COP-out or COP-down? What’s in a ph(r)ase?
The success or failure of COP28 was widely deemed to be down to whether it was agreed to phase out (success) or phase down (failure) fossil fuel use globally. It turned out to be neither of those phrases, and in parallel, my lay interpretation is that similarly, COP28 was neither a success nor a failure. Of course the outcome of COP28 is complex and nuanced and I don’t intend to provide a comprehensive summary here – there are plenty of synopses readily available online (see references). In the meantime here are some of our ponderings on a couple of the main outcomes to pique your interest.
In the end, the phrase regarding fossil fuel use was ‘transition away [from]’. While it may not be the concrete ‘phase out’ that we desperately need, incredibly this is the first COP where fossil fuels were mentioned at all1. So it’s a start – it’s just frustrating that I’m not writing this after COP1 in 1995! The agreement of the final text came down to the wire, involving a very late night for delegates. This is something else that gives me hope – that so many countries insisted that the initial draft text didn’t go far enough and battled through the night to win the stronger words. It’s still not strong enough, especially for those countries at greatest threat from climate change, but considering the strong smell of oil and gas at COP28, it’s more than I expected. Like the Paris agreement it’s not legally binding, however, with the pledge to triple renewable energy production (although versus what baseline?)1, perhaps we don’t need a legal target to phase out fossil fuels, perhaps they will no longer be economically attractive enough? I’m no economist, but my perception is that while the pursuit of economic growth has fuelled climate change and nature depletion, perhaps market forces will signal the natural demise of fossil fuels? We just need it to happen soon enough.
The cruel paradigm of climate change is that the countries most vulnerable to climate change and whose very existence is threatened (ie low-lying island states), are generally the least responsible for the crisis. For members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the text on fossil fuels doesn’t go far enough and was reported to have been agreed without them2. However, one crumb of comfort may be the launch of the loss and damage fund for developing nations to adapt to climate change. The current pledges of deposits to this fund from the high-emitting nations have been criticised as being already allocated funds (so not new money) and insufficient to cover the costs of adapting to climate change2. But again, similar to the battle to acknowledge fossil fuels as dirty, such a fund was considered impossible just a few years ago3. Although diplomatic wins will be little comfort to communities on the front line.
So, on balance, CA-WN’s final text on the success or failure of COP28 is that ‘the words are going in the right direction but we need to accelerate the action’. If you’re as frustrated as we are with the international inertia, and indeed national inertia, remember that individual actions all help – the carbon demands of millions of people got us into this mess and can help get us out of it. Another huge influence we can have is on local and national policy – 2024 is very likely going to be an election year and we need climate policy up there with other key issues. Email your current MP and let them know how strongly you feel about climate change and biodiversity loss – they want your vote so tell them what they need to do in return for it.
1. The Guardian. Good Cop, bad Cop: what the Cop28 agreement says and what it means. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/dec/13/what-the-cop28-agreement-says-and-what-it-means. Accessed 4 January 2024
2. The Conversation. How COP28 failed the world’s small islands. Available at https://theconversation.com/how-cop28-failed-the-worlds-small-islands-219938. Accessed 4 January 2024
3. Bond. What were the real successes and failures of COP28, and what does it mean moving forward? Available at https://www.bond.org.uk/news/2023/12/what-were-the-real-successes-and-failures-of-cop28-and-what-does-it-mean-moving-forward/. Accessed 4 January 2024