COP28 Marks Breakthroughs in Energy Systems

Paul Rahmat SVD

The UN Climate Conference 2023, or COP28, was pivotal in the global fight against climate change. It took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), from November 30 to December 13, 2023. This annual conference on climate change drew a staggering 85,000 delegates, including 150 heads of state and government, as well as representatives from civil society, businesses, Indigenous Peoples, youth, philanthropy, and international organizations. Paul Rahmat and Daquin Iyo Iyan represented VIVAT International at COP28, where they engaged with larger groups of Catholic actors, interfaith-based organizations, and civil society groups.

COP28 was a truly global event, bringing together a diverse and dynamic group from around the world. This collective effort was driven by a shared goal of addressing the urgent and global challenges of climate change.

Fossil Fuels Matter 

The crucial issues of fossil fuels, energy transition, and renewable energy dominated the COP talks among negotiators and NGOs. While small islands, least developed countries, and civil societies pushed hard to phase out fossil fuel energy and recommended putting strong language in the draft text, OPEC countries led by Saudi Arabia and lobbyists from the oil and gas industries tried to block the conversation.

COP28 in Dubai was not without its controversies. The fact that it was hosted by the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s top 10 oil-producing nations, and led by President Sultan al Jaber, chief executive of the state-owned oil company, raised eyebrows. The presence of lobbyists from oil companies also sparked debate, with their numbers increasing significantly from 636 at COP27 to 2,400 at COP28. These controversies underscore the challenges faced in transitioning away from fossil fuels.

The Major Outcomes

Despite the controversy, COP28 in the UAE concluded with significant strides towards a greener future. Breakthroughs were made in energy systems, global stocktakes, setting a new climate finance goal, and resilient food systems, among others. The agreement to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems is a landmark decision, heralding a new era of renewable energy. As UNFCCC Secretary Simon Stiel puts it, this positive step signals the “beginning of the end of the Fossil Fuel Era,” offering optimism for a more sustainable world.

The global stocktake is another key outcome of COP28. This commitment includes, among other things, tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency improvements by 2030. It accelerates efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power, the phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and other measures that drive the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly, and equitable manner. Countries must transform and implement these goodwill and commitments into climate national plans called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The parties also agreed to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund, a breakthrough agreement reached in COP27 to provide the Loss and Damage Fund for the most vulnerable countries and frontline groups impacted by climate change. Establishing the Loss and Damage Fund, with commitments totaling USD 661 million to date, indicated global solidarity. It reflects the urgency of the climate emergency and is a step forward in international climate justice.

Climate finance is another key outcome of COP28. The parties adopted a new climate finance goal called the New Collective Quantitative Goal (NCQG). It starts by providing $100 billion annually as a baseline toward the new goal of considering developing countries’ needs and priorities. The new climate finance goal is estimated at $5.8 trillion until 2030. COP28 also brought an additional $3.5 billion in new pledges to replenish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) dedicated to supporting developing countries in tackling climate change. Negotiations on this issue will continue in COP29, which will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, this year. It develops a draft for the NCQG framework to be deliberated and politically decided upon at COP29.

Food and food systems came to the attention of COP28 as a central part of addressing climate change. Some 159 countries announced and signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. The countries are committed to integrating food and food systems into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2025. All countries are asked to incorporate food and food systems into their national plan for climate action (NDCs) as they come to COP29 and COP30 with actual progress.

Turning Commitments into Action 

Those key outcomes and many others were achieved at COP28. However, the real success of the COP lies not only in the decisions and commitments the parties have made but also in implementing these decisions and turning commitments into national policies and climate action. It is time for governments to translate their promises into tangible action. Countries must align with the UAE Consensus by integrating its principles into their next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and enacting transformative domestic legislation and policies, including scaling up renewables and transitioning to fossil-free transport while reducing reliance on fossil fuels at every opportunity. Global agreements can send the right signals, but it is ultimately up to individual countries to play their part in addressing the climate crisis.

Therefore, the next two COPs – COP29 in Azerbaijan and COP30 in Brazil – are crucial. Countries are expected to accelerate and enhance their efforts to combat climate change through national climate action plans. They are requested to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions in early 2025. Civil societies could monitor and pressure their governments to ensure alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Meanwhile, the three host countries of the past and future COPs – UAE, Azerbaijan, and Brazil – recently formed and announced a climate “troika” aimed at maintaining the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The troika facilitates continuity and collaboration necessary to uphold the 1.5 Celsius target from past and future COPs, from Dubai and Baku to Belem and beyond.

Paul Rahmat, VIVAT New York