VIDEO: COP28 takeaways: Fossil fuels and climate pledges

December 14, 2023

The Week in Sustainability – December 11–15

Dubai city skyline

The 28th annual Conference of the Parties (COP28), hosted by the United Nations, wrapped this week.

It marked a significant shift in the climate change dialogue. The event brought together over 100 country delegations, climate scientists, business leaders, activists, indigenous peoples, and journalists, fostering a platform for pivotal discussions and decisions.

If you've followed news surrounding previous COPs, you’re no stranger to the rollercoaster ride they can become. The high- and low-lights:

Controversies and context

  • Location and leadership: COP28 in Dubai, led by Sultan Al Jaber of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, sparked controversy due to the UAE's status as a major oil producer and potential conflicts of interest.
  • Record attendance and lobbyist presence: COP28 attracted over 100,000 attendees despite the controversies, indicating a growing interest in climate discussions. However, the unprecedented presence of fossil fuel lobbyists raised concerns about the event's alignment with oil and gas interests.

Key highlights

  1. Loss and damage fund–The poorest and most vulnerable communities tend to get hit the hardest by climate impacts despite having contributed little to the climate crisis. However, there was a significant win this year: establishing a fund to support the Global South. Despite this progression, the pledged amount needs to catch up as wealthy nations only pledged $700 million, which covers less than two percent of what is required annually, an estimated $100 – $590 billion to move the needle.
  2. Methane and refrigerant regulations–The EPA, led by Michael Regan, implemented a rule to reduce methane and refrigerant emissions, mandating inspections, leak sealing, and gas flaring reduction. This move will significantly cut emissions, aligning with the U.S.'s climate strategy and the EU's measures. Additionally, the U.S. pledged $1 billion to assist lower-income countries in methane management. Simultaneously, 63 countries committed to the Cooling Pledge at COP28, aiming for a 68% reduction in cooling emissions by 2050, addressing the urgent need for efficient cooling in developing countries.
  3. Renewable energy – In a bold move, 118 governments, spearheaded by the EU, U.S., and UAE, pledged to triple the world's renewable energy capacity by 2030, marking a significant step towards decarbonizing the energy sector, responsible for three-quarters of global greenhouse gases. Alongside this, a group of 22 countries, with the U.S. at the helm, committed to tripling nuclear power by 2050 from 2020 levels. These pledges, part of a comprehensive strategy, also included ambitious goals to expand nuclear power, slash methane emissions, and cut off private finance for coal.
  4. Agriculture initiatives– Amidst these pledges, agriculture, a major climate change contributor (34%), took center stage. Discussions largely revolved around meat and dairy, which account for half of the sector's emissions, mostly due to the conversion of carbon-sink forests into grazing lands. This topic, particularly meat consumption, highlighted the equity issues between the global north and south economies and hinged on consumer behaviors, with people generally reluctant to pay more for sustainable farming. Despite these roadblocks, over 130 countries signed the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. This agreement commits to making farm and food systems central in climate change efforts, scaling agricultural adaptation, enhancing food security, and providing farmers with assistance to maximize climate and environmental benefits.
  5. Voluntary carbon market standards– Voluntary Carbon Markets (VCMs) faced a challenging year marred by persistent allegations of inadequate monitoring, standardization, and effectiveness of credits. In a decisive effort to foster a credible market, the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), regulators of global securities markets, proposed 21 safety measures aimed at enhancing the integrity and transparency of VCMs. This involvement of global security regulators marked a significant shift, signaling a move towards standardization and rigor in carbon markets, paralleling the established practices of capital markets.
  6. Global stocktake – fossil fuel phase-out –On COP's final day, delegates adopted language addressing fossil fuels in the final agreement, a significant topic of debate. Activists had pushed for a "fossil fuel phaseout," but the agreement, for the first time, included the term "fossil fuels," signaling a shift towards reducing their use. Described by the UNFCCC as "the beginning of the end," the pact calls for transitioning away from fossil fuels in a just and orderly manner. While seen as a major step forward, the language fell short of some expectations, allowing room for "transition fuels" like natural gas, which, despite being cleaner than coal, still delays the full transition to renewable energy.

Looking ahead

  • The next two COPs (COP29 will be in Azerbaijan) are crucial to establish new climate finance goals and updating nationally determined contributions.
  • Our perspective: The agreements reached are a step forward, but practical implementation remains vital. We approach these developments with cautious optimism, recognizing the need for action that matches the urgency of the climate challenge.

COP28 brought to light the complexities and challenges in global climate negotiations. We recognize the importance of these discussions and remain committed to leading the way in sustainable practices and solutions. The journey toward a more sustainable future continues, and we're here to guide and support businesses and individuals in making impactful choices.

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1. Reuters, "New COP28 draft deal stops short of fossil fuel 'phase out'." Accessed December 12, 2023

2. The New York Times, "COP 28 Climate SummitGlobal Warming Talks Begin Amid Deep Tensions." Accessed December 1, 2023

3. Inside Climate News, "Why Big Business Could Be the Real Winner at COP28." Accessed December 12, 2023

4. Inside Climate News, " UN Adds New Disclosure Requirements For Upcoming COP28, Acknowledging the Toll of Corporate Lobbying." Accessed June 18, 2023

5. The Guardian, "Cop28: highlights and lowlights so far." Accessed December 7, 2023

6. Bloomberg, " COP28 Scores Early Win With $260 Million For Climate Damages." Accessed November 30, 2023

7. MSN, "COP28 Climate Summit Takes Aim At Powerful Methane Emissions." Accessed December 2, 2023

8. Reuters, "COP28 pledge to curb cooling emissions backed by 63 countries."  Accessed December 5, 2023

9. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, "FAO Director-General champions agrifood systems as the climate solution at COP28." Accessed December 4, 2023

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
Sustain.Life Team
Sustain.Life’s teams of sustainability practitioners and experts often collaborate on articles, videos, and other content.
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