Navigating the Controversies: A Closer Look at COP28's Impact

COP28 raised eyebrows globally, but did it deliver the necessary action for our planet's future? Uncover the behind-the-scenes conflicts, financial discussions, and the crucial 'Global Stocktake' in our detailed blog analysis.

Posted on Dec 21, 2023

COP 28 - The Transition Begins...


The Conference of Parties (COP) is the poorly named, but greatly important, annual global climate conference that sees delegates congregate for days of intense discussions. 70,000 delegates attended the most recent COP, COP28. This included member states, business leaders, climate scientists, journalists, and other stakeholders(1). COP28 was held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a decision that has raised eyebrows globally. The UAE is a petrostate, reliant heavily on petroleum exports to support their economy, and has plans to significantly expand its oil production(2). This is in direct opposition to the call from many countries to ‘Phase-out’ fossil fuels as we aim to keep global temperature rise below 1.5oC, as per the 2016 Paris Agreement. As 2023 looks virtually certain to be the hottest year on record(3), concrete actions are needed to reduce the impact of climate change, but has COP28 delivered the necessary action?  

 

Conflicts of interest rear their head

Before talks had even begun, this COP was shrouded in controversy, with leaked documents suggesting that the UAE had planned to discuss new oil and gas deals with more than 12 countries at the conference(4). This, along with comments made by COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber suggesting there is “no science” behind demands for the phasing out of fossil fuels(5), dominated headlines of the initial days. Al Jaber is the president of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, representing a clear conflict of interest, therefore these comments were not a surprise to many. Al Jaber later responded to the outcry from these comments - “I have said over and over the phase-down and the phase-out of fossil fuel is inevitable. In fact, it is essential(5). These controversial talking points dominated early headlines much more than the key decision-making taking place at COP28 and showcase why many were doubtful that progress would be made in these talks. 

 

Questions over the UK’s commitment to COP28 

The UK’s Climate Change Minister Graham Stuart flew back from the UK from COP28 on the 12th of December, and thus was absent in many of the final discussions taking place at the conference. This decision has been questioned by many, and it is unclear how this demonstrates the UK’s commitment to climate action. Mr Stuart then flew back Dubai after taking place in a vote in UK parliament. It is hard to not see this as an unnecessary action that led to a large amount of carbon emissions(6) and some will use it as reason to question the UK Govt priorities in this decision.

 

Finance for developing countries 

One of many sticking points at COP28 has been the continued discussion of finance. There are many options for low-carbon energy systems, however finance is often the barrier. There was the 2009 COP15 goal of USD 100 Billion of climate finance per year to be delivered by 2020, and the amount delivered in 2020 was short of this by USD 16.7 Billion(7). This goal was reaffirmed at COP28 through to 2025, and this USD 100 Billion per year will be the basis of new climate plans to be completed by 2025, that include actions of each party up until 2035. Therefore, this finance is key to these future climate plans(8). 

The confidence that USD 100 Billion per year will be delivered is likely low within developing countries, such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), as the previous goal was not achieved in the 11 years between 2009-2020. Overall, the only slight progress in terms of climate finance at COP28 was the $700 million dollar commitment to the loss and damage fund, which will help developing countries worst affected by climate-related disasters(8). But again, this is dwarfed by the true amount needed to help protect the most vulnerable countries from worsening climate disasters.

 

The Draft – and the 2nd Draft. 

At each COP, draft documents are produced which summarise the commitments of member states decided at that conference. On Monday 11th December, the initial COP28 draft deal was released by the COP28 president Al Jaber, which was met with anger from many, including politicians and climate experts. There was worry that the draft deal did not do enough to address fossil fuel usage, as there was no mention of ‘Phasing out’ fossil fuels, instead a ‘reduction’ in fossil fuel consumption and production was proposed(9). Specific phrasing was also an issue last year at COP27, with a ‘Phase down’ instead of ‘Phase out’ of coal being a contentious point.

 

The ‘Global Stocktake’ 

Through negotiations that took the conference a day over schedule, the final stocktake agreement was agreed and signed off by member states. The global stocktake is a check-point, in which the COP members assessed the progress (or lack thereof) towards the Paris agreement goals, such as limiting warming to 1.5oC, and the subsequent global actions that are needed to reach these goals from our current position(10). A vital section is the list of global actions needed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 43% by 2030. Key actions to achieve this include tripling of renewable energy capacity, as well as doubling annual energy efficiency gains from 2% to 4%(11). These are monumental challenges that will require huge amounts of investment across many sectors globally.

 

Murky language and loopholes 

The main talking point of the stocktake agreement is that it ‘calls on parties to contribute to…Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems”(12). It has taken 28 iterations of the COP to mention in the final text that a move away from fossil fuels is needed, which is why it is difficult to label COP28 as a success. It feels as if we’ve taken the first steps of a 100m sprint 5 seconds after the gun has sounded. This mention of fossil fuels is a vital step, however in the context of our urgent situation it feels a similar statement was required many years earlier.  

Another important statement in this stocktake is ‘accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power’(12). Unabated refers to coal power without carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technology. This technology has been shown in studies to be likely unpractical and incredibly expensive to be used on a large scale(13). The ‘Accelerating efforts towards’ part of this statement is also key, as a party could point to their investment and research into CCS as meeting this goal. With no clear target or goal, for example reaching a percentage of coal power plants with CCS technology, this is likely to be a loophole for continued coal use. A similar statement could likely be included in future COPs in reference to oil and gas. This is language that fossil fuel lobbyists will see as a huge success. With this COP president, the location, and the record number of lobbyists in attendance, it should really come as no surprise that such language is found in the final document(14)

On a positive note, the combination of a tripling of renewable capacity, and the statement of ‘transitioning away’ from fossil fuels, shows that growth in renewables will only be increasing as we move towards 2030(15). Local action will be the bedrock of any climate progress, and it is hoped that these decisions will see an increased investment in low-carbon technologies in the UK in the future. 

 

Sources

 

  1. About COP 28 | UNFCCC
  2. Cop28 host UAE has world’s biggest climate-busting oil plans, data indicates | Cop28 | The Guardian
  3. Global heat: Extreme autumn sets up 2023 to break records - BBC News 
  4. OP28 president secretly used climate summit role to push oil trade with foreign government officials – Centre for Climate Reporting (climate-reporting.org)
  5. Cop28 president forced into defence of fossil fuel phase-out claims | Cop28 | The Guardian
  6. Climate minister Graham Stuart making 6,313-mile round trip by plane for crunch Rwanda vote | Politics News | Sky News 
  7. Climate Finance and the USD 100 Billion Goal - OECD 
  8. COP28 Agreement Signals “Beginning of the End” of the Fossil Fuel Era | UNFCCC 
  9. Cop28 draft climate deal criticised as ‘grossly insufficient’ and ‘incoherent’ | Cop28 | The Guardian 
  10. Global Stocktake | UNFCCC 
  11. COP28: Global Renewables And Energy Efficiency Pledge 
  12. Summary_GCA_COP28.pdf (unfccc.int) 
  13. https://www.smithschool.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2023-12/Assessing-the-relative-costs-of-high-CCS-and-low-CCS-pathways-to-1-5-degrees.pdf 
  14. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67607289 
  15. COP28 Agreement Signals “Beginning of the End” of the Fossil Fuel Era | UNFCCC 

 

  

Contact Us