The 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), convened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 30 November to 13 December 2023, was the largest United Nations conference on climate change to date. Some 85,000 participants, including more than 150 heads of state and government, civil society, civil society, the private sector, indigenous peoples, youth and international organizations, gathered to continue to explore holistic and contextually relevant responses to the adverse impacts of climate change. As 2023 will be the warmest year on record, the sense of urgency for ambitious climate action in the context of international climate negotiations has never been more critical.
During the inaugural plenary session, a historic agreement on the operationalisation of the new Loss & Damage Fund was adopted. This agreement builds on the landmark decision taken a year earlier at COP27, where States agreed to set up a fund to support vulnerable countries and communities already paying the price of global warming, even though they did nothing to cause it. The establishment of the fund, with commitments totaling $661 million thus far, reflects not only the urgency of the climate emergency, but more importantly a step forward for international climate justice.
In the aftermath of complex consultations that lasted until the early hours of 13 December, the Parties reached also consensus on the adoption of the first-ever “Global Stocktake”. The Stocktake, endorsed by nearly 200 countries, is considered the central outcome of this year’s COP. It recognises the science showing that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 43% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, to limit global warming to 1.5°C. At the same time, however, it notes that Parties are off track to achieve their climate commitments as outlined in the Paris Agreement. In fact, the “Global Stocktake” paves the way for the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, envisaging a swift, just, and equitable transition, underpinned by deep emissions reductions and scaled-up finance. However, the final draft of the decision avoided calling for the “phase-down” or “phase-out” of coal, oil, and gas, spreading disappointment among civil society representatives, climate activists, and delegations from small island developing countries.
Moreover, the Parties agreed on targets for the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and its framework, which identify where the international community needs to go to be resilient to the implications of a changing climate while also assessing countries’ efforts. The GGA framework reflects a global consensus on adaptation targets covering the sectors of water, food, health, ecosystems, infrastructure, poverty eradication, and cultural heritage. The GGA aspires to guide adaptation planning and strategies at all levels whilst aligning finance, technology, and capacity-building to support the successful implementation of the framework.
Meanwhile, climate finance took centre stage, with discussions highlighting the need to reform the multilateral financial system and increase climate finance through grants and concessional finance. In this context, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) received a significant increase in its second replenishment, raising commitments totalling $12.8 billion from 31 countries. Donor governments also pledged new funding totalling over $350 billion for the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Special Climate Change Fund and the Adaptation Fund. In addition, the World Bank announced an ambitious funding package with an increase of $9 billion in climate-related projects for fiscal year 2024-2025.
The conference also saw many important announcements on reducing emissions and strengthening resilience in certain sectors. Through the Climate and Health Declaration, which was adopted by 125 countries, governments pledged to protect communities and prepare domestic health systems for climate impacts, including extreme heat waves and outbreaks of infectious diseases, while with the adoption of the Declaration on Agriculture, Food and Climate 137 nations committed to new ambitions for transforming food systems as part of their national climate plans. In an effort to substantially reduce cooling-related emissions, the Conference further adopted the Global Cooling Pledge, which was supported by 66 countries. Finally, the European Union and its Member States announced €175 million to support the Methane Finance Spring which seeks to drastically reduce methane emissions across the energy sector.
Although many hailed the decisions adopted in Dubai as a triumph of multilateralism, the small island developing states felt left behind, unwilling to trust the pledges of the developed North. Anne Rasmussen, the Samoan representative and lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), revealed that the decisions on the final draft of the “Global Stocktake” – the central outcome of COP 28 – were taken during their absence in the plenary room as the group was still coordinating its response to the text. Ms. Rasmussen emotionally stressed that the delegations she represented “cannot afford to return to their islands with the message that this process has failed us.” Reflecting on the outcome of the Conference, UN Chief, António Guterres, remarked that “for the first time, is recognised the need to transition away from fossil fuels – after many years in which the discussion of this issue was blocked”. “To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase-out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable whether they like it or not” he added.
Looking ahead, COP29 in 2024, to be hosted by Azerbaijan, will play a pivotal role in setting a new climate finance goal that mirrors the scale and urgency of the climate challenge. COP30 in 2025, to be held by Brazil, will require nations to submit new nationally determined contributions, in line with the Paris Agreement, that encompass all greenhouse gases and align with the 1.5°C temperature limit. In this context, it is ultimately necessary for both public and private actors to continue to accelerate ambition as well as robust climate action to protect nature and the interests of current and future generations.
Sources: UN, United Nations Climate Change, UNEP, European Council, IISD
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About the author
MEPIELAN Centre is an international research, training and educational centre established by Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos at the Panteion University of Athens in 2008.
Before its establishment as a University Centre, MEPIELAN operated as a successful international research, training and informational programme (2002-2007) under the scientific direction of Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos and the aegis of the Panteion University of Athens, supported by the Mediterranean Action Plan/UNEP and the Greek Ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works.
MEPIELAN Centre is an accredited UNEP/MAP PARTNER (since 2013), a Member of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD) (since 2016), and a Member of the Steering Committee of the MCSD (since 2019).
On 22 May 2022, MEPIELAN Centre proceeded to the development of MEPIELAN as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) for the more effective and efficient advancement of its Goals and Missions and furtherance of its activities. MEPIELAN Centre as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) is registered in Greek Law (Hellenic Business Registry, Reg. No. 16477300100) in accordance with Laws 4072/2012 & 4919/2022 as applicable