After almost two weeks of intense negotiations, that’s a wrap on COP28.
Taking place in Dubai, UAE, from Nov. 30 and going into overtime on Dec. 13, a lot was riding on the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28.
The climate crisis has been hard at work throughout 2023 with UN Secretary General, António Guterres warning in September that: “Humanity has opened the gates of hell.” Wildfires in Argentina and Canada. Flooding in India, Cameroon, and Libya. Extreme heat across the US, Europe, and Asia. A cyclone in Myanmar. A tropical storm hitting Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The list goes on.
This year’s COP was a significant milestone: the first assessment of how countries are faring against emissions-cutting commitments made at Paris in 2015 (known as the Paris agreement). This process is known as the “global stocktake.”
But what actually happened? Here’s what you really need to know about the good, the bad, and the greenwash of COP28.
1. COP28 Agreed a Landmark Deal to ‘Transition Away’ From Fossil Fuels
After 30 years of waiting, COP28 finally dealt with the elephant in the room: fossil fuels.
More than 190 nations accepted a text on Wednesday morning that calls on the world to “transition away” from fossil fuels. This might not sound like a huge milestone, but it’s the first time ever that a COP text has been so forthright about the need to end fossil fuels.
Yet, “transition away” is not quite the “phase-out” wording that 137 nations including Canada, Chile, Norway, and Tuvalu among others had been pushing for.
Indeed, activists and campaigners remain skeptical. Responding to the announcement, May Boeve, executive director at 350.org said: “It is frustrating that 30 years of campaigning managed to get ‘transition from fossil fuels’ in the COP28 text, but it is surrounded by so many loopholes that it has been rendered weak and ineffectual.”
Omar Elmawi, from Africa Movement Building Space, was even more damning: “Proposing a transition away from fossil fuels may sound like a step in the right direction, a glimmer of hope amidst chaos. However, let us not underestimate the cunning tactics of fossil fuel giants and petrostates. They will cleverly disguise their products as ‘transitional’ fuels, especially in the most vulnerable corners of our world. Yet, we must recognize how far we have come. Even the once unyielding fossil fuel giants and petrostates are now witnessing the inevitable - a world that’s free of their toxic grip.”
🌍🔚 #COP28 is over! But what was the final outcome? For the first time ever, the agreement mentions the need to “transition away” from fossil fuels by 2050. Yet, the presidency lacked clarity & urgency, introducing loopholes on transition fuels & carbon capture tech.— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) December 13, 2023
2. 12-Year-Old Activist Storms the COP28 Stage
In the final hours of the climate talks, a draft COP28 agreement text was released that removed any mention of the need to phase-out fossil fuels. Activists condemned it as so watered-down that it would not stop the climate crisis.
Licypriya Kangujam, a 12-year-old Indian climate activist, stormed the stage with a sign that read: "End fossil fuel, save our planet and our future."
Climate activists and civil society organizations attending the climate talks this year say that the opportunity to have their voices heard at COPs has shrunk year on year.
“There’s always been a lot of restriction on civic space inside of COPs, but we are really seeing a trend of it increasing,” Lise Masson, campaigner with Friends of the Earth International, told AP News. “We have to say how loud we’re going to be, what’s going to be written on the banners. We’re not allowed to name countries and corporations. So it’s really a very sanitized space.”
Here is the full video of my protest today disrupting the UN High Level Plenary Session of #COP28UAE. They detained me for over 30 minutes after this protest. My only crime- Asking to Phase Out Fossil Fuels, the top cause of climate crisis today. Now they kicked me out of COP28. pic.twitter.com/ToPIJ3K9zM— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) December 11, 2023
3. Climate Loss and Damage Fund Agreed — But the Money Doesn’t Add Up
On the first day of COP28, leaders hit the ground running with a breakthrough deal on the loss and damage fund. It’s the world’s first fund aimed at paying for the irreversible impacts of climate disasters in poor and vulnerable countries.
Several wealthy countries — who are historically responsible for the climate crisis — such as the UK, the US, and Germany, announced their contributions, totalling $700M.
This significant climate win is thanks in part to the advocacy work of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, a coalition of young people from the global North and South, who have been tirelessly campaigning on this issue for years. In fact, over 27,000 Global Citizens pledged their support for a core LYDC demand urging world leaders to follow through on their promise to support countries and communities hit the hardest by the climate crisis.
But the work isn’t done. We need billions, not millions. The loss and damage in developing countries is already estimated by some studies to be greater than $400B annually. The contributions to the fund so far cover less than 0.2% of what is needed.
4. Record Number of Fossil Fuel Lobbyists at COP28
An unprecedented number of lobbyists with ties to the fossil fuel industry were granted access to COP28, according to analysis by Kick Big Polluters Out.
At least 2,456 fossil fuel representatives were present, up from 636 at last year’s summit, more than almost every country’s delegation.
In response, Marta Schaaf, Amnesty International’s Programme Director of Climate, Economic and Social Justice and Corporate Accountability said: “Arms dealers are not asked to peace talks, so it is warped to ask climate wreckers for their view on how to fix the damage they have caused when most of them are planning to expand production of fossil fuels, further warming our overheating world, and threatening the rights of billions of people.”
5. Colombia Makes Bold Moves to Stop Fossil Fuels
Colombia made history as the first Latin American country to formally join the global alliance of nations calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to prevent the “omnicide of planet Earth.”
Following in Colombia’s footsteps, Palau, Samoa, and Nauru all also signed on, indicating that the treaty is gaining more and more ground on the international climate stage.
🚨 BREAKING NEWS FROM #COP28! 🚨 #Colombia just became the tenth country to join the call for a #FossilFuelTreaty! 🇨🇴— Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative (@fossiltreaty) December 2, 2023
"I have no doubt which position to take: between fossil capital and life, we choose the side of life." 🔥 - @petrogustavohttps://t.co/FHvP8tecYA🧵 pic.twitter.com/g5Q4d5N2ic
6. Smoke and Mirrors on Climate Finance
The thing about climate finance is there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors — a bit like when retailers spend the month before Black Friday steadily inflating their prices to make their deals on the day seem way more generous than they are.
Behind the headlines lauding nations for their billion-dollar commitments to climate finance, the money pledged is often recycled from old (and often unkept) promises.
For instance, financing for climate adaptation — a key part of climate finance — dropped by 14% in 2021. So, yes, $133.6 million was announced toward the Adaptation Fund at COP28 but that doesn’t even cover the 14% drop.
The US pledged a historic $3B to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change in developing countries.
But before the celebrations start, this chunk of cash needs approval from Congress — and that’s not looking promising. US President Joe Biden‘s administration will have to persuade Republicans in Congress to approve the money or take control of Congress by winning elections.
What's more, ActionAid USA’s Kelly Stone said it was a “far cry from what is needed” and pointed out that the US still owed the GCF $1B from a $3B Obama-era pledge in 2014. “In reality, they are only pledging $2B in new money,” she said.
Despite what the COP presidency wants us to believe, with their commitment tracker now at $83B, most of these pledges are difficult to decipher, some are simply repackaging of old money, and many of them are private financing.
7. Tax Task Force Launched That Could Unlock Billions in Climate Finance
The first-ever task force on international taxation launched at COP28, with Kenya, France, Spain, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, AU, and the EU Commission joining. Their mission: tax polluting industries such as shipping and aviation and use those funds to fight the climate crisis. This is huge because it has the potential to unlock billions.
Through such a tax, the idea is that we could do two things. First, it would make it more expensive for polluters to pollute, and hence encourage them to transition to green solutions. Second, we would be able to build a fund that helps countries — especially those that are disproportionately experiencing the unequal effects of climate change — deal with the impacts of climate change.
8. COP28’s Host Country Signs a Big Check
The UAE pledged $200M to help vulnerable countries fight climate change in the form of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) — coupons that countries can then buy or sell with other countries for hard currency such as dollars, pounds, or euros, when they need immediate funds to acquire essential supplies and support their economies.
But while $200M might look like a lot on paper, it’s just 7% of what they could have pledged — and minuscule compared to Spain’s 50% pledge.
9. 130 Countries Agreed to Triple Renewable Energy
Some 130 countries agreed to triple renewables, while 50 oil and gas companies agreed to cut out emissions from methane — a potent greenhouse gas.
However, analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals that such emissions-cutting pledges will still leave the world far off track in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
In fact, according to the IEA’s calculations, such measures will only reduce the energy-related emissions gap between the current trajectory and a 1.5 Celsius scenario by about a third.