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COP28 closing: A historically lukewarm outcome

Despite the many loopholes, Parties applauded the passing of the “UAE Consensus”. Afterwards, Anne Rasmussen, Samoa lead negotiator and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), delivered a statement (photo credit: UNFCCC Youtube Channel)

Highlights of the Global Stocktake decision text

On the afternoon of 13 December, a day after COP28 was due to end, the Parties came together to officially close COP28. By then, the venue was nearly empty with participants heading back to their home countries to grapple with the continued vulnerabilities their communities face.

A few hours before they gathered, the Global Stocktake decision text was released and met with much criticism and disappointment. This is the key outcome as it lays out gaps and deficiencies in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, key highlights include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • The agreement clearly stated a consensus to “transition away from fossil fuels.” However, the text does not explicitly mention a full fossil fuel phaseout. The text is also rife with loopholes as “transition energy systems” and “transition fuels” were not fully elaborated.
  • According to reports in the media, Prof Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research stated that “the Cop28 agreement will not enable the world to hold the 1.5C limit. The fossil-fuel statement remains too vague, with no hard and accountable boundaries for 2030, 2040 and 2050.”
  • The text notes the “increase in climate finance from developed countries in 2021 to USD 89.6 billion” but highlights with “deep regret” the undelivered finances to bridge gaps by developed countries. 
  • It is reflected that the Loss and Damage fund is now at USD 792 million which is only a mere fraction (less than 1%) to what vulnerable countries need.
  • The decision acknowledges gaps to respond to the increased scale of loss and damage, and non-economic losses and damage.
  • Multilateral development banks and other financial institutions are called to further scale up investments in climate action and ensure climate finance access is in the form of grants. However, reforming financial systems remains a key concern.
  • The decision highlights “attaining climate-resilient food and agricultural production and supply and distribution of food” as an adaptation measure, but there is no mention of industrial agriculture, and what the agendas are of over 340 agribusiness lobbyists.

Cries of concern and accountability in the COP28 closing plenary

The closing plenary started with a proud Sultan Al Jaber applauding and congratulating everyone’s efforts for having reached a “historic deal”. “Future generations may not know your names, but they will owe you a debt of gratitude,” he addressed the Party representatives gathered at the plenary hall.

Dubbing it as the “UAE Consensus”, the COP28 President proceeded to gavel the agreement and was met with a standing ovation. As soon the applause died down, Anne Rasmussen, Samoa lead negotiator and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) spoke out with integrity that none of the AOSIS representatives where in the room when the agreement was passed.

“We have come to the conclusion that the course correction we have needed has not been secured. It is not enough to reference the science and then ignore what the science is telling us we should do,” she stated. Many of the delegates stood up and applauded in solidarity, along with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell.

The sentiments of AOSIS were shared by many of the developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in which they criticized the agreement as the “litany of loopholes”. They also raised that the agreement barely referenced the concepts of equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), a UNFCCC principle that acknowledges the different capabilities and differing responsibilities of individual countries in addressing climate change

Party representatives from Latin America and African countries emphasized that the use of “transition fuels” as one of the solutions to accelerate the energy transition can lead to “colonialism of decarbonization.” The Bolivia delegation also highlighted “blockers” that distorted the negotiations. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia echoed their supposed solidarity with the concerns of AOSIS, LDCs, and developing countries, but continued to lobby for the scaling-up of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Holding out on tough hope beyond COP28

It is a huge struggle to grapple with the entirety of the COP process and its latest outcome. “Options without obligations” and a “death sentence” are some of the captions for a COP without true ambition. Over 100 nations witnessed the arm wrestling by oil-rich nations to stop any mention of fossil fuel phaseout in the final document which has been the fundamental failure since COP21 in 2015. Many of these same countries are still dealing with conflicting political and economic realities in their national contexts.

Disappointment is an understatement as countries weave loopholes in the text while doing business as usual. The world is entering a high probability of breaching the 1.5°C degree tipping point by 2030. Crumbs will be given to countries and the world will rush aid packages when the next disaster strikes. The struggle goes on as the poor and the youth are not really referenced in this contest.

The process has been difficult, and COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan will not be easier.

Yet, it is worth pausing and being still for a moment. From the beginning, UN Secretary-General António Guterres among others sought to sustain political integrity in the face of conflict. While COP28 proceeded with two wars close by, the purpose of COP did not collapse into accusation and counter accusation between peoples. This is an important moment in history for all – bringing nearly 200 countries together is an achievement for all the limitations of UN processes.

The faith voice is also being acknowledged much more coherently in the UN process, as faith organizations come together in response to the moral and humble call for justice. Our challenge is to find ways to remain engaged in our national contexts while accompanying the concerns of the youth and the poor.

May we continue to seek to serve better the human family and the diversity of life that belongs to future generations.

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