agreement regarding phasing out fossil fuels, discussions about the alternative – renewable energy – were also prevalent across the conference. In the first few days of the conference, 118 countries signed a pledge to treble renewables by 2030.
In the wake of the pledge, the European Union committed to investing $2.5 billion to support the energy transition in neighbouring countries and across the globe. The combination of attention on reducing fossil fuels and trebling renewable capacity is a tangible step towards accelerating the energy transition.
The question lingering on everyone’s mind remains: is it happening fast enough?
A final takeaway
Effective climate action requires both an awareness of the enormity of the challenge and hope that we can build a better future for the people who will, one day, judge us on the decisions we make today.
Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, opened COP28 with a rousing call to walk this line: “Remember this: behind every line you work on, every word or comma you wrestle with here at COP, there is a human being, a family, a community, that depends on you. Turn the badge around your necks into a badge of honour, and a life belt for the millions of people you are working for. Accelerate climate action. Teach it to run.”