COP28 summit – Dubai December 2023
The COP28 summit in Dubai came to a close on 13-December 2023. The event was attended by around 85,000 participants, including more than 150 Heads of State and Government. An enormous number of representatives of national delegations, civil societies, businesses, Indigenous Peoples, youth organizations, philanthropists, and other international associations were in attendance at the 2-week long conference.
In our newsletter we attempt to provide our readers with a summary of the most important stories and leads from the summit’s stocktake at the intersection of climate, land, food and nature. We will also point out some areas where the event could have gone a step further in terms of agreeing on specific measures, relevant to all aspects of the summit and for our own transportation industry in particular.
- Climate change and biodiversity
Interconnections between climate change and biodiversity featured heavily in the two-week summit. In an in-depth summary of the event, the periodic global review of progress towards the aims of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aimed to reduce the emission of gases that contribute to global warming, contained a range of references to “nature” and to “biodiversity”.
It also noted “the urgent need” to address climate change and biodiversity together and meet targets for both “in line” with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the landmark agreement of the 2022 COP15 biodiversity summit.
COP28 president UAE and COP15 president China released a Joint Statement on Climate, Nature and People, seeking commitment from countries to align their national climate and nature plans, ahead of the 2025 COP30 Convention on Climate Change in Brazil and the 2024 COP16 Biodiversity Conference in Columbia.
The global stocktake also noted the importance of “ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems”, including oceans, mountains and the cryosphere. During the summit, references were made to scientific reports that even if the world reaches a phase-out of fossil fuels, achieving the 1.5C global heating target will be impossible if humanity fails to conserve nature. It was noted that while nature has featured in many pledges and voluntary announcements before, COP28 saw “more recognition in the actual official texts”, including a greater focus on ecosystems.
Shortly after COP28 ended, the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) announced that the next UN biodiversity summit, COP16, will be held in a yet-to-be-announced city in Colombia next year in October/November. The CBP Executive Secretary stated that he was “very excited” for Colombia to host the event, as it is a “megadiverse country, it has very strong Indigenous Peoples’ organisations [and] a very strong scientific base”. Colombia’s Minister of Environment said in a statement: “This event sends a message from Latin America to the world about the importance of climate action and the protection of life.” At COP16, governments will review the implementation of nature goals and targets and also update their national biodiversity plans.
COP28 tackled the question of balancing the need to reduce emissions and to feed a growing population in great detail. Significant steps were made at the summit, from the leaders’ declaration on food systems to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s first-ever roadmap to 1.5C, being seen as the most significant progress. Critics however pointed at the failure to highlight the real issues at stake, including not naming chemical fertilisers, factory farming or industrialised agriculture as the major sources of emissions and deforestation, claiming that the roadmap’s recommendations boil down to only protecting the status quo.
Among the recommendations in the roadmap is the need to reduce food loss and waste by 50% per capita by 2030, and to integrate all such waste “in a circular bio economy” by 2050.
Another major outcome for food at COP28 was the inclusion of “resilient food systems” in the global stocktake, urging countries to implement solutions towards resilience, but not setting goals for the sector that produces one-third of global greenhouse gases. A report published by WWF noted that a stocktake “that directly calls for food systems transformation to mitigate climate change would likely lead to higher prioritisation and increased amounts of climate finance for food”. The report said the summit “[fell] short of delivering robust outcomes [for food] in the negotiating rooms”.
Negative repercussion among environmentalists surfaced at the summit on the confirmation that Brazil will host the COP30 conference. Brazil announced its intention to join OPEC+ in January this year, and the country is also planning to auction several new blocks for oil drilling.
After COP26 produced a number of major political declarations surrounding deforestation, the topic featured lower on the agenda this year. However, it achieved one notable breakthrough, as the global stocktake on UN climate change states the need for “halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030”. Despite this, countries are still no nearer to closing the ‘finance gap’ necessary to stop the destruction of rainforests, critics say, pointing their fingers at the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just to name one example. Some demand to create a “Glasgow Declaration Accountability Framework” to hold countries accountable for their deforestation pledges from COP26.
The global stocktake underlines the “vital importance of protecting, conserving, restoring and sustainably using nature and ecosystems” and encourages the implementation of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches. COP28 saw the announcement of updates to both the Mangrove Breakthrough and the Freshwater Challenge, two global commitments to restoring mangroves and rivers and wetlands, respectively.
Another key outcome of the summit was the global goal on adaptation, a framework meant to help countries build resilience to climate change. The text included topics such as water, health and ecosystems, but also lacks clear and measureable objectives.
Several voluntary pledges and finance pushes at COP28 focused on cutting methane emissions, while focus remained centred on fossil-fuel emissions. However, the commitment of some large food companies was successfully implemented. Danone, Nestlé and Kraft Heinz were among the companies committed to release information on methane emissions within their dairy supply chains and to put in place methane action plans by the end of 2024. There were also several announcements of funds aimed at cutting emissions of the potent greenhouse gas, including more than US$ 200m in public and private finance for research into reducing methane from livestock.
- Compromise on fossil fuels
A key negotiating point at the COP28 summit was the issue of fossil fuels. After two weeks of tough exchanges of views and opinions, representatives from nearly 200 countries agreed in a last-minute vote on Wednesday 13-December, a day after the official end of the conference, to begin reducing global consumption of fossil fuels to avert the worst of climate change, signalling the eventual end of the oil age.
While several countries cheered the deal for accomplishing something that until now eluded decades of climate talks, the conference only agreed on a roadmap for “transitioning away from fossil fuels”. This is the first such statement for a UN climate conference but it stopped short of a long-demanded call for a “phase-out” of oil, coal and gas.
More than 100 countries had lobbied hard for strong language in the COP28 agreement to "phase out fossil fuels", but came up against powerful opposition from oil producer group OPEC and others. The cartel wants to focus on emissions rather than on a specific fuel phase out schedule, which it considers a smarter way to effectively achieve the desired targets. This view is also shared by a range of scientist and industry associations.
It appears obvious that there is a long and bumpy road ahead to convert the roadmap into a measureable policy for fossil fuel reduction targets in all countries globally. Those demanding an accelerated fossil fuel phase-out may not fully include and weigh all aspects and implications, which could hinder the possible implementation of short-term and already available solutions for emissions reduction.
In this context, and as one example for decarbonisation efforts taken by the fuels and automotive industry, a paper conducted by JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association) on “Biofuels/Synthetic Fuels”, concluded that low carbon or carbon-neutral fuels are viable and needed options to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Today, Japan is using ETBE as its biofuel of choice. ETBE was introduced in Japan in 2007 and has grown to a blending percentage of 5% in the country’s gasoline pool.
JAMA, fully committed to 2050 1.5°C UN climate goal, states that low carbon or carbon-neutral fuels in the automotive transport sector are a key pathway to carbon neutrality by 2050, highlighting that a diversity of options is crucial to achieving the goals.
The JAMA study shows that CO2 reduction by these low carbon liquid fuels matches the emission achievements of electric vehicles and can be easily adopted in a range of already in-use cars as well as for new cars. Increased, commercial use of low carbon/carbon-neutral fuels would lead to an instant reduction in emissions.
Among other points, JAMA also highlights that the market supply of liquid low carbon/carbon-neutral fuels does not require the creation of new infrastructure, and thereby enables reduced investment and employment retention as one of the merits of this solution.