Climate Crisis

COP28: What did it accomplish and what’s next?

Speakers applaud onstage during the Closing Plenary at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Speakers applaud onstage during the Closing Plenary at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Image: COP28 / Christopher Edralin

Hashendra Wijesinha
Lead, Strategy and Programme Management, World Economic Forum
Laia Barbarà
Acting Head, Climate Strategy, World Economic Forum
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Climate Crisis

  • As COP28 concludes this year, we examine the key outcomes from a challenging summit.
  • Notably, the first ever Global Stock Take called for a "transition away" from fossil fuels.
  • These five takeaways highlight what's needed to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals.

COP28 concluded in Dubai, UAE, this week after two weeks of negotiations and multistakeholder commitments to advance climate action, in what has been one of the most complex COPs since Paris. The largest attended climate COP in history brought together 97,000 delegates, including over 150 heads of state, along with negotiators, business leaders and non-state actors, reflecting the increasing momentum and attention of public, private and civil society leaders on this critical issue.

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The key outcome of COP28 was the conclusion of the first ever Global Stock Take (GST). The GST was a mid-term review of progress that UN member states were making towards the 2015 Paris Agreement (which committed countries to limiting temperature increases to below 2°C and targeting 1.5 °C compared to the pre-industrial era).

The final GST landed on a positive outcome with a final text calling nations to “transition away” from fossil fuels. All in all, the UAE Consensus can be seen as a win for multilateralism and climate diplomacy.

Five key takeaways from COP28

1. Taking stock of actions

Dubai was seen as a critical opportunity for nations to “course correct” climate action through the GST, as global emissions continue to rise by 1.5% a year, when they need to reduce by 7% annually to 2030 to keep the goal of 1.5ºC alive. The GST was a sobering reminder that the world was far off its targets when it was released this summer.

An important purpose of the GST is to inform what must be done now, and the document was a key anchor for planning and debate. Negotiators concluded that:

  • There is “the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and calls for parties to contribute to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net-zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”
  • Tripling the global capacity of renewable energy and doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements before 2030.
  • Significantly curbing non-CO2 emissions, with a particular focus on reaching near-zero global methane emissions by 2030 – which are 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in the short run.
  • Phasing out inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels that do not address energy poverty or facilitate just transitions, as soon as feasible.

2. Tripling renewables, doubling efficiency

A massive build out of new energy infrastructure, in particular clean power, is needed to meet the goals of the energy transition with total investment estimated at $4.5 trillion by 2030. Following the IEA’s recommendation, 117 countries agreed to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030 (to over 11,000 GW) and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements within this decade. These ambitious yet achievable targets are vital to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach. The private sector stepped up to support these efforts, with Danish investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners announcing a new $3 billion fund for new renewable energy projects in emerging and developing markets.

Commenting on the pledge, IRENA’s Director General said: “This decision unequivocally confirms the central role renewables play in addressing climate urgency. Renewables stand at the forefront of climate action, offering a path to enhance energy access, security, and affordability.” While climate action in the 2020s will focus on existing technology, by 2050, 50% of the reductions needed for net-zero emissions must come from technologies not yet available at scale. Hence the imperative to have a decarbonized and reliable grid that enables the adoption of new climate technologies at scale.

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3. Reshaping demand to slash emissions in agriculture

Food systems are an impact multiplier for a just and equitable transition, accounting for 30% of global emissions, rising costs and nutrition issues. The COP28 Presidency placed this issue as a core part of its climate action agenda, announcing the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action with the support of 134 countries (representing 70% of the world’s land), with commitments to include emissions from agriculture and farming into their national climate action plans.

We need to produce enough food for the global population, but our aim is also to decouple growth in agriculture and food from harming the environment.

Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum at the launch of FMC for Food.

In response, the World Economic Forum launched the First Movers Coalition for Food, to create aggregated market demand for sustainably produced and low-emission agricultural commodities. The initiative, which is championed by the UAE and a growing coalition of corporate and research partners, aims to de-risk upfront investment, with its 20 current members signalling a combined estimated procurement commitment of $10-$20 billion by 2030.

4. Enabling a holistic nature and climate action agenda

The accelerated collapse of global ecosystems continues to take place, with nearly 1 million species currently at risk of extinction. However, interventions towards a nature-positive economy by 2030 can generate an annual business value of over $10 trillion, with nature-based solutions able to provide up to 30% or more of the emission mitigation targets. Dubai was a key milestone in the convergence of the climate and nature agendas, with the UAE joining forces with China (currently presiding the UN’s parallel COP on Biodiversity) to issue a statement acknowledging the interdependence between the two agendas, and reflecting a commitment to align and implement nature and climate strategies together. The COP28 Presidency also launched a series of initiatives with an initial commitment of $1.7 billion to simultaneously meet climate and biodiversity goals.

A notable refrain that surfaced from the summit was that “there is no Paris without the ocean”. Although it is the world’s largest carbon sink, and absorbs 90% of the warming generated from climate change, investment into ocean action remains the least funded of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. COP28 provided an opportunity to bolster blue solutions, including 21 countries joining the Mangrove Breakthrough, to restore and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves (which can hold more than four times more carbon than tropical forests) globally by 2030. Overall, the summit was successful in mobilizing over $2.5 billion to bridge the substantial funding gap in nature conservation and restoration for climate resilience.

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5. Addressing adaptation and supporting the most vulnerable

The failure to adapt to climate change is the second most severe long-term global risk (with climate mitigation failure being the first). The GST was successful in defining seven targets as part of a Global Goal on Adaptation by 2030, including enhancing resilience to water-related disasters, embedding climate positive approaches in food and water production and use, and ensuring climate-resilient health services. The summit supported the mobilization of $188 million for the UN’s Adaptation Fund for 2023, which, although progressive, falls short of the aim of $300 million targeted annually in contributions, and significantly lower than the estimated $215 billion required per year for developing countries.

In tandem with accelerating adaptation efforts, another key milestone achieved at COP28 was the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, securing over $726 million in funding to support countries most severely affected by climate change. The commitments, while a positive start to the fund, represents 0.2% of the funding required.

What’s still needed?

While it’s always hard to match the high expectations of the global community, the conference outcomes reflect a step forward in the right direction. However, it's important to note that the UAE Consensus, just like the Paris Agreement, is not legally binding. Therefore, there is a pressing need to define a roadmap for this transition and ensure a swift and effective implementation of the GST by nations.

Expectations were also high regarding pledges and investments from both public and private capital to fast track the net-zero transition, after limited progress on the topic at COP27. While COP28 successfully mobilized over $85 billion in financing, there is a clear acknowledgment that this falls short of rebuilding trust and translating the first GST into tangible actions that can effectively bend the emissions curve.

The climate summit concludes with a growing recognition of the urgency to address climate change and the determination to accelerate action. Enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the commitment to transition away from fossil fuels, triple the renewable energy capacity by 2030, significant climate pledges, the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund and the acknowledgement of a just transition are all key takeaways from COP28. Moreover, the emphasis on nature-based solutions and the climate-health nexus signals a shift towards a more holistic and inclusive approach to climate action and expectations are to see more cross-sector collaborations, fostering inclusivity in our pursuit of a resilient 1.5°C world that leaves no one behind.

As COP28 draws to a close, leaders have much work to do. For a start, governments will make their next revisions to their NDCs by 2025, with the GST guiding what those changes should be.

But beyond this, leaders will build momentum most successfully through true multistakeholder events. The next of these on the global calendar – the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos this January – will draw international organizations, global companies, relevant civil society and academic institutions, and more than 100 governments. As in past years, these leaders come together to move forward the takeaways from COP28 and other milestone events. As we speed closer to 2030, such events will serve as critical and pivotal junctions for the global community to make change happen.

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