There was additional controversy leading up to the summit because the hosts, the United Arab Emirates, are one of the world’s main producers of oil. Many journalists and activists feared that the country’s offer to host the annual climate summit was an act of ‘greenwashing’.
However, the two weeks of intense climate negotiations between world leaders, non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies and activists concluded with a milestone agreement: nearly every country in the world agreed to ”transition away from fossil fuels”, the use of which is the main driver of climate change. It was the first time such an agreement had been reached in 28 years of international climate negotiations.
The commitment is included in the first ‘global stocktake’ of how countries can accelerate action to meet the goals of the landmark Paris Agreement, which officially took place on December 1st in a series of high-level political meetings. However, many countries walked away from the talks, frustrated at the lack of a clear call for a fossil-fuel ‘phase-out’ this decade – and at a “litany of loopholes” in the text that might enable the production and consumption of coal, oil and gas to continue.
Despite an early breakthrough on launching a fund to pay for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change, developing countries were left disappointed by a lack of new financial commitments to support their transitioning away from fossil fuels and mitigating the harmful impacts of climate change.
In addition, COP28 saw a wave of new international pledges, covering a wide range of issues from oil-and-gas company emissions and the tripling of renewables, to improving food systems and actions better to address both climate change and biodiversity loss.
The Loss and Damage Fund
In a historic move, the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund was agreed at the opening plenary on the first day of COP28. This was a hard-won victory by developing countries that they hoped would lead to substantial commitments by the developed, historically polluting nations to provide financial support to mitigate some of the destruction the developing countries have experienced caused by climate change.
But so far, pledges have fallen far short of what is needed. The loss and damage in developing countries is estimated by the Climate Action Network to be greater than $400bn a year. Estimates for the annual cost of the damage are between $100bn and $580bn per annum. The pledges for the new fund were nowhere near even the lowest of these amounts. The $100m pledge by the United Arab Emirates was matched by Germany and then slightly topped by Italy and France, which both promised $108m. The US, which is historically the worst greenhouse gas emitter, and the largest producer of oil and gas in 2023, has so far pledged just $17.5m, while Japan, the third largest economy behind the US and China, has offered $10m and the UK $75m.
The loss and damage funds should be new money and come as grants not loans. In most cases, the nature and timing of the pledged money remain unclear as few countries have released details, but much seems to be from the diversion of existing commitments. There is, additionally, the fear that much will be given as loans (not grants), thus creating further poor-country debts. For example, the UK’s pledge is not new or additional, according to the Climate Action Network; it comes from an existing and recently downgraded climate finance pledge. It is not clear whether the UK’s contribution will be a loan or grant.
What does the UK need to do next?
Graham Stuart MP, the Minister of State for Climate Change and chief negotiator for the UK, wanted a tough text on phasing out fossil fuels and supported the final text, along with over 100 countries. However, critics noted that the UK, while supporting this “phasing out” of fossil fuels, is also planning a new round of oil and gas licences in the North Sea.
More than half the nearly 300 currently active North Sea oil and gas fields will have ended production by 2030, but Ministers hope to ‘max out’ the oil and gas reserves in the region. Ministers have claimed the new fields will provide job security for 200,000 workers. The move also appears to be part of a wider electoral strategy push-back on net zero policies by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Making the licensing process annual would give structure and certainty for companies hoping to exploit those reserves. Each annual licensing round will only go ahead if tests are met that support the transition to net zero: the UK must be forecast to import more energy from other countries than it produces domestically, and carbon emissions associated with the production of UK gas will need to be lower than the equivalent emissions from imported liquefied natural gas.
At a time where strong leadership around climate action is crucial, it is vital that the UK does not fall behind on its COP28 promise to phase out fossil fuels. We urge you to write to your MP incorporating the points below:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050: The UK has been relatively successful in cutting its emissions so far, but the government’s independent advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), have called recent progress “worryingly slow”. The UK government must step up efforts immediately if it is to meet its 2050 target. The CCC estimates it will require an extra £50bn of investment per year by 2030, but may also bring savings as newer, cleaner technologies are often more efficient than those they are replacing.
- Commit substantially to the Loss and Damage Fund: Vulnerable and poor countries, which did little to cause the climate crisis, need the biggest fossil fuel polluting countries to help mitigate the pain and suffering from climate change. The $700m (£557m) so farpledged by wealthy nations most responsible for the climate emergency covers less than 0.2% of what is needed every year. The minimum needed totals over $400bn.
- Make these Contributions in the Form of Grants, Not Loans and as New Funding: It is important that climate damage mitigation payments should not increase the poor country debt. Rich countries should give grants to help mitigate the damage they have caused. The UK has indicated that the money it has commitment to the fund has come from diverting pre-existing commitment, contrary to the conditions of the fund.
- Timing is Everything: Wealthy and high emitting countries, including the UK, must take urgent action to phase out fossil fuels. They have reaped the rewards of oil, gas, and coal expansion while people living in the poorest communities in the world are paying with their lives and assets. Only a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels will keep within reach the target of limiting global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, which was agreed in 2015 in Paris.
Billions around the world are having their lives devastated by extreme weather patterns, environmental destruction and rising oceans caused by human-induced climate change. We are near a tipping-point: 2024 is a crucial year for addressing this action. The UK, with other rich and heavily polluting countries, must demonstrate more urgent climate leadership.
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