“Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said UN Climate Change Secretary Simon Stiell in his closing speech. The historic step of putting a gradual move away from fossil fuels in writing in the final declaration gives new hope of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. Despite the many existing challenges and the need to act faster, this breakthrough is an example of the international community recognising the seriousness of the situation in the fight against the climate crisis. This progress sets a new benchmark for future climate negotiations.
While the world's attention has focussed on the issue of a binding phase-out of fossil fuels, another far-reaching decision was taken. The opening plenary session of COP28 began with an announcement on the new fund for loss and damage. Rich countries, which are responsible for the majority of global emissions, pledged a total of more than 700 million US dollars to this fund. The largest contributors are the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy and France. Other countries with substantial contributions include the UK, the EU, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, the USA, Canada, Japan, China and Slovenia.
As important as this decision is, it should not be forgotten that the funds pledged cover less than 0.2 per cent of funding needs caused by the irreversible losses countries of the Global South suffer annually as a result of global warming. The concrete implementation is still open, whereby the decisive factor of time has not been clearly defined.
The result of the “stress test” comes as no surprise to anyone. The parties to the Paris Agreement - i.e. the roughly 200 signatory states - are not on track to achieve the main goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 compared to 2019 was therefore emphasised once again.
In addition to the very inadequate outcome, the states were called upon to triple global renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030.
However, the agreement does not provide for a clear and, above all, timely phase-out of fossil fuels. This decision was extremely unsatisfactory for many government representatives - especially for the small island states disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Nowhere in the agreement did rich countries commit to providing financial resources to countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels to make such a transition possible at all. However, even if the official text is weaker than desired, it at least shows the will and willingness to take a step in the right and, above all, vital direction.
However, the actual impact of the COP28 resolutions now depends on their concrete implementation: All countries must submit plans to reduce carbon emissions in their NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) updates by 2025, which must be significantly more ambitious than the previous ones. If these targets are ambitious enough and are implemented quickly, especially in countries with a large carbon footprint, they can have a significant impact.
On the last day in Dubai, the decision on the loss and damage fund remained almost the only concrete and final decision, while 23 other issues are still in various stages of (dis)agreement. For example, the implementation of Articles 6.2 and 6.4 has been under discussion since their adoption at COP26 two years ago, without the Parties having finalised texts in Dubai.
However, it is often not even necessary to agree on all the details: Countries have already started implementing Article 6 and have used Dubai as a platform to sign additional bilateral agreements. To summarise, although the results achieved are not yet sufficient to limit global warming to 1.5 °C, they can still be seen as progress.
COP28 clearly showed how difficult it is to reach an agreement with almost 200 government parties. Nevertheless, it is more important than ever to come together and hold each other accountable in order to achieve global progress in climate action.