As we alluded to in our pre-COP video (which you can watch here), the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement will be concluded at COP28. Although it is an important milestone in terms of establishing a comprehensive picture of what has been achieved since the Paris Agreement was entered into and what remains to be done, discussions appear to be fraught. Clearly, an exercise of this kind allows for the re-opening of old wounds around substantive matters such as how to share responsibility for mitigation efforts. On this theme, at the opening ceremony, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, urged participants to signal the decline of the fossil fuel industry. Current expectations are that decisions in this regard will be in the context of the Global Stocktake.
In an early “win” for the conference, and as a result of the strenuous efforts over the last year, the loss and damage fund – a much-hailed outcome of COP27 – has been operationalised by some significant financial pledges being made, including a USD 100 million pledge from the UAE and Germany, a GBP 60 million pledge from the UK and a EUR 225 million pledge from the EU (inclusive of Germany’s contribution).
COPs have always been fertile territory for grand gestures (which do not always materialise). President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE, announced the establishment of a USD 30 billion fund for climate solutions, designed to bridge the finance gap and stimulate clean energy investments by 2030. This was somewhat overshadowed by reports that COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber had claimed that there is “no science” behind calls to phase out fossil fuels as a necessary means to limit the impacts of climate change, a remark which was subsequently clarified. Other notable announcements included that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil signalled Brazil’s commitment to setting ambitious national climate goals like achieving zero deforestation by 2030.
Grand gestures are in no way limited to the public sphere though, and COP28 saw the launch of the Climate Club. The aim of the Climate Club is to make decarbonised industrial production the default business case. On similar lines, the Industrial Transition Accelerator aims to speed decarbonisation across heavy-emitting sectors.
As we have previously reported on, there have been a number of concerns in respect of the voluntary carbon markets (read our legal update on the voluntary carbon markets here). Although voluntary markets are largely the preserve of extra-COP activities (setting aside some inevitable interaction with Article 6 of the Paris Agreement), COPs nonetheless provide an excellent forum for initiatives in this space. As such, several international organisations, including the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the VCMI, and the ICVCM came together to establish an ‘end-to-end’ integrity framework that is intended to provide consistent guidance on decarbonisation, including the use of carbon credits for residual emissions. Meanwhile, the COP Presidency hosted a Roundtable on Progress Towards High-Integrity VCMs, at which John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said “I have become a firm believer in the power of carbon markets to drive increased climate ambition and action, and the VCM is a vital tool to keep 1.5C in reach”.
Coming out of the first week of the COP28 negotiations, observers have pointed out that there seems to be no clear pathway as to what issues will now be dealt with. Ministers are now in town, but it does not appear that specific agenda items have been referred to them to enable them to move forwards. There seems to be general acceptance of a commitment to doubling or tripling renewables (over a period yet to be determined), but any commitments to phasing “out” fossil fuels are seen as much more controversial. A particular disappointment has been the collapse of the discussions around adaptation (i.e. the ability to adapt to the effects of climate change). In a world of three underlying “pillars” of the discussions (mitigation, loss and damage and adaption), all supported by a commitment to finance, the absence of adaptation leaves an awkward gap to fill. It also makes it difficult to round off the Global Stocktake in a cohesive manner. Aside from that, the fact that developed nations have not yet lived up to previous climate finance commitments remains a thorn in the side.