By Avit Ndayiziga
For the first time, COP28 operationalized the loss and damage fund and called on Parties to shift away from fossil fuels by tripling renewable energy while doubling energy efficiency by 2030.
On December 12, 2023, while COP28 was stretching into its final hours, Expo City Dubai started to empty itself out and quiet down. Participants scrambled to pack their bags for departures, while others were shopping at various malls, including the renowned Dubai Mall or Burj Khalifa.
Even though COP 28 was nearing its end, negotiations remained intense. The topic of phasing down or phasing out continued to fuel heated debates. Meanwhile, outside negotiation rooms, protestations were ongoing.
The young activists were against phasing down. They were instead advocating for a swift and complete phase-out of fossil fuels.
What to know about fossil fuels?
According to the United Nations on climate action fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas are found in the Earth’s crust. They are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.
As per the same source, greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun’s heat. This leads to global warming and climate change.
A high demand for phasing out not even down emerged unexpectedly as it was not included in the COP28 agenda. Several activist groups protested three days before COP28 wrapped up, advocating for a phase-out of fossil fuels.
However, phasing out fossil fuels negotiations encountered strong opposition from OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.)as fossil fuel is their bread earner.
Despite strong opposition, tensions escalated when the draft of the Global Stocktake, released by COP28, a day just before its conclusion, only mentioned ‘fossil fuels’ three times.
Consequently, protesters, particularly young people, exerted significant pressure, leading to a one-day delay in COP28 proceedings.
‘‘Fossil fuels phasing out is a human right issue. Not mentioning it even in the text is saddening. I would say that it is an insult to what we came here to do. 2023, we have seen so many countries impacted. I am not talking about the people in the global south or the global north. Phasing down means that in this specific space, we have chosen to kill the humanity within us. We have chosen to condemn humanity to extinction. Nations are disappearing. They are drowning. Others are turning into deserts. And yet, we are still debating on an issue where the science is clear. We need to stick to 1.5C degrees. Phasing out is a human rights issue. Now I am asking all leaders to make decisions on behalf of my children behind me and my grandchildren who have not yet been born. You owe to us to give us hope. You owe us a real future. Where these children do not have to come here to fight for their rights.’’ One protest voiced out.
This issue of phasing out or down had caught the attention during COP28 fueled by the COP 28 president who stated that no scientific evidence supported the sustainability of phasing out or down. However, he later clarified during a press conference that he also adheres to science, emphasizing the clarity of scientific findings.
On December 13, 2023, COP28 published the UAE Consensus, a document summarizing key COP28 accomplishments.
What has been achieved at COP28 this year?
Before the beginning of COP28, we had highlighted four key issues that COP28 was set to address to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. These included the loss and damage fund, climate finance, first global stocktake and water, food and health.
This year’s COP welcomed an unprecedented 100,000 participants from diverse backgrounds, surpassing previous conferences.
These included 156 Heads of State and Government, 22 leaders of international organizations, over 780 ministries, 500 mayors, over 50,000 students, and numerous other key stakeholders such as parliamentarians, youth, businesses, philanthropies, civil society, and Indigenous Peoples. Additionally, over 500,000 people attended various events hosted by the Presidency and its partners in the Green Zone.
1. Loss and damage fund operationalization
At the opening ceremonies, Sultan al-Jaber, the president of COP 28 made a heartfelt commitment to unlocking climate finance so that the “global south” doesn’t have to compromise between development and climate action. The audience applauded as he took a sip of water.
And then, hot on the heels of the COP 28 president’s speech, came an unexpected, actual announcement of a Loss and Damage fund operationalization. This fund from polluters or rich nations aims to provide crucial assistance to developing nations that face heightened vulnerability due to the adverse effects of climate change.
The loss and damage fund reached $792 million in pledges by the last day of the conference. Developing countries and small island states have been pressing for these loss and damage funds since the early 1990s.
2. The first global stocktake (GST)
Another significant outcome of COP28 is the First Global Stocktake (GST), which took place on December 1st and 2nd, 2023, addressing adaptation, means of implementation, and mitigation.
The first GST revealed the discrepancy in climate change efforts. Furthermore, it exposed a gap between ambition and action. Thus, the world is off track as a planet.
After 28 years of conferences, a substantial trillion-dollar gap between investment needs in emerging markets and developing economies affected by climate change has yet to be observed.
The GST emphasized the necessity to leave no stone unturned to bring about a paradigm shift that accelerates ambition, action, and support across the agenda.
However, it stressed the urgent need for financing, since climate change ambitions and actions would remain mere daydreams without available and accessible funds.
3. Climate Finance
Following the Global Stocktake (GST), the disparity between climate ambitions and tangible actions became evident. Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, emphasized that finance is undoubtedly the key enabler of climate action.
“Finance is the great enabler for climate action,” he emphasized. He also cautioned world leaders to move away from the perception that funding for developing countries is charity or development aid, stating, “As long as they think of climate funding this way, it remains vulnerable.” He advocated for investment in climate mitigation and adaptation everywhere as enlightened self-interest.
However, the Global Stocktake has revealed an alarming trend: rather than accelerating, progress on adaptation is stagnating. Stiell emphasized, “I am solutions-oriented. The bad news is not a reason to despair and slow down. For me, it spurs action,” he concluded.
This aligns with the statement made by Sultan al-Jaber, COP 28 president and CEO of the UAE state oil company, during the opening ceremony. He emphasized the need for climate funding to bridge the gap between ambitions and action, in line with this year’s COP 28 slogan of “unite, act, and deliver.”
As of now, COP28 has secured over $85.1 billion in committed funds. These include allocations of $792 million for the loss and damage fund, $6.8 billion for energy, $61.8 billion for finance, $9 billion for lives and livelihoods, $2.7 billion for inclusion funds, $3.5 billion for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), $188 million for the adaptation fund, $129 million for the least developed countries fund, and $31 million for special climate change fund.
4. Food and water
Food security was also established firmly as a COP priority, with 159 heads of state and government endorsing the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action to address food’s high vulnerability to climate impacts and its contribution to emissions.
Companies and philanthropies also announced Major regenerative agriculture and climate-food innovation initiatives, underpinned by $3.2 billion of financing to help implement the declaration.
Supported by the High-Level Champions, more than 200 farmers, cities, businesses, financial institutions, civil society, and other non-state actors united behind the Call to Action for Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature, and Climate, committing to 10 priority actions to transform food systems and call for a set of time-bound, holistic, and global targets by COP29 at the latest to support farmers and frontline food system actors and other impacted groups and respect and value the Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous Peoples.
For only the second time in a COP summit, water security took center stage, with $150 million in new finance for innovations to tackle water scarcity and a commitment to double MDBs’ water portfolios within three years.
5. Phasing out fossil fuels
Another significant achievement of COP28 is the call for Parties to shift away from fossil fuels and to triple renewables while doubling energy efficiency globally by 2030. The decision also acknowledges the necessity to peak global emissions by 2025, considering varying national starting points, and urges countries to submit comprehensive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
International youth climate delegates found COP28 insightful but urged leaders to fulfill all the pledges and commitments.
Israel Baelongandi, a disability climate rights activist from the DRC, stated that COP 28 has had an impact, but he is eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of all the promises and commitments.
“ I am partially satisfied since the loss and damage fund has been operationalized. “However, my full satisfaction will come when the funds are distributed to the most affected countries, such as the DRC, other islands, and the least developed countries.” He stated.
According to Anusha Seechurn, a COP28 international Youth Climate Delegate from Maurice Island, COP28 was an enriching experience, yet she still needs to know what next following the conference.
“Attending COP28 has been an amazing and enriching experience for me, as I come from a small island and a developing state. However, I look forward to learning what are the next steps for my island. Additionally, I was pleased that they operationalized the loss and damage fund. However, I still have questions about how we will benefit from it,” she concluded.
With the loss and damage fund operationalized, commitments and pledges made at the start of COP28, this year’s COP has made history as the most ambitious, united, and proactive in delivering concrete climate actions.
COP28 ended with a decision to hold COP29 in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, climate activists are questioning the choice of consecutive conferences being hosted by countries that are exporters of fossil fuels.