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COP28: a recap and what to expect at this year’s conference

What’s happening? As 2023 draws to an end, scientists are now over 99% certain that this year will be declared the warmest on record. This ominous accolade, accompanied by a series of devastating extreme weather events, propels climate change back into the global spotlight, regaining attention after a year of political turbulence. In this context, COP28, hosted in the United Arab Emirates from November 30th to December 12th, gathers world leaders with the ambitious goal of advancing the global climate agenda.

What’s the current situation? Average global temperatures have increased by 1.1°C since 1880, CO2 emissions persist at unsustainable levels, and existing pledges to cut emissions fall short. Even if all current net-zero commitments are fulfilled, the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target will be missed, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Achieving the 1.5°C goal now requires reaching net zero by 2034, as indicated by a recent study warning of a “tiny” remaining carbon budget that could be surpassed by 2029. Simultaneously, fossil fuel subsidies reached a staggering $7.2 trillion in 2022, representing 7% of global GDP, with the oil and coal markets reaching unprecedented highs.

Amidst this daunting reality, signs of a green transition emerge. Renewable power surges forward, with solar capacity expected to surpass coal by 2027, heralding a transformative shift. Policy incentives, exemplified by the US Inflation Reduction Act and the REPowerEU Plan, have sparked a surge in demand for green technology, with fossil fuel production set to peak later this decade.

What’s been achieved at previous COPs? At COP21 in 2015, The Paris Agreement was signed, aimed to limit warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels and strive to keep it to 1.5°C. This agreement had a transformative impact on subsequent COPs, shifting the focus from conceptual frameworks to the challenging realm of implementation.

More recent achievements include the ground-breaking inclusion of a “phase down” of coal in the COP26 agreement—the first direct address of fossil fuels in the document, though with a less firm shift from “phase out.” COP26 also intensified the focus on methane, with 100 countries signing the Global Methane Pledge, committing to a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. The global population falling under net-zero pledges grew to 85% at COP26, driven by the United States’ commitment. Today, this figure has risen to 89%. COP27’s standout moment was the agreement to establish a Loss and Damage fund.

Talking points at COP28:

Global stock-take: Mandated every five years, the “ratcheting mechanism” requires Paris Agreement signatories to update their “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). The global stock-take, designed to evaluate progress at the global level, precedes this. With the IPCC and other research bodies indicating the 1.5°C goal is off track, the assessment is expected to prompt calls for accelerated action by governments and market stakeholders.

Phase down: COP28 charts a resolute course for the phase-out of all fossil fuels, with the “High Ambition Coalition,” a group of 15 countries, leading the charge. Challenges loom as China is reportedly ready to reject documents with phase-out language, while oil-exporting nations advocate for increased use of carbon capture technology to sustain “abated” fossil fuels.

Loss and Damage: The breakthrough Loss and Damage fund, conceived at COP27, has undergone a year of talks to address operational details. These discussions have proven unproductive, with divisions persisting between the Global North and South over funding responsibilities. However, an emergency meeting at the beginning of November broke new ground, providing decision-makers at COP28 with a blueprint for the funds operationalisation.

Adaptation finance: Adaptive finance can be split into two spheres: public and private. Mobilising public finance has proven challenging with Oxfam claiming several countries inflate contributions by as much as 225%, eroding trust between countries. Even with inflated contributions, the $100 billion annual goal has been unmet since its inception in 2020. The private sector also faces challenges. Private finance stakeholders representing over $130tn established the GFANZ at COP26, promising to reach net zero by 2050. However, the group have failed to make an impact and key stakeholders have departed. Calls for reform intensify on global financial institutions including the IMF and World Bank.

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