The Conference of the Parties 28 (COP28), has concluded in the United Arab Emirates. Nearly 200 countries have agreed to a deal that calls for 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".


Is this the beginning of the end for coal, oil and gas – the climate-damaging fuels which still supply roughly 80% of the world's energy or is it too little, too late?

Some reviewers have found outcomes to celebrate from COP28, while critics believe the COP process itself can never deliver the measures we desperately need, without root and branch reform to the negotiations (for example keeping vested interests away) and the voting system (which asks for consensus).

Katherine Brown, Director for Climate Change at The Wildlife Trusts suggest the process is an inclusive one, "For those people who wonder whether COPs have any benefit; one is that the COP is where the small island states, indigenous communities, and young people have the largest of voices, and others are forced to listen to them". 


Well, what just happened? This is what stood out at COP28 for Rachel Kennerley at Friends of the Earth:

  1. A loss and damage fund for people, communities and countries most vulnerable to climate breakdown was cemented on day 1 of the talks. This fund could include climate-disaster relief and help farmers whose land has been ruined by sea-level rise. However, the amount pledged falls far short of what’s needed (and the contribution from particularly the USA is alarmingly low). We need to keep pushing rich countries to put much more money in the pot and then make sure the fund is used in line with the needs of people suffering climate impacts most.
  2. The need to fast-track the switch of energy production from fossil fuels to renewables was high on this year’s agenda.
    It’s great this has become so prominent - "fossil fuels" has replaced "coal" and new renewables targets (a three-fold increase in production by 2030) are welcome. But these could mean clean power is added on top of, rather than replacing, more dirty oil, coal and gas. The final deal is worryingly weak due to some wealthy countries blocking finance to help poorer nations switch. Without financial support, the fossil fuel phase-out only exists on paper.
  3. There was a strong sense of people coming together, even though space for freedom of speech and protest was limited this year.
    Campaigning groups were far from alone in calling for climate justice, asking richer countries to take the lead on ending fossil fuels fairly, especially coupled with more climate finance to help countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Latest Cop28 Draft Text Sets New Options On Fossil Fuel Phase Out.Jpg

Most commentators remark on the introduction of new sets of words - for example, ‘call on’ replacing ‘could take action’, and ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels’ replacing ‘reducing production and consumption of fossil fuels’, which marks an historic shift in tone, and seems to recognise the need to signal the end of fossil fuels for the first time. Whilst a huge step forward, it is alarming to note how long it has taken for nations to outwardly acknowledge in the COP process the key cause and driver of climate change.  

This text also, crucially, contains many references to nature including the Global Biodiversity Framework. The "30 by 30" goal, asked for by NGOs the world over (30% of land and 30% of sea to be protected for nature by 2030) is now enshrined in a UN target, and so is "halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030". This is the first time the 2030 target date has been included as a formal outcome in the COP text. The need to safeguard food security, and create resilient, sustainable food systems, was also recognised, though the text remained general.  

Interestingly, the COP decisions did not include a big push for uncertain, hugely expensive and likely problematic engineered carbon removal. In contrast, the conference emphasised that 2024 must to be a year when all countries re-examine the role of nature in helping to reduce emissions and increase carbon removals as part of their national plans. This will have its difficulties because measuring the value of natural systems in helping us through is fraught with complexity. This has stifled greater appreciation and investment in the role of nature in getting to net zero and supporting adaptation.

PeCAN Trustee Peter Moss said, "COP28 came to a close with some big steps forward, but there is so much more work to be done. Countries must cut their emissions, increase investment in renewables and invest in climate adaptation, especially nature-based solutions".


The Wildlife Trusts COP28 review:  

Climate Action Tracker usefully explains the "fair-share" contribution to carbon reduction, taking into account historic emissions and imports/exports.

This article allows you to explore each countries obligation if we are to stay within 1.5C of warming: Climate change: What is my country doing about it? - BBC News

For an in-depth look at the outcomes from CoP28, see Carbon Brief's report.

And find a summary from Campaign Strategy here


Melanie Oxley, PeCAN Trustee