In early December the annual ‘Conferences of the Parties’ (COP) met in the UAE for the 28th time to discuss all things environmental. With delegates representing national governments and the UN, this is one of the largest gatherings of influential politicians each year. This year alone, more than $85 billion in funding was raised in total to fund various climate issues.
Despite this engagement from governments, our planet has been pushed to its very limits, and it’s now or never for countries to come together to resolve our many environmental issues. So let’s take a peek at what COP-28 has really delivered.
The main take aways
Transition away from fossil fuels – Nearly every country in the world has agreed to “transition away from fossil fuels”. This was the first time that the COP explicitly addressed the need to end the use of coal, oil, and gas, the main drivers of the climate crisis. The agreement also calls for a tripling of renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, and the acceleration of technologies to help meet this.
We have discussed in previous blog articles the role fossil fuels have on damaging our seas, and the organisms that call it home. It can be catastrophic, killing organisms like corals and phytoplankton crucial for maintaining our planets climate!
However, this news to move away from fossil fuels is not without controversy. The phrasing of ‘transitioning away’ is weaker than ‘phasing out’ which saw far less support from countries exporting fossil fuels. There has also been some criticism in the specific wording that may allow loopholes for the continued exploration and use of fossil fuels for years to come to the agreement, including the addition of carbon capture and utilisation and storage (CCUS) and ‘transitional fuels.’
Loss and Damage Fund – One of the first outcomes of COP28 was the establishment of a loss and damage fund to support to developing countries that are already suffering from the effects of climate change. This includes extreme weather events, sea level rise, and biodiversity loss. These are a real challenge, especially the threat of complete destruction to many small South Pacific Nations from sea-level rise.
The $700 million pledged by the wealthier nations however, is no way near enough. With estimates of the cost of the damage ranging between $100 billion to $580 billion.
Global Stocktake – This year we see the first ‘Global Stocktake’ taken since it was established in the Paris Agreement. It was of course a main talking point at COP this year. These stocktakes are taken every 5 years to reflect on what actions are needed to keep to the agreement’s strong actions. The conclusions of this stocktake are unsurprising. It paints a stark picture that financial commitments and government actions need to be upped significantly if global warming is to stay below 1.5oC. We are not moving fast enough.
Private market – A new $30 billion private market climate capital fund was launched. It is intended this fund will be used to help mobilise private sector investment into low-carbon and climate-resilient projects, especially in emerging economies. The capital will leverage the expertise and resources of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the World Economic Forum, among others.
Other news for our seas
It is a little disappointing that the main conclusions make scant reference to plastic pollution at COP-28 and its plague on our oceans and planet. Whilst much of the discussion focussed on fossil fuels, we can’t forget fossil fuels have a huge impact on plastic production, and that plastic decomposition also releases harmful compounds into our atmosphere. The problem of plastics in this regard was a key point in the session “Plastics are no lifeboat for the fossil fuel industry”. A key factor in the discussion was the world’s addiction to plastics. If left untamed, we will burn through up to 20 per cent of the carbon budget for 1.5°C by 2040 – mainly from the production of primary polymers and conversion into products.
Some other smaller committees and groups met to discuss this crucial topic and reinforce previous UN measures and political co-operation like the Plastic Free Pacific, which fosters a stronger political agreement to tackle this problem in the Pacific Ocean.
Mangroves, however, came out as a winner from COP-28. These forests line the tropics and consist of highly specialised roots which can survive above ground in saltwater. These roots provide a crucial nursery habitat for many juvenile marine species, they also create a strong natural barrier, reducing the impact of storms, flooding and natural disasters. Sadly, mangroves have been lost at an alarming rate, mostly due to human developments along the coast.
These forests were a key talking point at COP-28, where a meeting gathered to discuss better protection for these forests, led by the Mangrove Breakthrough. The Mangrove Breakthrough Financial Roadmap was endorsed by some of the world’s largest financial institutions to provide better capital flow (aka Money!) to protect these forests. This is a hopeful move to protect one of the oceans most at-risk habitats.
Numerous sessions also looked at other key marine climate topics like coral reefs and their vulnerability in the face of the climate crisis. Time will tell, if these ambitions are fully realised.
A final note
The fact the climate is on the agenda for all governments is a good start. But gatherings, agreements, pledges, and money, are all not enough without swift action. The first global stock-take has highlighted we are way behind on preventing the 1.5oC rise in global temperatures. This would be catastrophic.
Whilst there seems to be political willing, we must be careful not to just accept these agreements at face value. We must hold these governments to account on their climate pledges if we want to avoid disaster. We too can also take heed of this advice and the conclusions of this conference, and make better decisions for ourselves, our friends, and families.