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Decoding COP 28 - Breaking ground or broken promises?

The scorching sands of Dubai experienced a slight respite as the all-important climate summit that defines the future of our planet came to a close, leaving behind a mixed bag of accomplishments and unmet pledges. Did we witness a watershed moment in the fight against climate change or was it just another hesitant circumnavigation of the emissions crossroads is a question of debate that needs to be delved into. 

Between November 30 and December 12, 2023, the much awaited 28th Conference of Parties (COP-28) took place as a landmark global assembly. Drawing delegates from 197 nations, the conference's mission was to grapple with the urgent spectre of global warming and chart the course for future climate actions. COP 28 unfolded amidst scepticism as the UAE, a significant oil player, hosted the conference. Concerns arose about potential greenwashing, given the country's substantial investments in fossil fuels, casting doubt on its commitment to genuine climate action. Issues of conflicting interests and a questionable human rights record further intensified reservations about the suitability of the UAE as the host for a global climate summit.

On a positive note, the Global Stocktake (GST) ultimately reached its conclusion. The GST is fundamentally a comprehensive assessment of countries' progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2° C and ideally to 1.5° C. The main aim being ratcheting up global climate ambition before the end of the decade taking into account the Paris Agreement and each country's different national circumstances, the  GST process consists of three components: gathering relevant information, assessing progress and planning to address any shortcomings. This extended two-year assessment served as a stark reminder and a sobering reality check regarding the present state of climate affairs.

The COP28 outcome mentions the projection of peak global emissions between 2020-2025 and called on nations to take rapid actions to reduce emissions. Furthermore, the inclusion of ‘all fossil fuels” in COP28 constitutes a groundbreaking milestone, marking a significant achievement in the thirty-year history of the Conference of Parties. Previous climate agreements have encouraged nations to cut emissions but avoided explicitly using the term "fossil fuels", despite the fact that the combustion of oil, gas and coal is the main driver of global warming. The final version of the agreement however included some worrisome changes aptly described as “litany of loopholes” by the Alliance of Small Island States. For instance, the language regarding coal was softened, shifting from "rapidly phasing down unabated coal" to simply discussing "efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power." Additionally, there's now a paragraph acknowledging the role of "transitional fuels," which means gas and possibly oil in the transition to cleaner energy. Instead of urging a complete "phaseout," the document now calls for a "transition away" from central fossil fuel use. 

Another pivotal milestone in COP28 is the operationalisation of the long-awaited Loss and Damage (L&D) fund, a cornerstone in the pursuit of climate justice. The announcement came after hard-fought negotiations, culminating in the decision at the conclusion of the COP27 discussions in Egypt last year. Designed to tackle the inevitable impacts of climate change, the fund's inaugural four-year hosting by the World Bank and oversight by an independent secretariat set the stage for action. However, critical challenges loom, including concerns about the World Bank's fees, insufficient committed amounts, unclear replenishment plans and the reliance on voluntary contributions. Transparency issues, management conditions and the prospect of the fund exiting the World Bank add layers of complexity. Despite initial commitments, who will actually pay the hundreds of billions of dollars for adaptation and unavoidable impacts remains unclear. While the L&D fund represents a positive stride, it comes with a lot of unanswered questions underscoring the urgency for further clarity and actions.

The signing of the renewable energy pledge at COP28 by nearly 100 countries to triple the world's green energy capacity to 11,000 GW by 2030, thereby reducing the reliance on fossil fuels in generating energy was a noteworthy accord. The pledge is called the "Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge," and it requires countries to double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around 2% to over 4% every year until 2030. Additionally, over 150 countries have endorsed the Global Methane Pledge, which obligates them to reduce methane emissions from human activities by 30 % compared to 2020 levels by the end of the decade. If successfully implemented, this initiative has the potential to prevent a temperature increase of 0.2° C by 2050.

To add to this, a significant breakthrough emerged in a high level recognition of the impact of climate change on human health. The inaugural "health day" at COP marked a pivotal moment, culminating in a ministerial session attended by 49 health ministers and representatives from over 100 nations. The call for countries to endorse a Declaration of Climate and Health garnered support from 142 nations, committing to addressing health-related challenges posed by climate change. Notably, 2.1 billion USD in new funding was pledged at COP28 to address health, food security and the protection of vulnerable communities worldwide. 

COP28 marked another substantial progress in the global effort to protect and restore mangroves, gaining support from over 40 new governments for the Mangrove Breakthrough initiative. This global target aims to safeguard and restore 15 million hectares of mangroves by 2030, with the goal of securing 4 billion USD in sustainable financing. Additionally, a formal partnership was announced between the Mangrove Alliance for Climate and the Mangrove Breakthrough, garnering backing from 49 governments (representing approximately 60% of the world's mangroves) and over 50 non-state actors committed to halting mangrove destruction by 2030.

On the domestic front, India has reaffirmed its ambitious domestic climate goals, aiming to reduce emissions intensity by 45% by 2030, increase non-fossil fuel share to 50% in the energy mix by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. However, it resisted endorsing the "phasing out" of all fossil fuels, preferring a "phasing down" approach that considers the energy needs of developing nations. Additionally, India abstained from the COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health, citing concerns about financing mechanisms for developing countries.

As the world's fourth-largest producer of renewable energy, India also demonstrated its commitment by launching the Green Credit Initiative with the UAE to finance clean energy projects in developing nations. Emphasising innovation and technology transfer, it showcased progress in its transition to a low-carbon economy. Overall, India's position at COP28 was a mix of pragmatism, ambition and a strong focus on equity and developing country concerns. While some criticised India's stance on fossil fuels, the country's emphasis on domestic action, renewable energy and international cooperation remains crucial for tackling the global climate crisis.

While these ambitious pledges reflect commendable intent, the critical aspect lies in the absence of detailed strategies on how countries plan to actualize these targets. Mere promises, no matter how well-intentioned, lack the impact that comprehensive action plans can provide. It is imperative to move beyond verbal commitments and articulate robust, tangible steps. Now, more than ever is the time for nations to substantiate their promises by truly putting their resources and efforts where their commitment lies.

It is now safe to say that  COP 28 has not been the climate panacea we were hoping for, but it wasn't a complete failure either. Though the intent was commendable and steps taken were in the right direction, the journey ahead is a long, winding road riddled with potholes and detours. As we chart the course forward, the onus is on COP 29 to transcend mere rhetoric and deliver tangible outcomes. Transformational finance demands not just promises but a concrete roadmap with clear timelines and substantial financial commitments to fortify vulnerable nations. The long-standing issue of loss and damage justice cannot be deferred any longer; COP 29 must pioneer a credible mechanism to address this overdue concern. While the commitment to "ratchet up" ambition is a laudable aspiration, it demands more than lofty declarations. It requires defined targets and robust accountability mechanisms. 

In the race against time for a sustainable future, the fight for a livable planet demands active participation rather than passive observation.As integral members of society, we should demand decisive action from our leaders and, through conscious choices in our daily lives, actively shape the positive changes we seek.. This is our moment and the time to act is now. 

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