2023.12.05 Credit Philippa Oppenheimer_ dome view at COP28

Image credit Philippa Oppenheimer | dome view at COP28

Written by PhD student Emmeline Smith from SCENARIO DTP


The 28th COP conference has been full of debate and controversy but are those involved in proceedings starting to lose trust in the process?  

We are now halfway through COP28, yet many of the main discussions and debates are at deadlock due to fundamental disagreements.

One of the most important agenda items is the Global Stock Take of the 200 countries involved in COP. This is a collective inventory of progress towards reaching the Paris Agreement. A huge undertaking, this document includes countries’ historical, current and future actions to limit temperature increase to 1.5 °C. Keeping such a report consistent whilst including data from diverse countries is an amazing achievement. However, a stalemate in debate has delayed its completion.

There is great discussion around the purpose of the Global Stock Take. Stakeholders and countries are concerned that it may replace the original Paris Agreement, changing their climate targets. Further delays have happened due to disagreements on the importance of mitigation, adaptation and loss & damages under the document’s Pathway Programs and Transitions.

Many smaller countries and SIDS want to move straight to loss and damage mechanisms as they are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change. Islanders have lived through extreme weather events and flooding with resulting financial losses. Other states are invested in mitigation, which for those who have battled through droughts and extreme temperatures this year feels like too little too late.

This year there has been a noticeable lack of discussion on the Global Goal for Adaption, the guidance for countries to build resilience against climate change. This is a critical topic as adaption can reduce loss & damage when our efforts to mitigate are not enough. Those unable to agree on even a single word of the procedure, let alone the framework, are blaming the vague outlines set in the original Paris Agreement, which are becoming vaguer and broader with time. This is a major setback as it has cross-sectoral effects and undermines some of the progress made towards the completion of the Global Stock Take.

There was a previous agreement saying that funding for adaptation would be doubled by 2020, compared with a 2019 baseline. However, quantifying that baseline and calculating how much has been invested in adaptation since has proved challenging.  This is compounded by the lack of tracking of adaptation spending since COP26 in 2021. Countries have thrown figures around from $7 billion up to an astonishing $20 billion being spent on adaptation measures, but without evidence funding cannot be agreed. Our hopes rest with Canada and Germany who are promising some preliminary adaptation spending figures soon.

The lack of agreement in COP discussions unfortunately brings the proceedings to a standstill. Countries do not vote on policy, instead all 200 countries must reach an agreement ensuring that everyone’s concerns and interests are represented. When debate is no longer moving forward, the discussions are stopped under Article 16 and will return in the second half of COP. If agreement cannot be reached the Global Stock Take will be incomplete, missing vital planning for the future in the shape of the Global Goal on Adaptation.

COP28 is receiving a huge amount of press coverage this year but are controversies stealing the limelight from climate issues? The location and hosts have been much discussed, especially with declarations rejecting the phase-out of fossil fuels and challenging the scientific foundations of the IPCC reports. Those on the ground at COP are concerned that this is distracting from much bigger climate issues which are being discussed on a global scale (link here for how host are picked).

Moving into the next week of COP28 we move into critical topics such as food security, water and nature. However, many delegates, stakeholders and countries have been left confused by the end of this week’s presidential stock take, which lacked clarity and key information. Delegates and ministers have not been provided vital information on how discussions will proceed over the final days, causing concerns of further delays or discussions being held behind closed doors.

However, on a more positive note, there is light in the darkness, as success stories from the past year are shared and agreements are made. The Seychelles opening statement reminded me that not all climate news is doom and gloom. They reported that blue whales have return to the Indian Ocean along with thriving new mangrove habitats. We also saw at the very start of COP28 successful discussions resulting in an increase in climate finance pledges for loss and damage, reaching over $83 billion just in this past week, building hope for the future.

Overall, COP28 has been one of the most eventful in recent years, although not always for the right reasons. The prevailing feeling of those attending and watching around the world is one of crumbling trust, which I hope can be rebuilt with the creation of fair and progressive policies over the coming week.