COP28: Hits and Misses

Bhagirath Yogi

  • Read Time 6 min.

London: Former US Vice President-turned- environmentalist, Al Gore, lamented on Monday that COP28 was going to fail. As the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCC) was drawing to a close in Dubai, Gore tweeted, “COP28 is now on the verge of complete failure. The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word… There are 24 hours left to show whose side the world is on: the side that wants to protect humanity’s future by kickstarting the orderly phase out of fossil fuels or the side of the petrostates and the leaders of the oil and gas companies that are fueling the historic climate catastrophe.”

Nearly 36 hours later, on Wednesday, negotiators from nearly 200 countries who had gathered in the United Arab Emirates to discuss climate action finally agreed on the 21-page document – that had been amended several times.

The first Global Stocktake of progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement has been completed at the COP28. The outcome of the summit includes, for the first time, a call on countries to contribute to a transition away from fossil fuels in the energy systems, in line with the goal of net zero global emissions by 2050.

Dr Dharam Raj Uprety, one of the negotiators from Nepal, said that mention of mountains and cryosphere in the preamble of the declaration was recognition of efforts made by countries including Nepal to highlight the impact of climate change on Himalayas and mountain communities. “Though the declaration stopped short of calling for phase out of fossil fuels, member countries’ agreement to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems should be seen as a major achievement,” said Dr Uprety, who is Thematic Lead – Climate and Resilience at Practical Action South Asia Regional Office, Kathmandu. “The declaration calls upon countries to deliver a national adaptation plan by 2030, which is a good beginning.”

A total of 51 countries including Nepal have already submitted their National Plan of Adaptation (NAP).

LDCs disappointed

Least Developed Countries have, however, expressed disappointment over the outcome of COP28 and have called upon the rich countries to do more.

In a statement issued after the COP28 agreement, Madeleine Diouf Sarr, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group, said, “This outcome is not perfect, we expected more. It reflects the very lowest possible ambition that we could accept rather than what we know, according to the best available science, is necessary to urgently address the climate crisis.”

“Limiting warming to 1.5C is a matter of survival, and international cooperation remains key to ensuring it.  Next year will be critical in deciding the new climate finance goal, which must be informed by this global stocktake (GST), and must close the vast gaps that have been identified,” said Miss Sarr, who is also head of the Climate Change Division at Senegal’s Ministry of Environment, Sustainable Development and Ecological transition. 

Glaciologists inspect a crack in the ceiling of a natural glacier cavity of the Jamtalferner glacier in Austria. Giant ice caves have appeared in glaciers, accelerating the melting process faster than expected as warmer air rushes through the ice mass until it collapses. (Image: Lisi Niesner / Alamy)

Global coordinator of LDC Watch – a civil society group- Dr Arjun Karki, said that LDCs have been calliong for strong commitment to phase out fossil fuel and immediate, total and just transition. “The climate finance has to be predictable, additional and non-debt creating,” said Ambassador Karki adding, “We demand reparations from rich countries for loss and damage. Reparations not merely in the form of financial transactions but as a moral imperative. It is about acknowledging historical responsibility and recognizing the fundamental right of affected communities to live in a stable and sustainable environment.”

During his recent visit to Nepal, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said, “There is loss, and there is damage. You can see it in Nepal.”

Loss and Damage

On the first day of the COP28, member states agreed to formally operationalize a loss and damage fund to support vulnerable countries dealing with the effects of climate change.

The European Union pledged US$245.39 million while Germany pledged USD 100 million. The UK promised at least $51 million while the US agreed to give $17.5 million.

Developing countries, however, say the pledges made by rich countries that have come so far are only a fraction of the loss and damage that developing countries are incurring due to climate change.

The devastating flood in Pakistan in 2022 caused damages worth 15 billion dollars and economic losses worth over 15 billion dollars, UN agencies said. “Estimated needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction in a resilient way are at least US$16.3 billion.”

Flood in Pakistan in 2022 caused damages worth 15 billion dollars and economic losses worth over 15 billion dollars. Photo: AFP

From Himalayas to Oceans

Countries like Nepal took the opportunity to highlight the threat due to climate change though their greenhouse gas emissions were negligible.  Addressing the COP28 in Dubai, Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ said, “Our message is clear: mountains are tortured by rising temperatures. Save them first! I am deeply concerned about the findings of the recent IPCC report, that states climate-induced disasters breaking records in the Himalayas. We have already lost one-third of our glaciers, and scientists have warned that we are going to lose another one-third by the end of this century. Mountains are tortured by rising temperatures. Save them first,” he urged.

Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal during COP28 in the UAE. Photo: The Rising Nepal

Not only countries sharing the Himalayas, those sharing the ocean are equally worried. Said newly elected President of Maldives, Dr Mohamed Muizzu, “First, the Global Stocktake must commit to a plan that corrects our course towards a 1.5-degree pathway, in line with the Paris Agreement. It must be based on equity and the best available science. And it must inform the next set of more ambitious NDCs. Second, we must close the climate finance gap.”

Closing the climate finance gap was one of the key issues that was debated at COP28.

In its report published on December 4, the London-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment estimated that emerging nations would need up to US$ 2.4 trillion a year in investment to cap emissions and adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

“The world is not on track to realise the goals of the Paris Agreement. The reason for this failure is a lack of investment, particularly in emerging markets and developing countries outside China,” said the report’s co-author and chair of the Institute Prof Nicholas Stern.

Countries directly hit due to the impacts of climate change are asking for billions of dollars through a newly formed disaster fund. They have also suggested ways to raise the money.

“A global 0.1% tax on financial services, for example, could raise $420 billion, she said, while a 5% tax on global oil and gas profits in 2022 would have yielded around $200 billion,” said Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, at a press conference at COP28.

As things stand there is little hope of rich countries meeting the target. And, climate activists are furious. “We cannot celebrate mere inclusion of reference in the text if it comes without means of implementation and finance for energy transition for poor and developing countries. If this is what a ‘historical outcome’ looks like, then it is on the wrong side of history,” said Sanjay Vashist, director of the Climate Action Network South Asia.

Former US Vice President Al Gore is also disappointed. “The decision at COP28 to finally recognise that the climate crisis is, at its heart, a fossil fuel crisis is an important milestone. But it is also the bare minimum we need and is long overdue. “Whether this is a turning point that truly marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era depends on the actions that come next and the mobilisation of the finance required to achieve them,” he said.

For many, the tough road ahead to combat a global challenge like climate change has just begun.