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The Maastricht Diplomat

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COP28: A Look Back

On the 13th of December 2023, COP28 reached its end, 23 hours over time, after roughly 2 weeks of negotiations, debates, and public discourse around humanity's most urgent matter: climate change. Once all world leaders agreed to compromise, a resolution was published, so let’s take a closer look at what was achieved. 

The COP28 was off to a good start when decision-makers agreed on a deal on a loss and damage fund on the very first day of negotiations. This fund, which aims to help compensate vulnerable countries suffering from climate change, had been a recurring topic of discussion for the last few years, including during the last COPs. That step forward was met with unanimity, as people were pleased with this breakthrough. However, the final deal has received much more nuanced reactions. Agreed on by nearly 200 countries in Dubai, the deal is, depending on the person you ask, either a remarkable and ‘historic’ achievement or a mere weak agreement, full of loopholes. But what exactly does this agreement entail? What decisions have the delegates taken and what concrete changes do they want to implement?

The final deal & decisions taken during COP28

Fossil fuels

It was almost a foregone conclusion that reaching an agreement on fossil fuels would be particularly complicated. Indeed, the COP28 negotiations were chaired by Sultan al-Jaber, CEO of Adnoc, one of the world's largest oil companies. On top of that they took place in the United Arab Emirates, known as one of the largest oil producers in the world. As you probably know, the COP “call[ed] on” all countries to “contribute to” a set of efforts, including “transitioning away from fossil fuels”. According to the final deal, this transition has to be made in a “just, orderly and equitable manner” and aims to achieve net zero by 2050.


Renewable energy

In its final deal, COP28 also encourages countries to participate in the effort to triple renewable energy capacity worldwide. On this matter, Ursula von der Leyen and over 100 world leaders launched the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge at the World Climate Action Summit, during COP28. As of Sunday 31 March, 124 countries have signed this pledge, which aims to “triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity” by 2030 and “double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements”. On the downside, China and India, two of the largest producers of fossil fuels worldwide, have yet to sign this pledge.


Criticism and (small) victories

Not legally-binding, but “a guide and a message”

One of the main points of criticism regarding the final deal is the fact that it is not legally binding. This means that the final deal can’t force any country to act but rather serves as a guide, a path to follow to fight against climate change. On the bright side though, it also sends a message: a message that nearly 200 countries are devoting – to some extent – time and attention to global warming.


Vague language

Furthermore, the language used in the final deal has stirred up controversy for being considered too weak or compromising too much to reconcile different points of view and avoid a blockade by fossil fuel-producing countries. For instance, the EU, along with many other countries, had been advocating using the term “phase out” of fossil fuels rather than a “transition away”. Sadly, it wasn’t enough, seen as the final deal ended up settling for the second option.

Globally, the final deal also remained vague, for example by not mentioning how countries, particularly emerging countries, would be able to finance the necessary actions to achieve certain goals of the deal, such as those regarding renewable energy.


Explicitly mentioning fossil fuels (and other small steps forward)

While the progress made may seem insignificant, we must not forget that COP28 was (sadly) the first (in 28 years!) to explicitly mention fossil fuels. As Damian Carrington, the Guardian environment editor, explained in the podcast Science Weekly, “The summary of it [the final deal] is that it is historic and that it is a tragedy that it is historic”. It is indeed tragic that international deals are only now explicitly mentioning fossil fuels, when science has been stating its negative impacts for years.

COP28 was also the first COP to talk about the impact of the food industry on the planet and to hold, in collaboration with the WHO, a thematic day regarding health and its link with climate change. The first global stocktake was also concluded during COP28, measuring global progress since COP21 in keeping with the Paris Agreement, identifying the lacks, and reevaluating the path to follow. When comparing with COPs from previous years, it becomes clear that COP28 has made some steps forward: Climate Summits are progressing, (very) slowly but surely.


As with many things, we cannot describe this COP or its final deal as entirely “good” or “bad”: COP28 has had its fair share of controversy and the final deal has flaws, that's for sure, but it's a step forward, however small. So, what now? After many struggles, Azerbaijan was chosen as the location for COP29, in November 2024. COP30 will then be held in Brazil. Until those next conferences happen, we will be able to see if and how countries will turn the final agreement into concrete changes by taking the steps necessary and investing money.


If you would like to know more about the final deal and what decisions have been taken, I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to have a look at the entire draft decision directly at the source. A summarised version of the global climate action taken at COP 28 is also available.


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