Cop28: What was achieved and what happens next?

A historic deal answered the sceptics but as Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber said, any plan is only as good as its implementation

'Historic' global stocktake approved at Cop28 in Dubai

'Historic' global stocktake approved at Cop28 in Dubai
Powered by automated translation

When the gavel came down at Cop28 on December 13, it brought delegates to their feet.

After about two weeks of difficult talks that had even threatened to collapse just a few days earlier, it was all over in just a few minutes.

The agreement was historic. It had taken 28 Cops but, for the first time, the role of fossil fuels was directly addressed in the text decision at a UN climate summit.

Countries were called on to “transition away” from fossil fuels in what was arguably the most significant step forward for global climate action since the 2015 Paris agreement.

It seeks to keep the global temperature limit of 1.5°C within reach and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Cop28 also mobilised more than $85 billion in funding, including a $30 billion fund, Alterra, launched by the UAE. This set the pace for a new era in climate action, and was, by some distance, the most well attended Cop yet, with more than 80,000 registered.

The Cop28 deal was viewed by some, however, as not having gone far enough, although everyone signed up nonetheless.

So what was achieved, does it matter, and what comes next?

The historic Cop28 agreement that answered the sceptics

The final deal that emerged at Cop28 is formally known as the global stocktake, essentially an assessment of how the world is doing in terms of limiting global warming.

The answer was known before Cop28: not good. The UN repeatedly warned that the world is way off track and headed for warming of 3°C which would imperil the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. Burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of the problem.

So could a summit being hosted in an oil-producing country and presided over by the chief of Adnoc deliver? Critics said no. But the UAE had another plan.

Talks about how to address the root cause of the problem dominated the summit. Various iterations of the text appeared throughout with a significantly watered down draft published on December 11 prompting a backlash from many parties, including the EU and vulnerable small island states, for weak language

Intense rounds of talks followed and pushed the summit a full day into overtime before the new draft was issued at about 7am local time.

The deal, which has also been called the "UAE Consensus" calls 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”.

That is a historic first – although in return, there are concessions to developing countries, coal users and gas exporters.

“While we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said Simon Stiell, UN climate change chief.

The deal does not compel countries to end use of fossil fuels, however, and developing countries still need billions, if not trillions of dollars to help move to renewable sources of energy.

What were the other major negotiated outcomes?

The loss and damage fund was brought into operation on the first day of the summit, giving impetus to the talks.

The fund was established at Cop27 and seeks to help vulnerable countries deal with severe effects of climate change, such as major floods.

Countries began to step up and contribute immediately. At least $792 million has been pledged so far.

The Cop28 deal also calls for “accelerated financial support” from rich countries and criticised them for failing to deliver on a long-promised $100 billion pledge.

In the negotiated outcome countries called for a tripling of renewables and double the energy efficiency by 2030, urges peak emissions by 2025; and a global target to halt deforestation by 2030.

UAE-led pledges drive global climate action

Away from the party-driven talks, the UAE sought to push climate action through 11 landmark initiatives on topics such as food systems, health, air conditioning, decarbonising heavy emitting industries and encouraging oil and gas companies to cut emissions.

The UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food and Climate, for example, was endorsed by 159 countries and called on them to put food at the heart of the climate agenda by linking their agricultural policies to their national emissions and biodiversity plans.

Cop28 provided the first in-depth look at the effects of climate change on health. The UAE declaration on this topic was endorsed by 144 countries and underscored the need to confront the connections between climate change and health.

Other pledges on energy efficiency, hydrogen, methane, climate finance, cooling systems and recovery and peace (making fragile and conflict-affected countries and communities more resilient to climate change) also won widespread support.

Will Cop28 make any difference?

Many who are sceptical of UN climate summits say they are unwieldy. The fact all countries must agree is also viewed as hampering the need for urgent action. However, the summit is also one of the few arenas left where every country, from small island states to superpowers, have an equal voice.

And some summits, such as Cop21 that delivered the Paris agreement, are now considered as being particularly important.

The UN, for example, said the Paris deal has driven "near-universal climate action", according to the UN.

But there remains much to do and a hard road ahead. As Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber said, the deal will be only as good as its implementation.

“We are what we do, not what we say,” Dr Al Jaber said. “We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible action.”

What comes next?

One overarching message from the global stocktake has long been clear – the world is “not yet collectively on track” to slow global warming to 1.5°C to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

The way forward agreed in Dubai is the foundation on which countries are expected to base their next round of national climate plans, due in 2025.

The UAE, Azerbaijan and Brazil – as hosts of Cop28, Cop29 and Cop30 respectively – will work together on a "road map to mission 1.5°C" to push for ambitious targets in those national plans.

At an international level, talks at Cop29 in Azerbaijan, scheduled for November 2024, are expected to focus on raising the finance needed to turn the vision of Dubai into reality.

A key target for Cop29 will be to agree a new funding goal for the developing world. The earlier pledge by rich countries to arrange $100 billion was agreed in 2009, but the money was slow to arrive, damaging trust in the negotiations.

The new goal must "reflect the scale and urgency of the climate challenge", Mr Stiell said, with the cost of implementing green pledges estimated at about $5.9 trillion for the developing world.

The agreed text in Dubai calls on ministers to use Cop29 to help developing countries adapt to climate effects that it may be too late to prevent.

Also to be tackled in 2024 is desertification and drought, which will be discussed at pre-Cop talks in Bonn, Germany, over the summer before a separate summit in Saudi Arabia.

Then at Cop30 in Brazil, two years from now, countries will hand in their homework on their national go-green plans – revealing whether they have followed the spirit of Dubai.

Updated: December 29, 2023, 5:33 AM