Slowly but surely, 2023 is coming to its end. It's the time to enjoy self-made cookies with hot chocolate and make yourself comfortable next to the soothing heater. People in Maastricht are busy running from store to store or scrolling through Amazon to find some last presents for their loved ones. Students are finishing their final exams for the year and already dreaming of driving or flying home for the holidays.
Far away from this pre-Christmas atmosphere in Maastricht, last Wednesday, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) came to an end in Dubai. Originally supposed to finish on Tuesday, several of the negotiating parties refused to sign a deal draft released on Monday due to it failing to call for a "phase-out" of fossil fuels, forcing the conference to be extended.
Generally, the conference focused on measures to cope with the climate crisis and the implementation of the Paris climate targets so far. While these goals were central for most of the previous UN Climate Conferences, the resulting agreements were often critiqued for not sufficiently addressing the problems at the root of climate change. This leads to the question of whether this week’s outcome will provoke similar reactions or if it could even be considered a glimpse of hope in the fight against rising temperatures.
A significant development at this year’s climate conference was its first-ever call to "transition away" from fossil fuels, which scientists estimate to be by far the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming. Correspondingly, in his closing speech, the executive secretary claimed that the agreement represents "the beginning of the end" of the fossil fuel era.
Furthermore, it was also the first time that the final report included a "Global Stockstate“, evaluating the progress on climate action at the global level since the 2015 Paris Agreement. The result of this interim balance draws a clear picture: the promises and implementations of national climate measures are so far not sufficient to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. As a result, this evaluation could make it harder for presidents around the world to keep their ears and eyes shut regarding the growing voices calling for changes in their climate policies.
However, another one of this week’s events demonstrates how the effect of the climate conference might remain very little in practice. On Saturday, three days after the publication of the COP28 agreement, Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action announced the discontinuation of an environmental bonus promoting electric cars, starting from Sunday. Environmentalists fear that this could lead to a shift back to cars running on combustion engines, running on fossil fuels. While Germany was among the countries advocating for a global "phase-out" of fossil fuels during the climate conference, their own ministry dedicated to climate protection, failed to make decisions accordingly. Unfortunately, this shows how bright promises can turn into empty words within merely one week.
For many people, this time of the year is also the time to set New Year’s Resolutions. For some, this includes being more aware of the environment - eating less meat, avoiding unnecessary plastic, or choosing a bike over a car. However, none of these individual efforts can prevent the severe impacts of climate change if governments consistently fail to meet their climate goals. While the COP28 declaration pleading for the renunciation of fossil fuels is a valuable achievement, it is worthless if the same countries that supported this demand are unwilling to put it into practice.