As the world grapples with escalating climate challenges, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emerges as a pivotal event in the global environmental calendar. Since its inception in 1992, the UNFCCC has been the main international stage for negotiating cooperative responses to climate change. Over the years, these conferences have seen varying degrees of success, from the groundbreaking Kyoto Protocol to the landmark Paris Agreement. Each COP has built upon the foundations laid by its predecessors, evolving in response to the world’s changing needs and scientific understandings of climate change. COP28 is no exception, and it plays a crucial role in shaping the future of global climate policy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly warned that the window for effective action is rapidly closing. The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident and devastating, with extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and severe biodiversity loss. In this context, COP28 is not just another meeting but a call to action, a plea for escalated efforts, and a platform for tangible commitments.
The World is Getting Warmer
The journey to COP28 is laden with decades of climate diplomacy and scientific research. The UNFCCC, established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, set the stage for global cooperation on climate change. Its annual conferences have been instrumental in bringing together nations to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to collaborate on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol marked the first binding emission reduction commitments for developed countries. However, the real game-changer was the Paris Agreement 2015, where 196 parties committed to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, aiming for 1.5 degrees. This agreement shifted the focus from binding targets for developed nations to a more inclusive approach, encouraging all countries to contribute according to their capabilities and circumstances. Despite these agreements, progress has been uneven. The urgency highlighted by scientists has not always translated into decisive political action. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and commitments made under the Paris Agreement are insufficient to meet the 1.5-degree target. The world has witnessed this inaction’s physical and economic ramifications, with vulnerable communities often bearing the brunt of climate impacts. COP28 is, therefore, not just another conference.
It represents a crucial opportunity for the world to recalibrate its approach, strengthen commitments, and accelerate action. The decisions made here will have far-reaching implications, determining whether the global community can align its ambitions with the reality of the climate crisis.
The objectives of COP28 were manifold, but they converged on a singular imperative: to catalyze global efforts in combating climate change more effectively and equitably. As nations converged, several key issues dominated the agenda, each pivotal in steering the direction of global climate policy. Central to the discussions was the goal of achieving carbon neutrality. With the IPCC advocating for global carbon neutrality by mid-century to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, COP28 was a critical platform for countries to update and intensify their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These revised commitments were vital in bridging the gap between current pledges and the targets set by the Paris Agreement.
Another critical aspect was climate financing. Developing countries sought increased support from developed nations to adapt to climate impacts and transition to green economies. COP28 was expected to address the unmet promise of mobilizing $100 billion per year in climate finance, a goal of not only environmental policy but also justice and equity. As climate impacts intensified, building resilience and adapting to inevitable changes became paramount. COP28 needed to foster agreements prioritizing adaptation measures, especially for vulnerable nations disproportionately affected by climate change.
It included discussions on infrastructure resilience, sustainable agriculture, and disaster risk reduction.
The concept of ‘loss and damage’, which refers to the costs already incurred by countries least responsible for, but most affected by climate change, was also expected to feature prominently. COP28 provided a platform to negotiate mechanisms for compensating these nations, an issue of growing importance in climate negotiations. These objectives reflected the increasing complexity of climate change negotiations. They were not just about reducing emissions but also about addressing the broader socio-economic dimensions of climate change. COP28 stood as a testament to the evolving nature of these discussions, where the focus was on inclusive and just solutions that acknowledged the varied capacities and responsibilities of different countries.
The success of COP28 hinged not just on the decisions made but also on the actors involved. A diverse array of participants was essential in ensuring that the agreements reached were comprehensive and actionable. All eyes were on the representatives of the participating countries, especially major emitters and those most vulnerable to climate impacts. The stances and commitments of these nations significantly influenced the conference’s outcomes. The role of non-governmental organizations, environmental activists, and indigenous groups was critical in holding nations accountable and ensuring that the voices of the most affected were heard. These groups provided valuable insights and ground-level perspectives crucial for informed decision-making. Researchers and scientists were pivotal in informing policy with the latest findings and projections. Their input was crucial for ensuring the strategies and commitments were based on sound scientific understanding. The involvement of the private sector, including industry leaders and investors, was vital in mobilizing resources and driving innovation in climate solutions. Their engagement was key to transitioning to sustainable practices and achieving the ambitious targets set by global climate policies.
COP28, like its predecessors, faced many challenges and controversies that could impact its effectiveness and outcomes. The participating countries’ varying political will and economic capabilities were one of the most significant challenges. While some nations pushed for ambitious climate action, others, often driven by short-term economic interests, were more reticent. This disparity created a complex negotiation environment, where reaching a consensus could be arduous. A persistent issue in climate negotiations was the gap between the commitments made by countries and the actual implementation of these promises. This gap undermined the efforts to combat climate change effectively and raised questions about the credibility of international agreements. The principle of climate justice was central to COP28, especially in discussions around climate finance and loss and damage. Developing countries advocated for fair treatment, considering they bore less responsibility for the climate crisis but suffered disproportionately from its impacts. This issue remained a contention and was crucial for ensuring equitable and effective climate action.
COP28 was not immune to controversies, often arising from the perceived influence of fossil fuel industries, the adequacy of commitments by major emitters, and the handling of climate finance. These controversies could overshadow the conference, affecting public perception and the willingness of parties to collaborate.
Despite these challenges, COP28 had the potential to make significant strides in global climate action. The conference aimed to result in updated NDCs, with stronger emission reduction targets and enhanced climate financing pledges. These agreements were crucial for keeping the Paris Agreement’s goals within reach. COP28 likely highlighted the role of technological advancements and innovation in addressing climate change. This included discussions on renewable energy, carbon capture and storage technologies, and sustainable infrastructure. The decisions made at COP28 shaped future climate policies, influencing national and international approaches to emission reductions, adaptation strategies, and climate finance. The outcomes of COP28 had long-term implications for the environment, economies, and societies globally. Successful agreements could pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient future, while failure to achieve meaningful action could exacerbate the climate crisis.
COP28 stood as a defining moment in the ongoing battle against climate change. As the world convened to address one of the most daunting challenges of our time, the conference’s importance could not be overstated. It was a diplomatic gathering and a crucial opportunity for tangible, decisive action. The climate crisis is a global issue that transcends national borders, requiring unprecedented levels of international collaboration. COP28 provided a unique platform for this cooperation, bringing together nations, NGOs, the private sector, and civil society. The success of the conference, and indeed the broader fight against climate change, hinged on the ability of these diverse stakeholders to work together towards common goals. While COP28 could set the agenda and commitments, the real test lay in implementing these agreements. The world had witnessed too often the gap between promises and action. Therefore, it was crucial that the momentum generated at COP28 translated into continuous and concrete action at national and global levels.
The journey did not end with COP28. Climate action is an ongoing process, requiring constant reassessment and adaptation to new challenges and scientific insights. The commitments made at COP28 must be viewed as stepping stones towards more ambitious and effective strategies in the future. This entailed adhering to the agreements made and being willing to enhance them as circumstances evolved. As COP28 concluded, the world watched to see whether its outcomes would be sufficient to meet the urgency of the climate crisis. The conference was a chance to redirect our global trajectory toward a more sustainable and equitable future. It was a call to all nations and individuals to recognize the gravity of the situation and to act collectively and decisively. The actions taken today would determine the legacy left for future generations.
Ph.D. completed at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa (SSSUP)