From ambitions to actions at COP28

Blog 11 December, 2023

So far, good!

The number of delegates who rushed to Dubai to attend COP28 is a record high of over 70,000 – there are reports suggesting more than 100,000 registrants. Country officials showing up at COP28 and presenting their pledges to achieve net zero is unprecedented – there are 42 countries that have net zero as a legally binding target, and 118 countries have net zero in their policy, or as a pledge or proposal1. Genuine concerns over the worst impacts of climate change, a gesture to show leadership on the international stage, or a response to the growing demands from their informed citizens could be the reason. Regardless, a consensus at such a scale is promising.

On day one of the conference, COP28 started with an agreement to establish the ‘loss and damage’ fund2, in order to financially support developing countries in coping with the impacts of climate change. This is a monumental step towards a fair and feasible transition to a clean and climate resilient world. The pledges by almost 130 countries3 to triple the renewable energy capacity and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030 are also bold moves to keep the 1.5 C target within reach. In particular, the target of improving the energy efficiency that will lead to less demand for energy, in the first place, to provide the same level of services is pivotal to sustainable and productive societies.

Whilst the increase in renewable generation is necessary, it may not be sufficient due to the scale of emission reduction we need to achieve to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 C and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Several analyses, such as the one by IEA4, suggest that the increase in renewable and a rapid and significant drop in using fossil fuels are essential for a net zero planet by 2050. This is why more than 100 countries urge for the phase out of the fossil fuels in conjunction with the increase in the renewable and energy efficiency improvements – essentially, we need to use all tools available. The phase out of fossil fuels, however, has its own oppositions, such as the large producers and consumers of fossil fuels, including UAE that hosts COP28. Although there are significant technical and economic challenges to be overcome to achieve fossil fuel free energy systems (lack of storable energy careers in a highly renewable energy system, to name one), the heavy reliance on the export and use of fossil fuels for economic growth in some countries is perceived to be the main reason behind such opposition.

This is the time for making bold and strategic decisions which may look less favourable in the short-term, due to their perceived negative impacts on the economic growth, but such decisions will optimise the transition over a long-term period with overall net benefits across the board. After all, the efforts we put into this now are investments for future.

The ambitions are there, what about the actions?

It is fair to say that COP28 is nothing short of ambitious (even though there is still no agreement on the phase out of fossil fuels, the fact that more than 100 countries are supporting this cause was hard to imagine few years ago). The remaining but very crucial task, however, is translating these high-level ambitions into tangible and auditable actions, with clear timelines, into individual countries’ nationally determined commitments (NDC).

Wandering around the COP28 venue in Dubai EXPO, a very nice site with good, but over-priced, coffee and refreshments, the word “action” can be spotted in almost all mottos: “Action builds action”, “Action inspires hope”, “Unite, act, deliver”, and many more.