COP28: key takeaways

This year’s World Climate Summit in Dubai ends with a strong commitment to science

The joint final declaration references the latest IPCC report, specifically the 6th Assessment Report released this year. This is important, as it signifies that the global stocktake and the alignment of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2025 are grounded in the most current and robust scientific data available.

Article by Philipp Sauter, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg

The emphasis on the IPCC report is reflected in the explicit reference to emission reduction targets: 43 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2035. The transformative shift away from fossil fuels, a landmark achievement of COP28, is expressly grounded in scientific evidence. All countries worldwide have now reached a consensus on this matter, including major oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iraq. 

In the final days of the negotiations, a notable momentum emerged. The decisive factor was the abandonment of the "phase-out" formulation, which was vehemently rejected by the oil-producing countries during the negotiations. However, the substantial pressure applied by over 100 states, including the threat of allowing the COP to fail, revisiting the traumatic experience at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, prompted a shift in focus towards a "transition" as a face-saving solution.

 It is worth noting that this transition represents just one component in an extensive set of measures, providing states with significant flexibility, especially in tailoring the specifics of the transition. At the same time, the language pertaining to subsidies has been moderated, and there is now recognition of a potential role for transitional fuels, such as e-fuels.  

The two objectives of tripling the capacity of renewable energies by 2030 and doubling the pace of energy efficiency within the same timeframe are included in the broader framework of transforming energy systems. What these targets have in common is that states retain the autonomy to determine the specific approach, allowing each country to pursue its unique path. The goal is predetermined, but the pathway to achieving it is flexible. However, there is no explicit differentiation between countries of the Global North and South, a point that drew criticism from the Global South, particularly Bolivia, during the final plenary session. While the entire document is not legally binding on an international scale (like the resolutions of the UN General Assembly), it employs language with a relatively high level of diplomatic binding force, using terms like "calls upon."

While the global stocktake and the energy transition, in particular, continue to dominate headlines, it is regrettable that there has been little tangible progress on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The disagreements regarding the functioning of emissions trading remain deeply entrenched. This unresolved issue will once again take centre stage at COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

It will also be crucial for the global community to establish a new quantified target for climate financing. Additionally, countries are expected to submit their initial transparency reports, which will become a biennial requirement moving forward. COP29 assumes added significance as it marks the final meeting before countries submit their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which must reflect a heightened level of ambition compared to the existing NDCs.

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