Floods recently wreaked havoc in Libya, damaging critical infrastructure and killing more than 6,000 people. Wildfires in Canada burned 18.5 million hectares, an area the size of Syria. September 2023 set “gobsmackingly bananas” heat records that unsettled climate scientists.
These events over the last few months have added to the urgency for countries to correct course in the world’s fight against climate change. The next UN climate summit (COP28) in Dubai in November 2023 offers a prime opportunity to do so.
The COP28 summit is unique because it will feature the first-ever “Global Stocktake” of progress since the the international Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in 2015, creating a critical moment for stronger action. A Global Stocktake synthesis report published in September 2023 was a “truly damning report card” of current global efforts to confront climate change. But just as importantly, it offered a blueprint for how governments can and should move forward.
At COP28, countries must deliver a rapid response plan to the Global Stocktake that transforms every major system on Earth at a pace and depth not seen before, while also improving people’s lives and advancing climate justice. The success of COP28 hinges on whether the summit makes progress in four key areas:
- Responding to the UN’s first Global Stocktake;
- Transforming Earth’s systems — including energy, food and land use, and cities;
- Building resilience to the increasingly severe impacts of climate change; and
- Delivering climate finance to the world’s most vulnerable nations.
1) Adopt a Transformational Response to the Global Stocktake
The Global Stocktake is a critical component of the Paris Agreement framework, designed to take place every five years to spur increasingly ambitious climate action and motivate the next round of national climate commitments (known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs). The stocktake process has now moved from its technical phase, which concluded with the synthesis report published in September 2023, to a political one that will culminate at COP28. That will be the moment when countries need to not only acknowledge the gaps in action and financing thus far, but also clearly state where there has been progress and collectively agree on fundamental next steps.
Commitments reflected in the Global Stocktake outcome at COP28 will need to address transformational action in a comprehensive and balanced way across mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, finance and support. This will be particularly important in sectors and systems such as energy, transport, food systems and land use. In addition to aligning all financial flows with the goals of the Paris Agreement (see discussion below), there will need to be clarity on fulfilling existing finance commitments and improving the quantity, quality and accessibility of financial support to developing countries.
Critically, the response to the Global Stocktake should also include clear elements for the commitments countries should make in the next round of NDCs, to be submitted well in advance of COP30 in 2025. This next generation of NDCs will have 2035 dates for their targets, but should also include commitments to strengthen actions by 2030.
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At COP28, countries should agree to adopt economy-wide targets in their NDCs, covering all GHGs (including non-CO2 gases) that deliver the level of collective emissions reductions needed this decade to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the limit scientists say is necessary for avoiding some of the worst impacts of climate change. The stocktake outcome should also emphasize how new NDCs must include ambitious sectoral measures, effective adaptation implementation plans, just transition policies, finance assessments, efforts related to loss and damage, and subnational policies. The outcome from COP28 must also set out follow-up processes to make ambitious NDCs in 2025 a reality, including dialogues for countries to discuss how to develop their new NDCs. National and regional consultations in 2024 — akin to “localized stocktakes” — can also help in translating the outcomes of the Global Stocktake into ambitious NDCs.
2) Accelerate Systems Transformation
Addressing the climate crisis will require transforming every system and sector on Earth — from the way the world produces and consumes food and energy to the way it designs its cities. Progress across three systems will be especially critical at COP28:
Signal the end of the fossil fuel era and mobilize around alternatives
The fundamental role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis will take center stage at COP28. Two years ago at COP26 in Glasgow, the final outcome included a call to phase down unabated coal power. Last year in Sharm el-Sheikh, more than 80 countries indicated support to phase down all fossil fuels, though ultimately this proposal was not included in the final COP27 outcome. This year many countries have made reaching an agreement to phase out all fossil fuels a central goal for them in the negotiations.
Heading into COP28, the debate on fossil fuels centers on whether to adopt language to “phase out” or “phase down” fossil fuels, and if countries will commit to scaling back use of all fossil fuels or just unabated fossil fuels, which is when technologies to capture carbon pollution aren’t used.
Regardless of the phrasing negotiators ultimately land on, what’s essential is that the outcome prompts a rapid shift away from fossil fuels. And while carbon capture technology (often referred to as Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage, or CCUS) is necessary, its use should be limited and focused on those applications where it’s most needed.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) finds that for energy-related sectors to reach net-zero by 2050, measures like renewable energy deployment, fuel switching and electrification must collectively reduce energy-related emissions by 15 gigatons by 2030. In their scenario, CCS captures just 1 of those 15 gigatons by the end of this decade. Clearly, carbon capture and storage technology must not be used as an excuse to expand fossil fuel production or slow the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
Addressing the shift away from fossil fuels should also come with an intensive scale-up of alternatives. Earlier this year, the G20 agreed to triple renewable energy capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency. The COP decision on the Global Stocktake will offer an opportunity for all governments to collectively commit to these targets, as well as set goals for doubling fossil-free transport by 2030 (which is critical to cutting oil demand) and shifting investments from dirty to clean energy and transport.
Of course, shifting from fossil fuels toward renewable energy and fossil-free transport will be felt differently in each country, region and community. Governments must ensure at COP28 that the low-carbon transition leaves no one behind, including workers and communities reliant on the fossil fuel industry. An ambitious package of energy outcomes needs to be supported by commitments and mechanisms to scale and align public and private finance to support developing countries’ shift to cleaner sources of energy.
Finally, it’s essential that this UN climate summit not become a platform for pledges by the oil and gas industry that fail to tackle the core issue at stake. At COP28, the UAE is expected to announce a commitment from at least 20 major oil and gas companies to reduce methane leakage and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – but only for their own operations, not for the fuel they sell. By not addressing the so-called “scope 3” emissions of the fuel produced from their oil and gas extraction and then sold, the oil and gas industry is sidestepping the emissions that account for up to 95% of its contribution to the climate crisis.
Rally behind transformation of the global food and land use system
The world’s food and land use system is both deeply vulnerable to, as well as a key driver of, climate change. Food and land use are responsible for at least a third of global emissions, including through their outsized role in driving forest loss. At the same time, droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather are disrupting growing seasons and destroying farmers’ crops and livelihoods, exacerbating hunger and food insecurity across the world at a time of war, inflation and inequality.
COP28 will be the first climate summit to explicitly acknowledge the close interplay between food and land use and the climate crisis. The outcome of the Global Stocktake offers an opportunity to advance this agenda, as could the COP28 Presidency-led Emirates Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action. The declaration invites national governments to bring food and land use into the heart of the climate process, including by incorporating explicit food and land use targets into nations’ NDCs and national adaptation plans (NAPs).
The process of the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation of Climate Action on Agriculture and Food Security (SSJW) can also help drive a sustainable food and land use agenda forward at COP28. Parties should adopt a holistic approach to driving sustainable and resilient food systems, looking beyond agricultural production alone. Such an approach would encompass at least three key elements: nature-positive, resilient food production; healthy, affordable, sustainable diets and nutrition; and food loss and waste.
Elevate cities as critical partners in the climate fight
For the first time at COP28, a UN climate summit will feature a Local Climate Action Summit. The gathering will include hundreds of subnational leaders like mayors, governors, business executives and NGO representatives, with a focus on how they can better coordinate climate action with national governments.
Cities are critical to addressing climate change, as they account for 70% of global CO2 emissions and are on the front lines of increasingly frequent and severe climate hazards. At the same time, neither cities nor countries can solve the climate crisis on their own, nor build adequate resilience for the millions of climate vulnerable people that live in them. Research shows that while urban emissions can be cut 90% by 2050 through existing technologies and policy options, municipal governments can achieve only 28% of that potential without additional collaboration with national governments. Cities are also home to hundreds of millions of vulnerable residents living in informal settlements and lacking access to other core services, including many who migrate from rural areas in the wake of climate-related disasters.
At COP28, cities and national governments can agree on new ways to coordinate. For instance, countries can do more to incorporate subnational and non-state actors into their NDCs and other national climate policies, as well as increase finance and technical assistance to help subnational actors translate targets into action. Meanwhile, cities need to improve the transparency and ambition of their local climate goals. And for both countries and cities, transforming major shared systems like transport, buildings and land-use through cross-sectoral and multi-level planning is imperative.
3) Respond to Increasingly Severe Climate Impacts
A recent study found that climate disasters cost $2.8 trillion over 2000-2019, or an average of $143 billion per year. The human, economic and environmental toll of climate change is destined to get worse even if emissions stabilize. It is imperative that negotiators at COP28 help communities adapt to climate impacts and support those who lose their homes, livelihoods and much more.
Fully operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund
At the end of long and fraught negotiations at COP27 last year, countries finally agreed to a fund that will help climate-vulnerable nations address “loss and damage,” the impacts of climate change that are so severe they cannot be adapted to. Establishing a Loss and Damage Fund was a historic breakthrough after more than 30 years since vulnerable nations first identified this need.
A key task for climate negotiations at COP28 is to fully operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund. They’ll need to decide where the fund is hosted and its relationship with the UNFCCC, which countries will contribute, and which activities and countries are eligible for financial support. Negotiators must also address key governance issues — like guidance for determining Board membership, as well as clarity on how new funding arrangements outside of the Fund can be complementary. These funding arrangements could include sources, funds and initiatives under and outside the COP and Paris Agreement.
Making these decisions at COP28 may be an uphill battle: The fourth meeting of the Loss and Damage Transitional Committee held in October 2023 ended in disarray, with negotiators failing to reach consensus on how to operationalize the fund. An extra committee meeting is on the books for early November to offer one more opportunity to bridge deep divides ahead of the summit. If developing countries’ priorities on funding for loss and damage are not adequately addressed, we could be destined for a very rocky COP28.
In addition to operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund, countries should agree on a host institution for the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage (SNLD). The Santiago Network, first established at COP25 in 2019, aims to provide technical assistance to developing countries on addressing loss and damage, but it has yet to begin carrying out its function, largely because of the lack of a host institution. The two contenders for this role — the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), in conjunction with the UN Office for Project Services — are exploring a joint proposal for consideration at COP28.
Advance the Global Goal on Adaptation framework and expand adaptation finance
When the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, countries agreed to establish a Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and better track progress on enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, reducing vulnerability, and contributing to sustainable development. To address the climate impacts that countries and communities are already facing and those they’ll deal with in the future, we need to better understand where progress is happening and where it’s lagging.
At COP28, countries are aiming to put the GGA into operation to better measure progress on adaptation action.
Countries have agreed that the GGA should have a framework for enhancing adaptation action and support, guiding implementation, and improving the global balance between mitigation and adaptation, as well as avoiding maladaptation and reducing inequality. Importantly, the GGA framework should also aim to give local communities greater decision-making power, for example by drawing on the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, so that adaptation plans and policies can be more quickly, widely and equitably implemented.
At COP28, negotiators should formalize their preliminary agreement that countries should set targets for each step of the adaptation policy cycle, from planning through implementation, and adopt a process for setting targets for issues such as food security, health and infrastructure, and cross-sectoral issues like gender, intergenerational equity and Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge. Very critically, they should also establish a process to determine metrics for assessing adaptation action, how they should be collected, and how to report them.
4) Delivering Climate Finance
To keep global climate goals within reach, the world needs to reach $4.3 trillion in annual climate-related finance flows by 2030. At COP28, negotiators can make progress in several areas to accelerate decarbonization efforts, build resilience to climate impacts and set the stage for new climate finance targets that deliver a step-change in ambition.
Meet existing finance commitments and prepare for a new global climate finance goal
Developed countries agreed in 2009 to collectively mobilize $100 billion each year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change; the goal was since extended through 2025. However, developed countries have thus far fallen short of achieving this commitment. While they recently expressed confidence they’ll meet this goal in 2023, wealthy countries must come to COP28 prepared to address funding shortfalls and ensure faster access and higher-quality finance.
Two years ago at COP26, countries agreed to at least double adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025. This would put the world closer to a long-desired balance between mitigation and adaptation finance. The Standing Committee on Finance is preparing a report on how current trends in adaptation finance align with this goal, which will surely inform December’s negotiations. There will also be important discussions on how the private sector can expand adaptation finance.
COP28 must also lay the groundwork for establishing a new post-2025 global climate finance goal (also known as the “new collective quantified goal” or NCQG), which will succeed the $100 billion goal. Countries committed to set this new goal by COP29 in 2024. It is unlikely that negotiators will arrive at a headline number for the new goal this year, but narrowing down options would be helpful progress — including the time frame the goal will cover, how to monitor and report progress, and how it will relate to loss and damage.
Shift financial flows to climate solutions
The long-term goals of the Paris Agreement include an objective to make all finance flows consistent with low-carbon, climate-resilient development, as called for in Article 2.1(c). Ensuring that all finance flows — both public and private — support and do not impede climate action is essential to achieving the emissions reductions and resilience the world needs.
However, countries have yet to determine what this article means in practice. Coming to a standard definition of Article 2.1(c) is challenging since countries have such different national circumstances, needs and strategies. Another core question regards the relation between aligning financial flows and the responsibility of developed countries in Article 9 of the Paris Agreement to provide and mobilize financial resources that support developing countries’ climate action. Developing countries want to ensure that a broader focus on financial flows does not distract from developed countries’ financial responsibilities.
It is unclear if Article 2.1(c) will be an agenda item at COP28, or how it will be addressed in the Global Stocktake. In Dubai, the Standing Committee on Finance and the UNFCCC Secretariat are set to offer guidance on a way forward for putting the Paris Agreement’s finance goal into operation.
Meanwhile, related issues involving the role of international financial institutions have come to the fore in UN climate talks. The outcome at COP27 called upon multilateral development banks (MDBs) and their shareholders to reform policies and practices, align finance, and simplify access to funding, while also noting the problem of developing countries’ increased indebtedness and growing need. These issues will again take center stage at COP28, especially following the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meetings in October 2023, where MDBs issued a joint statement reaffirming their intention to boost collaboration, increase financial capacity, use innovative financing and catalyze private finance. They also underscored the need to align their financing flows with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
COP28: A Moment for Both Accountability and Action
Leaders and climate negotiators must come to COP28 prepared to make bold commitments and big decisions. The benchmarks for a strong outcome at the UN climate summit largely center on whether countries provide an ambitious response to the first-ever Global Stocktake and agree to fully operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund. And crucially, countries must demonstrate how they are delivering on their past pledges and preparing to put forward much stronger national climate plans in 2025.
The time for rhetoric and posturing is over. For this COP28 to be a success, governments, corporations and others must come prepared to take definitive actions that benefit people, nature and the climate.