The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP28, wrapped up on November 18th in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Over 45,000 participants from nearly 200 countries gathered to negotiate and make commitments aimed at tackling the climate crisis. This year’s conference was seen as especially crucial given the worsening impacts of climate change globally.
The two-week summit resulted in some wins but fell short of the transformative action many activists and vulnerable countries were hoping for. Here are some of the key outcomes and themes that emerged from COP28.
COP28 Dubai: Progress Made, But Big Emitters Resist Bold Moves
There was incremental progress made on several important issues:
Loss and Damage Fund Formally Established
- For the first time, wealthy nations agreed to establish a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable countries recover from climate impacts like floods, droughts, and rising seas.
- The fund will initially receive $100 billion per year starting in 2024. But there are still specifics around where the money will come from and how it will be distributed that must be worked out.
- Over 140 world leaders pledged to end deforestation by 2030. This builds on a similar promise made in 2021 to conserve forests, which are crucial carbon sinks.
- But Indonesia and Malaysia did not sign on, dampening the announcement. Brazil also refused to endorse the deforestation goal.
However, the world’s largest emitters were accused of blocking stronger climate action:
- The United States and European Union refused to update their 2030 emissions reduction targets in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
- Major developing emitters like China and India strongly resisted efforts to phase down all fossil fuel use.
So while some progress occurred, the commitments stopped short of the urgent system-wide transformation that scientists say is required. Most country climate plans still put Earth on track for around 2.5°C of warming this century if fully implemented.
Contentious Negotiations Around Mitigation
Tensions flared around the issue of who bears responsibility for cutting emissions:
Disagreements Over 1.5°C Target
- Developing nations that stand to suffer most from extreme weather events demanded that countries affirm the 1.5°C warming limit agreed to in Paris.
- But with current pledges putting the world on track for double that temperature rise, richer nations like the United States resisted for fears they’d face increased demands to make even steeper emissions cuts.
Battle Over Fossil Fuel Phaseout
Perhaps no issue was more hotly debated than language around reducing fossil fuel use:
- India, supported by other developing countries, insisted that any deal must recognize different energy transition timelines between rich and poor nations. This was seen by some as an effort to resist global moves away from coal and oil.
- Wealthy countries like Switzerland countered by pushing to ramp down all coal, oil, and gas instead of using vaguer terms like “phase down unabated coal” that left loopholes. They wanted developing nations to commit to stop increasing fossil fuel production as well.
In the end, uncompromising stances from both sides resulted in little meaningful progress on enshrining a global transition away from fossil fuels into the COP28 Dubai outcome documents.
Insufficient Climate Finance Commitments
Another flashpoint was the lack of concrete promises from developed nations around climate financing:
- Despite demands, there were no pledges to increase public climate finance flows beyond the unmet annual $100 billion goal already in place.
- With developing countries facing over $1 trillion in climate damages annually by 2050, this angered delegates fearing they cannot adequately prepare and respond without assistance.
Wealthy countries reiterated excuses like budget constraints and the financial crisis while developing nations accused them of not taking financial obligations seriously enough. Unless climate funding sees a major boost, it may continue hampering future climate talks.
Incremental Progress But Nowhere Close to Meeting Scale of Crisis
In the end, COP28 Dubai did achieve hard-fought progress on some important issues like loss and damage and deforestation. But the conference also exposed just how wide the rift remains between countries at different stages of development around mitigating and responding to climate change.
With scientific reports warning of increasingly extreme climate impacts in coming years, the pace of change remains far too slow. COP28 Dubai was a missed opportunity for wealthy polluting countries to meaningfully strengthen their emission reduction targets and financial aid. Until they do, the most vulnerable populations globally will continue bearing the deadly brunt of a crisis they did little to cause.
The road ahead will only get steeper as the climate emergency escalates. COP28 Dubai was another small step forward, but the world remains nowhere close to demonstrating the collective bold action demanded by the scale of the threat. The coming years will show whether or not world leaders can finally muster the political will to avert catastrophic warming.
What key outcomes emerged from COP28?
Key outcomes included formally establishing a loss and damage fund, over 140 world leaders pledging to end deforestation by 2030, and incremental progress on other issues. But the summit fell short of the transformative action needed to tackle the climate crisis.
Why did tensions flare around mitigating climate change?
Tensions arose because developing nations demanded affirming the 1.5°C warming limit and reducing fossil fuel use, while wealthier nations resisted over concerns about economic impacts and feasibility. Disagreements remained unresolved.
Why was climate financing a flashpoint at COP28?
Despite demands from developing nations, there were no new pledges to increase climate finance beyond the unmet $100 billion annual goal already in place. With climate damages escalating, this angered vulnerable countries needing assistance to prepare and respond.
Did COP28 achieve enough to address the climate emergency?
No. Incremental progress occurred, but COP28 was a missed opportunity for wealthy high-emitting nations to meaningfully strengthen their emissions reductions and financial aid. The pace of change remains too slow compared to the scale of the climate threat.
What needs to happen at future climate conferences?
Wealthy countries must finally commit to much more ambitious climate action in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C, including updating 2030 emissions targets, enshrining fossil fuel phaseouts, and boosting climate finance to over $1 trillion annually by 2050.