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COP28: What you need to know

IN A NUTSHELL: At COP28, the world agreed that fossil fuels, finance and fairness are the most important matters when it comes to climate change.

After almost three decades of climate negotiations, at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Dubai at the end of last year, nearly 200 countries pledged to transition away from fossil fuels. You might be thinking, what, only now?! Well, it’s complicated…

Here are five key takeaways from COP28 to help you join the conversation.

1 At last, we agree to transition away from fossil fuels. Climate negotiations are extremely delicate. It’s a global challenge with various role players, culprits and victims who have much to gain or lose, depending on the outcome. So much so that at COP27 in Egypt a resolution to phase out fossil fuels was removed from the final text.

However, at COP28 the final decision text called for the “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems” to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“This is an important political signal about the significant transition that lies ahead, with explicit fossil fuel transition language never before included in a COP outcome,” states the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) in its Reflections Key Outcomes from COP28 document.

Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, agreed in a press release: “For the first time we have language which calls for transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

2 We’re off track. The Global Stocktake, a comprehensive assessment of global climate action done every five years, found that current national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate. To achieve the Paris Agreement’s targets, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be cut by around 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 from 2019 levels, aiming for net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

However, currently, none of the G20 countries are reducing emissions at a pace consistent with their net-zero targets. The report found that current pledges only put the world on track for a 2.5-2.9°C temperature rise (vs. the ideal of 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels. It concluded that, even in the most optimistic scenario, the likelihood of limiting warming to 1.5°C is only 14%.

3 A loss and damage fund was established. Wealthy nations have committed more than USD600 million to a loss and damage fund for developing nations. The PCC noted that while this is an important initial contribution, it falls short of what is needed – just the African continent requires between USD290 billion and USD440 billion between 2020 and 2030 to finance loss and damage needs. The PCC also highlighted other issues such as how it will be funded and the fact that contributions are voluntary.

4 We must double up on adaption. Nearly half of the global population – 3.6 billion people — are currently vulnerable to climate change impacts, from droughts, floods and storms to heat stress and food insecurity, explains the World Resources Institute. Considering this, in tandem with reducing GHG emissions, countries must focus on adapting and safeguarding the vulnerable communities that are already – and more so in the future – bearing the brunt of the changing climate.

To date, progress on adaptation has been slow but the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) aims to change that. After eight years, countries have finally agreed on an overarching framework for the GGA that among others highlights key areas such as food, water and health that will require large-scale adaptation action. The PCC noted that the GGA is more progressive than the original draft and they commended the specific reference to gender-responsive, participatory, and transparent national adaptation plans.

However, the consensus is that the framework lacks specific indicators to track on-the-ground action and measure progress, as well as clear language on how adaptation funding will be generated and distributed.

5 We need justice for all. Even if the world agrees today to phase out fossil fuels completely, it must consider the millions of workers whose livelihood depends on these industries. A shift to clean energy must be done in a way that is fair to these workers and leaves no other vulnerable members of society behind. Considering this, COP28 adopted a new Just Transition work programme that outlines “just transition pathways” to achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals agreed on in 2015.

The all-of-society and all-of-economy transition approach represents a progression in the international community’s collective understanding of just transitions, said the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. It welcomed the strong human rights, and the inclusive and participatory approach in the decision to nationally defined just transitions, in which all stakeholders have a role to play and the right to development is respected.

When is the next COP? COP29 will be hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 11 to 24 November this year.