Climate: highlights of COP28

COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, came to a close on 13 December, after intense negotiations on the gathering’s final declaration, which resulted in a compromise on the “transitioning away from fossil fuels”.

A victory for multilateralism, but also for European diplomacy, as the European Union (EU), along with the United States and a group of small island developing States, had opposed the first version of the final declaration on 12 December. It was denounced as not going far enough to curb global warming because the draft called for countries to reduce “consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”

Among the main measures envisaged in the final agreement is a tripling of the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030, a target endorsed by 116 parties at COP28 – without China, India and Russia.

Beyond its outcome, what can we take away from the world’s largest international climate conference, where 197 countries and the European Union (EU) were represented and some 85,000 participants attended? Here we take a look back at the highlights, key figures and quotations from COP28.

1 – From day one, the creation of a “loss and damage” fund

This fund, whose creation was negotiated at COP27, aims to support the most vulnerable countries in the face of climate-related disasters. Hailed as a major step forward and a “running start” for COP28 by Simon Stiell, head of UN Climate Change, it has received pledges of $792 million from governments.

2 – It’s official: 2023, the hottest year on record

In the early days of COP28, one report followed another on the worsening climate situation. European scientists from Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) both warned of record temperatures in 2023, at 1.40°C above the pre-industrial average (1850-1900).

The past decade has been the warmest on record, a trend fuelled by “increasing concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities,” said Petteri Taalas, the head of the WMO. Such is the urgency of the situation, in the face of melting ice caps, that UN Chief António Gutteres pleaded before COP28 for a “complete” phase-out of fossil fuels.

3 – Oil companies’ commitment deemed insufficient

This major issue was omnipresent. That’s why one of the first commitments announced in Dubai on 2 December by 50 oil companies to achieve “zero” methane emissions from their operations by 2030 was deemed insufficient by Mr. Gutteres: “The fossil fuel industry is finally starting to wake up, but the promises made clearly fall short of what is required.”

4 – A declaration on food systems signed by 134 countries

A first in the history of the COPs: on 1 December, 134 countries signed a declaration pledging to tackle the climate impacts of the food industry.

These countries represent 5.7 billion people, 70% of the food consumed and 76% of the emissions produced by the global food system. However, the declaration contains no quantified targets, and makes no mention of livestock, observers note.

5 – A group of 22 countries calls for a tripling of nuclear energy

On 2 December, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada and Japan were among 22 countries to sign a declaration calling for a tripling of nuclear power generation capacity between 2020 and 2050, in order to reduce dependence on oil, gas and coal.

The signatories include 12 EU member states: Bulgaria, Czechia, Finland, France, Hungary, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.

6 – 60 countries make commitments on air-conditioning

Another aspect of climate action is the cooling sector (such as air-conditioners and refrigerators) which is generating more and more greenhouse gas emissions (7% of the global total) as temperatures rise.

Among the 60 countries signing up to a new commitment to reduce these emissions by 2050 are the United States, Canada and Kenya, aware of the growing needs of the cooling sector, which are set to triple by 2050.

7 – 35 countries commit to recognising clean hydrogen certificates

A breakthrough: 35 countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium, agreed on 6 December to mutually recognise their clean hydrogen certification schemes. This breakthrough should enable long-distance cross-border flows of low-carbon hydrogen produced using renewable energies.

8 – A compromise in the final declaration

Intense pressure was brought to bear on oil-producing and exporting countries, as well as Sultan al-Jaber, the President of COP28, to recognise the need to move away from fossil fuels, which are responsible for 80% of global warming.

The compromise prevailed on 13 December.

“To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase out is inevitable whether they like it or not.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late,” said Mr. Guterres at the close of the conference.

9 – COP28 in key figures

– More than 56 million people went hungry as a result of extreme weather events in 2022, according to the United Nations.

– Almost a third of the world’s population could be exposed to heat waves by 2090, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), representing more than 2.8 billion people.

– For the first time in 2022, global average CO2 concentrations exceeded pre-industrial values by 50%, and continued to rise in 2023, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

– Nearly $7 trillion in public and private finance – equivalent to 7% of global GDP – supports activities that have a negative impact on nature and directly fuel climate change every year – around 30 times the amount spent annually on nature-based solutions, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published at COP28.

10 – COP28 in quotes

  • “We are living through climate collapse in real time – and the impact is devastating” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres, 30 November 2023.
  • “We need highest ambition, not point-scoring or lowest common denominator politics. Good intentions won’t halve emissions this decade or save lives right now” – UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, 6 December 2023.
  • “A successful Cop28 is not about a single individual or nation, but the collective will and concerted efforts of all countries in these negotiations. The science compels: phase out fossil fuels rapidly, accelerate renewable energy adoption, and radically scale up finance,” Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former UN Climate Envoy, 6 December 2023.
  • “We will not sign our death certificate. We cannot sign on to a text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels” – Cedric Schuster of Samoa, the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, 11 December 2023.

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