COP28: A Debate Between Soft Commitments vs Decisive Action

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By Kristen Cheriegate: Senior Policy Analyst | Ms. Cheriegate navigates ICAST through the policy world to obtain real-world solutions, funding resources, and networks with potential partners to provide more services to low- and moderate-income households.

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Summit, the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP28), took place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between November 30 and December 12. What happened inside the Summit seemingly yielded positive results. Politico and Vox summarized them as follows:

  • A new fund was created to help developing nations rebuild after climate disasters, a historic agreement that island nations had spent decades campaigning for.
    • The UAE and Germany announced contributions of $100 million each, contributing to the total of $800 million pledged overall towards the new fund by the end of the Summit.
    • The UAE also announced that it is creating a $30 billion climate investment fund.
  • The vast majority of countries signed non-binding declarations focused on making the world’s food supply and healthcare systems more resilient against climate impacts.
  • COP28 secured a commitment to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
  • Some countries signed pledges to scale up nuclear power and accelerate the end of coal.
  • More than 150 countries signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, which promises to cut methane by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Large methane emitters offered more details about how they will regulate this greenhouse gas.
    • Private companies stepped up, too. Dozens of oil and gas firms signed the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, which commits them to ending methane pollution by 2050.

Although media coverage primarily followed the numerous events inside the conference, the most critical piece was being developed behind the scenes. Representatives from almost 200 countries spent hours upon hours negotiating an agreement that would guide the next round of climate action plans under the Paris Agreement to be put forward by 2025.[1] The result was a deal that called for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner […] so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell described the agreement as “the beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry noted that there are operational initiative efforts from oil and gas companies to support reductions, major initiative on methane, and initiatives on decarbonization. However, some say that the agreement also appeased oil-rich Gulf states by explicitly sanctioning the use of those fuels during the transition.

Critics continued their censure by pointing to the lack of binding language in this document. In the final draft of the COP28 agreement, the language uses softer phrases like acknowledges, notes, notes with concern, express concern, emphasizes, welcomes, and urges. Almost all are non-committal. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore was also quoted saying, “The influence of petrostates is still evident in the half measures and loopholes included in the final agreement.”

For now, the global populace waits to see action committed to the volley of written and spoken words. The hope is that the energy brought into COP28 remains, and further encourages all involved countries to commit nationwide actions and policies to reduce their carbon footprint – heavily decreasing their emissions. As Vox ended their reporting on the Summit: “The best-case scenario may be off the table, but the worst possible outcomes can still be avoided.”

[1] From United Nations Climate Change: This process is part of the “global stocktake,” i.e., looking at everything related to where the world stands on climate action and support, identifying the gaps, and working together to chart a better course forward to accelerate climate action. The stocktake takes place every five years.

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