COP28, Addressing the Elephant in the Room

A significant global agreement among 200 nations to tackle climate change by committing to slow down fossil fuel usage and increase renewable energy threefold is the breakthrough achievement

Carlos Roa

COP28, the yearly United Nations Climate Change Conference, ended on December 13th with around 200 countries agreeing to slow down the use of fossil fuels, which is a vital accomplishment. The agreement also promised to reduce methane and make three times as much renewable energy available by 2030.

This news prompted a headline in The Guardian that sums it up: “After 30 years of waiting, Cop28 deal addresses the elephant in the room.”

While it looked like an agreement would not happen, COP28 closed by achieving what these conferences are set out to do: present game-changing compromises that everyone in the United Nations Climate Change group agrees upon.

It was also confirmed that an agreement on the loss and damage fund was reached and announced the new pledges to the Green Climate Fund. Six countries made fresh commitments, boosting the total pledges to a record-breaking USD 12.8 billion from 31 nations, with more contributions anticipated.

This first-ever global landmark accord is a direct consequence of the Paris Agreement, adopted at the 2015 COP, which aims to stop the world from getting too warm. It took time and tireless effort from thousands of people, but this achievement confirms that the COP summits are moving humankind in the right direction.

The planet is currently seated at the 1.2o Celsius of warming, increasingly close to the 1.5-degree limit set by the Paris Agreement. This fact requires urgent action.

Digging Deeper into the Foreseen Changes

COP28 President Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber stated the agreement “aligns more countries and companies around the North Star of keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach than ever before.”

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, marked the moment as an outstanding victory, as his X post states: “To those who opposed a clear reference to phase out of fossil fuels during the #COP28 Climate Conference, I want to say: Whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

His final words resonate, as the agreement does not quell concern. Anna Bonderenko, Development Director for The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, accurately summarizes the ups and downs of the outcome: “While the words fossil fuels were finally included, the weak language, lack of a binding plan, and too many loopholes to count, means our work is more important than ever.”

She adds: “There is no plan for how the phase out of fossil fuels will be managed. The Treaty is that plan.  We cannot rely on the COP process on its own to deliver an equitable and ambitious framework and finance agreements to phase out fossil fuels”.

Doable Change

Is all this feasible? According to Politico, “If countries continue adding renewable capacity at the same scale recorded in 2023, capacity will more than double by the end of the decade.”

Politico also notes that achieving the new COP28 goal of tripling availability would require increasing annual additions from 500 gigawatts in 2023 to around 1,500 in 2030 — an annual growth rate of 17 percent.

This puts the COP28 target well within reach, as renewable energy grew by 17 percent annually on average between 2016 and 2023, according to analysis by think tank Ember.

At this point, it is valid to ask the question: Are COPs of any use?

The answer is yes. Certainly, it is slow, it is complicated, it takes time to advance and reach agreements, but progress does finally happen.

It is no small achievement to find common, agreeable ground between almost 200 countries, covering a vast range of different realities and points of view, from those who see fossil fuels as the cornerstone of their economies to those who are most impacted by climate catastrophes.

But progress has been made, both in previous meetings and today.  Action will always get us somewhere. The only thing we are sure to see from inaction is a lack of results.

As another post by António Guterres states: “I remain confident that despite many differences, the world can unite & rise to the challenge of the climate emergency. Multilateralism remains humanity’s best hope. We must come together around real & practical solutions that match the scale of the crisis.”

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