COP28 comes at a decisive moment for international climate action. Temperature records are being repeatedly broken and climate impacts felt in unprecedented wildfires, floods, storms and droughts worldwide.
COP28 presents a critical opportunity to put the world on a more sustainable path.
Before we talk about the COP28 agenda and expectations let’s remember 2 important milestones of COP27;
- The loss and damage fund is established.
- For the first time in its 27-year history, the conference dedicated a day to the theme of agriculture.
The loss and damage fund is a significant milestone because it comes after almost three decades of asking and it sets a precedence for climate justice. Yet to be resolved, however, is the design and operationalization of the fund to support the most vulnerable, especially in the Least Developed Countries and Small Islands Developing State.
COP28 will be the stage for deciding on the implementation of the Fund.
Another key outcome of COP27 was the launch of the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative. The initiative aimed to improve the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions to transform agriculture and food systems by 2030.
On the flip side; last year’s conference did not achieve much success around mitigation. It was unable to reach agreement, for example, on phasing out of coal and other fossils fuel or setting emission peaking periods. It is such an irony for so many to see Gulf countries hosting the biggest climate event of the year under the shadow of regional conflicts and economic realities.
What to expect from COP28?
COP28 is important for several reasons because it marks the conclusion of the first global stocktake (GST), the main mechanism through which progress under the Paris Agreement is assessed. As always, hope is that governments at COP28 will come up with a roadmap to accelerate climate action.
With the first global assessment (GST) expected to take place this year, it will be crucial for countries to assess and eventually enhance their actions and support as per their obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
‘’ I urge the world to carefully study the global stocktake synthesis report. It is a report card of our collective climate action. And not a good one. COP28 is our chance to make a dramatic course correction. Let’s seize that chance.’’ Simon Steill, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary
Other issues that are likely to receive much attention, and which may be reflected across several negotiating streams, include energy transition and food systems transformation. And, as is often the case, discussions and negotiations on climate finance are likely to be centre stage.
What are the main challenges of COP28?
The main challenge of cop28 will be on governments as they need to agree on how to operationalize COP27’s main legacy: the loss and damage fund, set up as part of wider loss and damage funding arrangements. When the fund was agreed, critical questions were left unresolved: How narrow or broad should its focus be? Which countries should be eligible for support? And where should the money come from?
The irony of this COP is of course the host countries and the controversial debate on fossil fuel phase-out situation which is likely to receive much attention at the negotiations in Dubai. The need to phase out unabated fossil fuels is highlighted in the GST synthesis report. The language used by the incoming COP president on this topic has shifted over the course of the year, with Dr Sultan al-Jaber now referring to the phasedown of fossil fuels as ‘inevitable’ and ‘essential’.
Phasing out fossil fuels is being discussed as part of a broader package on energy that also includes targets on scaling up renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Reaching a COP agreement on a renewable energy target took an important step forward at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in September 2023, where G20 members agreed to ‘pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally’.
Food systems in focus
In the run-up to COP28, food systems and agriculture are receiving increasing diplomatic attention. The COP28 Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda was launched by the COP28 presidency and the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub in July. It calls on countries to align national food systems and agricultural policies with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and national adaptation plans (NAPs), and to include targets for food system decarbonization into these and their national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs).
Although food systems were much in debate at COP27 – unlike in previous COPs there was still a significant political resistance to fully adopting a systems approach.
It is a positive move to see COP28 presidency calling on private and public sector stakeholders to commit funding and technology for food system and agricultural transformation highlighing that food systems contribute one third of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.
The most crucial outcome still will be about the finance and the loss and damage fund
As a reminder,developed countries pledged to mobilize $100 billion annually from 2020 and onwards from a range of public and private sources. This target has never been shown to have been met, which is a source of frustration and outrage for many developing countries. Failure to meet the target in a timely way may also have had a negative impact on the negotiations at large, given that the process largely relies on governments’ ability to trust that others will deliver on their promises.
At COP28, governments will continue their negotiations on a new climate finance goal to replace the $100 billion commitment. The deadline for reaching an agreement is 2024, but significant progress in Dubai is critical to lay the groundwork for next year’s COP. As previously outlined, finance will also figure prominently in negotiations on the GST and on loss and damage.
Finally, discussions and commitments related to scaling up and delivering on climate finance may affect a range of other negotiating areas and have the potential to either unlock increased action and ambition or stall progress.