COP28 Post-Event Summary19/12/2023
The much-anticipated COP28 Conference opened on 30th November with HE Sultan Al Jabeur calling for a collectively ‘different mindset’. Speaking at the opening ceremony at Dubai’s Expo City, the COP28 chief emphasised the need to reframe the climate conversation and include oil and gas companies in the solution. His comments were echoed by His Royal Highness King Charles III at the Business and Philanthropy Forum. The King called for a renewed focus on Public-Private partnerships, before ending his speech by emphasising that ‘The Earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to it’.
The overarching goal of the COP28 Presidency has been a successful completion of the first global stocktake – a progress report of COP21 and the Paris Agreement. UN Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, described the undertaking as ‘an accountability exercise…[and] an acceleration exercise’.
Despite the undeniable challenges associated with an oil-producing nation hosting COP, there have been notable breakthrough agreements. The realisation of the Loss and Damage fund, worth up to $500bn, and agreement on lowering methane emissions, orchestrated by KSA and supported by $1bn from the COP Presidency, demonstrates COP28’s success in mobilising both public and private capital. Additionally, the UAE’s finance sector committed AED 1 trillion to sustainable financing efforts which, when viewed alongside the announcement of the fourth development phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, shows the marked change in the UAE’s domestic environmental rhetoric and their commitment to renewable energy. COP28 was always going to include the oil industry, and achieving net zero requires their cooperation. The UAE has successfully navigated away from the us – them mindset and has announced a number of important climate pledges.
Whilst there has been persistent criticism of the number of fossil fuel lobbyists present at COP28 progress has been made in transitioning the fossil fuel industry. On2nd December, 50 oil and gas firms, representing 40% of global production, signed the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter; re-committing to the goal of net zero by 2050. On top of this, John Kerry, the US Climate Secretary, led COP towards the Nuclear Fusion Plan, an international agreement to increase R&D into Nuclear Energy. This has been followed up by the recently signed UAE Consensus, in which 197 countries (Including EU representatives), supported COP28’s concluding document which, for the first time, explicitly addresses fossil fuels and the need for the industry’s decarbonisation. Sultan Al Jaber stated that, ‘we have language on fossil fuels in our final agreement for the first time ever’. The consensus represents a major step and significant progress when compared to previous COP summits.
Political tensions have undoubtedly been present throughout the conference. The Gaza-Israel conflict resumed fighting on 1st December (2nd day of COP28), resulting in activist marches at Expo City and in Dubai. Reports have suggested that ministers used COP to discuss the ongoing tensions behind closed doors. These geopolitical strains were furthered by Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Abu Dhabi on 7th December. The Russian President was greeted with a military flypast and ceremonial welcome, despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The resultingly negative sentiment of Western media will not have come as a surprise; the UAE’s position as COP28 President has been perceived negatively in the West since its announcement. Nonetheless, Sultan Al Jaber and the UAE have avoided controversy and have been able to confront the climate crisis head-on through successful partnerships with both governments and industry leaders.
The UAE Consensus
Much like the Paris Agreement, getting ministers to align on a climate agreement has taken time, Despite being scheduled to finish on 12th December, talks continued into the 13th before the final approval of COP28’s leading document, the UAE Consensus. The document sets out a clear decarbonisation roadmap, in which the fossil fuel industry is directly referenced for the first time. The document calls for the need to transition ‘away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner…to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science’. The consensus aims to compound the achievements of COP21 and keep the 1.5-degree goal within reach.
Alongside the standalone pledges signed at COP28, the UAE Consensus will be formally drafted into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – commonly known as each country’s decarbonisation strategy.
Reactions to the document have been mixed. Western and European states appear to have reacted positively – Wopke Hoekstra, the EU’s climate commissioner, labelled the announcement as ‘truly consequential’. However, Anne Rasmussen, the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, emotionally objected to the document, calling it ‘a litany of loopholes’; a comment echoed by the Climate Action Network and Columbian representative. Additionally, Brazil and Bolivia both expressed concern and the need for the global north and developed countries to ‘step up’ and support those, such as Bolivia, that remain imminently threatened by the effects of climate change.
Other important points
- Business and Philanthropy Forum: COP28’s private sector high-level forum has agreed to collectively mobilise $5bn in climate funding.
- Sustainable Investment: The Climate Investment Fund’s Climate Action and Investment Facility committed $500 million to fighting climate change.
- UK-Africa: The UK announced the first climate-resilient debt clauses for Africa, allowing for a pause in debt payment for countries affected by natural disasters.
- Nuclear Energy: 20+ countries have committed to tripling their Nuclear Energy Capacity by 2050. Additionally, Bill Gates’s nuclear company, TerraPower LLC, signed an agreement to explore the development of nuclear reactors in the UAE and Middle East.
- Arab Alliance: The Arab Coordination Group of regional and international DFI’s has allocated $10 billion to support the energy transition in developing countries.
- Urban Climate Action: The COP presidency has pledged $467 million to address the effects of climate change in big cities.
- COP29: Azerbaijan has been confirmed as the next COP President.
*A report from the International Energy Association (IEA) sees that if fully delivered on, pledges made at COP28 will result in 2030 GHG emissions being around 4 gigatonnes lower than was expected before the conference.
Sustainability and ESG is a core practice area for the H/Advisors network. This year at COP28, the strategic advisory consultant to the Middle East, H/Advisors Dubai, played a pivotal role working with regional and global clients with their strategy and communications. This included providing strategic counsel, stakeholder engagement, event and programming support, and media relations. A key highlight was supporting Stella McCartney with high-level stakeholder engagement for her sustainable clothing market launch which showcased next generation nature positive materials for both the fashion and construction industries. The team also supported a global manufacturing company on research, analysis, and briefing senior leadership pre and during the lead up to COP28. Key messaging scripts and media strategies helped secure Tier 1 press coverage in both English and Arabic publications. Their local knowledge and expertise also enabled the development of a targeted media strategy for a global leader on standards and regulation to launch their sustainability report at the climate conference.
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