The headline outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, COP28, 30 November to 13 December 2023, was an agreement to “transition away from fossil fuels”. This initiative, described as ‘historic’ by many delegates, is an attempt to reach global net zero emissions by 2050, and is presented as part of the Global Stocktake, the first COP text to mention a global shift away from using fossil fuels.

The 198 individual states that have signed the agreement will be asked to set emissions reduction targets covering all greenhouse gases and in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C over the next two years. However, the text recognises that the targets should be set ‘in light of different national circumstances’, a reference to the fact that poorer countries may find reducing emissions more difficult than wealthier ones.

The future role of fossil fuel was a key issue at COP28, which was hosted in the UAE, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers. Saudi Arabia and other Opec countries had pushed hard for a weak agreement, to the extent that Saudi Arabia delegates had, on the last day of the conference, refused to sign a final declaration that mentioned fossil fuels. The result was a draft document that caused outrage by dropping all references to phasing out fossil fuels, and offered instead a menu of options that countries could take.

The uproar among delegates led to frantic diplomatic efforts overnight on 12 December to ‘repair’ the original draft declaration, by bringing back the reference to fossil fuels. And on 13 December, a day after the conference should have closed, this was achieved when delegates reached a final agreement to transition away from fossil fuels.

Key outcomes – actions, aims and resolutions

The following is a brief digest of the other initiatives and progress reports, among the 50 introduced at the conference, of most relevance to the power industry.

  • Day one of the climate summit saw the first big breakthrough, agreement on a loss of damage fund first mooted at COP27 to compensate poorer states for the effects of climate change.
  • The COP 28 presidency took a leading role in launching the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge. With the endorsement of 130 national governments and the EU, the Pledge stipulates that signatories commit to work together to triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11 000 GW by 2030 and to collectively double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around 2% to over 4% every year until 2030.
  • The presidency also led the launch of initiatives focused on collaboration towards reducing sectoral emissions, working with Parties and non-Party stakeholders. The Global Cooling Pledge for COP 28 includes 66 national government signatories committed to the aim of reducing cooling-related emissions across all sectors by at least 68 % globally, relative to 2022 levels, by 2050.
  • The 37 national government participants of the Mutual Recognition of Certification Schemes for Renewable and Low-Carbon Hydrogen and Hydrogen Derivatives will seek to work towards mutual recognition of their respective certification schemes.
  • The 52 signatories of the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter commit to net-zero operations by 2050 at the latest, ending routine flaring by 2030, and near-zero upstream methane emissions.
  • The Powering Past Coal Alliance announced the addition of new national and subnational governments into the Alliance, working to advance the transition from unabated coal power generation to clean energy. Coinciding with this progress, France, together with other countries and organisations, launched the Coal Transition Accelerator, which aims to share expertise, design new policies through best practices and lessons learned, and unlock new sources of financing to facilitate just transitions from coal to clean energy.
  • The newly-launched Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy raises a goal of tripling nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050 and inviting shareholders of international financial institutions to encourage the inclusion of nuclear energy in energy lending policies, was endorsed by 22 national governments.
  • The High-Level Champions (designated national organisers), working with the International Renewable Energy Agency, launched the Utilities for Zero Alliance, having 31 partners, including 25 global utilities and power companies, united for a joint commitment to advance electrification, renewables-ready grids, and clean energy deployment.
  • Countries involved in the Latin American and Caribbean Renewables Hub have raised the target for renewable energy in total electricity generation to 80 % by 2030, from 70 %, and aim to reach a share of renewable energy in the total energy supply of 36 % by 2030.
  • A number of national governments and organisations announced commitments to climate finance to areas including but not limited to the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, Least Developed Countries Fund, and Special Climate Change Fund.
  • 13 national governments endorsed the UAE Leaders’ Declaration on a Global Climate Finance Framework, which will work to unlock the investment opportunity of climate finance through collective action.
  • The Global Capacity Building Coalition, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and with the engagement of organisations including the UN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other multilateral development banks, aims to significantly increase the availability and effectiveness of climate finance technical assistance programmes for financial institutions in emerging markets and developing economies. Eight export credit agencies, in partnership with the Innovation and Knowledge Hub at the University of Oxford, Future of Climate Cooperation, and the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) launched the UN-convened Net-Zero Export Credit Agencies Alliance (NZECA) to help decarbonise global trade and facilitate joint action from public and private finance.
  • To strengthen collective action to build climate resilience at the scale and speed required in highly vulnerable countries and communities, 78 national governments (including the EU) and 40 organisations endorsed the COP 28 UAE Declaration on Climate Relief, Recovery and Peace. Signatories commit to enhancing financial support for climate adaptation and resilience, understanding and improving good practice and programming, and strengthening co-ordination, collaboration, and partnerships. They will reconvene at COP 29 to review progress.
  • The presidency, with Bloomberg Philanthropies, held a first-of-a-kind Local Climate Action Summit, resulting in the launch of the Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnership (CHAMP) for Climate Action. A total of 65 national governments signed CHAMP commitments to enhance co-operation, where applicable and appropriate, with subnational governments in the planning, financing, implementation, and monitoring of climate strategies.
  • The Buildings Breakthrough, launched with the Governments of France and Morocco, together with UNEP, aims to make near-zero emissions and climate-resilient buildings the new normal by 2030 under the wider Breakthrough Agenda.
  • The Technology Executive Committee, together with Enterprise Neurosystem – a non-profit open-source artificial intelligence community – launched the AI Innovation Grand Challenge to identify and support the development of AI-powered solutions for climate action in developing countries.
  • Accountability is integral to all actors and all types of global climate action. Some of the initiatives launched at COP 28 have already committed to reconvene at future COPs to discuss their progress and implementation. A number of existing initiatives have published progress reports to present their achievements and challenges, representing a growing momentum on this topic as well as supporting greater accountability.
  • With the first Global Stocktake slated to be concluded at the end of COP 28, the new five-year cycle on climate action will begin under the Paris Agreement. With this in mind, the High-Level Champions, the Marrakech Partnership and others have compiled the ‘2030 Climate Solutions: an Implementation Roadmap’, a set of solutions framed in specific actions, with insights from a wide range of non-Party stakeholders on effective measures being undertaken that need to be scaled up and replicated as well as current gaps that need to be bridged to halve global emissions, address adaptation gaps and increase the resilience of four billion people from vulnerable groups and communities to climate risks by 2030.

This article first appeared in Modern Power Systems magazine.