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What You Need to Know About the COP28 'Landmark Deal'

Cop27 was a case in point. The entire course of the conference seemed to be a play in which everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong – a dissonant and fractured assembly almost jeopardised itself before finally agreeing to a landmark deal of its own: that developed nations would provide funding to poorer nations in the form of loss and damage funds.

It was an 11th-hour save without which we really would have been left feeling hopeless. Poorer nations are almost invariably among those that are hardest hit by the climate crisis – and, for obvious reasons, the people impacted struggle the most to rebuild and repair their land, livelihoods, and lifestyles. Climate reform that is reserved for the most privileged nations isn’t reformation in any meaningful sense. 

This went down as Cop27’s landmark deal, but what of Cop28? Here’s what you need to know about the outcome of the latest Climate Change Conference. 

Cop28: The Background

This year, the conference was hosted by the United Arab Emirates in Expo City, Dubai. Sultan Al Jaber, the Cop28 president and the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, heading up the negotiations on the ‘landmark deal’ experienced first-hand the effects of the last year, with his country’s notoriously hot and humid climate reaching unbearable levels during the summer’s heatwave. The UAE, despite being a petrostate, has been very keen to invest in clean energy and has committed to reach net zero by 2050.

The conference was billed to take place between the 30th of November and the 13th of December, with the UK’s representative elected to be MP Graham Stuart. 

A lot was riding on Cop28. After a year of intense heat and wildfires caused by climate change and the El Nino effect – a climate pattern that occurs when the water temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean increase to unusual highs causing hard-to-predict, extreme weather conditions – the numerous countries agreed something drastic needed to be agreed. 

In advance of the summit, the UN published the first ‘global stocktake’. Agreed at Cop26, this is a two-year assessment of the world’s efforts to reduce the effects of and slow down climate change. The language that the assessment used was damning, especially from a global authority that has been typically conservative about how it discusses the threat of climate change.

What was concluded? That, yes, the Paris Agreement has significantly helped reduce emissions. But the world is not on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Even going so far as to say that the phase-out of fossil fuels is needed.

The ‘Landmark Deal’

The deal agreed by the countries that attended Cop28 calls for the transition away from fossil fuels by all. 

It is not a commitment. It is a call. 130 countries, as well as leading scientists, organisations, and groups, wanted an explicit and concrete commitment written into the deal, believing that the agreed-upon deal is too vague, too weak.

Just, Orderly, and Equitable

The deal states that the transition away has to be ‘just, orderly and equitable’, reiterating the goal of being net zero by 2050 and limiting the global temperature threshold to the slogan-abused 1.5°C. To stick to the 1.5°C threshold, emissions have to face a 43% reduction by 2030 and a 60% reduction by 2035, relative to the levels in 2019.

Triple Renewable Energy, Double Energy Efficiency Improvements

Also, the deal calls for a tripling of global renewable energy and a doubling of energy efficiency improvements. How this is implemented is dependent on national policies. As we know, renewable energy solutions are nuanced. Some countries are better suited to certain methods than others. Whether it’ll be large-scale commercial solar or wind turbine installations is entirely up to each country and their own strengths and terms.

Notable exceptions to this agreement are China and India. However, their relationship with this is complicated. Both nations are already on track to triple their renewable energy outputs by 2030 anyway – something they both back during the G20 summit in 2023. And while the deal doesn’t tie individual countries to meet that goal – only a ‘global’ measure instead, though some countries think that pressure on individual countries is coming – the reason neither put their name on this deal is because of some anti-coal language within the deal and that doubling energy efficiency is a difficult challenge.

The call from Cop28 is to stop the continued investment in ‘unabated’ coal energy sources. (‘Unabated’, here, means carbon emissions that aren’t captured.) Both countries are heavy investors in coal-powered plants and their green-energy solutions are tied to coal energy. This means that, yes, both countries will continue to commit to renewable energy. Coal usage puts both energy efficiency and the 1.5°C threshold goal in jeopardy.

‘Transitional Fuels’

One of the most controversial inclusions in the deal was that ‘transitional fuels’ – a smokescreen for natural gas – and ‘carbon capture and utilisation and storage’ appear in the text as discrete phrases. These are fossil-fuel-friendly terms, put in the deals to appease the interests of petrostates and energy companies. They smooth over the intentional efforts of countries, groups, and companies to enter a greener future, supporting the existing apparatus that gauges the planet and the lives of vulnerable communities.

Climate Adaptation and Finance

For many years, emerging economies and the global south have campaigned for equitable actions and approaches to climate change – and, importantly, climate justice. The Cop28 does little to make progress in helping countries adapt to the impacts of climate change or compensate them for their disproportionate suffering. In fact, Samoa’s Anne Rasmussen, lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, claimed she was outside of the room when the gavel came down on the deal, finalising their response to the deal itself. Though they hadn’t objected to the deal, admitting that there were parts of it they liked, they wanted to debate and close what they perceived as ‘loopholes’ in the text.

A Step Forward

Ultimately, a deal was agreed. Whether it means anything in the long-term – whatever that ‘long-term’ is – will be seen and sought. What is without doubt, though, is the deal appeases. It was announced in a petrostate, with fossil-fuel-friendly language and intentions and hedges, excluding marginalised voices, and important solutions that would revolutionise our fight against climate collapse. 

Where is the UK government in all of this, as its populace continues to face extreme weather and cost-of-living struggles exacerbated by poor response to energy crises? Exactly where the current state of policies and rhetoric has suggested it is trying to focus on anything that appeals to the rich and powerful.

A Change of Guard

The UK’s role in Cop28 will no doubt be cast in a negative light for some time to come. Graham Stuart’s attendance at the negotiations was spotty at best. From the outset, his presence was unusual because he’s a junior minister, and most other countries sent a delegate with a rank equal to a cabinet minister. So, from the get-go, there was already an unserious tone. 

But the controversy got worse. Stuart returned to the UK before the conference’s end in order to shore-up the UK’s vote on the Rwanda deal – though the government typically refuted this assessment. He was temporarily replaced by Richard Benyon. However, the widespread criticism and outrage from the opposition and the general public meant that Stuart was sent back to Dubai for the final hours of the conference. The Guardian estimated that this reshuffling of MPs and lords cost up to 1,996 tonnes of CO2.

While at the conference, Stuart voiced the UK’s rejection of the original draft of the deal, pushing for the phasing out of fossil fuels, which is what ended up in the final text. However, that push coincides with the UK government's commitment to granting new oil and gas licences in the North Sea – a contradiction of some proportions – as well as lurching in the opposite direction to many established climate pledges in the run-up to the election cycle.

Cop29: The World Ahead

Baku, Azerbaijan will host Cop29 in November of 2024. Another petrostate as president of the negotiations of global climate deals, pledges, and commitments. With an election on the very near horizon in the UK, it could be that Labour will be sending delegates to represent the nation’s interests, as opposed to the Conservatives. However, Labour have routinely been wishy-washy on their climate pledges until Sir Keir Starmer stated recently that Labour will be unwilling to break its fiscal rules to achieve its £28B climate investment goal, making it very clear they are happy to renege on their headline policy to combat Conservative criticisms on their budget control. A spineless position in the face of all we’re experiencing of climate collapse, a spineless position in the face of all we’re witnessing the most vulnerable suffering because of climate collapse. What it seems matters most to those at the Cop29 table is that their country is ahead of their neighbours while fleeing or ignoring the rising waters and soaring heat.

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