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News 19 December 2023

Top story of the week: Highly disputed COP28 final agreement garners praise and criticism from international community

COP28, which concluded last week in Dubai, saw the gathering of hundreds of global leaders and climate experts to finalise an agreement on combating climate change. The negotiations resulted in the approval of a widely debated text that calls for a transition away from fossil fuels, while country assessments of carbon emissions provided a global wake-up call on reaching key Paris targets.

The final deal was reached on Wednesday, 13 December, one day after the official end of the negotiations. Although this agreement is the first text at a COP that actively encourages countries to move away from fossil fuel consumption, it omits language linked to the "phase down" or "phase out" of fossil fuels, which was advocated for by more than 100 parties in attendance. However, in order to secure a majority of consensus, a compromise was reached with the inclusion of the term "transition away."

Moreover, the agreement also calls for a "phase down" of the "unabated" use of coal. The phrasing "unabated" coal use is another controversial sticking point as it continues to allow unchecked levels of coal to be burned as long as the subsequent carbon dioxide that is generated is more regularly taken out of the atmosphere and stored underground: a method criticized by climate experts as insufficient in reducing the impact of emissions.

Against this backdrop, some argue this first-ever deal on fossil fuels is a historic milestone, while others contend it is weak due to several flawed details and the existence of a series of loopholes of which the fossil fuel industry could take advantage of. Furthermore, the first progress reviews towards meeting Paris targets were conducted at COP28, in which countries were found to be lagging behind in limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This progress assessment has therefore pointed to the need for updated climate plans and more comprehensive and efficient multilateral action in tackling this issue. COP33 in 2028 is the next occasion in which this global review is set to take place again.

Although the first opening days of the conference resulted in an agreement on the topical ‘‘loss and damage fund,’’ developed countries have received criticism on the amount of funds they are willing to contribute, with the pledged amount of $700m falling significantly short of the $400bn damage associated with climate change each year. The early days of the summit also saw the endorsement from more than 100 countries to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency measures by 2030. This Global Pledge, developed in collaboration between the European Commission and the COP28 Presidency with the support of the IEA and IRENA, was a key COP28 objective the EU was eager to secure. However, experts have begun to point to the challenges associated with the renewable target, most principally underscoring the financial pressure on developing nations. As interest rates rise in advanced economies, it is becoming increasingly expensive for developing nations with high levels of debt to repay. According to the International Monetary Fund, approximately 70 countries are in "debt distress," meaning they have already defaulted on loan payments, or they are on track to do so. As such, expensive debt repayments result in minimal funds available to inject into sectors such as climate change mitigation.

Finally, Azerbaijan was recently announced as the host of COP29 taking place in November 2024. Building on this year’s climate negotiations, in which controversies have surrounded the conference president due to both his role as head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and his comments questioning the science of climate change, activists are once again criticizing the choice of host country over both its oil production and its human rights record.