COP28 – The beginning of the end for fossil fuels?


Whether you are transitioning away or phasing down, this year’s COP has been hailed as marking the beginning of the end for fossil fuels!

Should we be filled with optimism about a greener, sustainable future that is now firmly in our sights? Or worry that progress is still so slow, with loopholes and careful editing of the final draft meaning that we are still only looking at commitments with little detail?

The truth is probably both. COP28 had highs and lows, and almost seemed to grind to a halt altogether 24 hours before the end, but it’s another important step in pulling together and affirming global action on climate change.

The Role of Businesses

COP28 was the biggest COP yet with over 80,000 attendees and one of the most notable differences was the number of businesses making up these numbers. COP has historically been seen as a conference for scientists, academics and politicians, but since Glasgow in 2021 there has been an increasing number of corporations becoming involved.  

Amongst the disquiet about COP being hosted by an oil producing Nation, there was also significant consternation about the number of fossil fuel lobbyists and billionaires in attendance, creating a slightly cynical atmosphere around business involvement. However, if any of the commitments agreed at any COP, hosted in any country, are to be delivered upon the world needs business to help do it. The increasing involvement of the corporate sector, and the record numbers in attendance, must be seen as a positive and a reflection of urgency.

COP28 was the biggest COP yet with over 80,000 attendees

Food and Farming was on the Agenda

With 2023 firmly taking its place as the hottest year on record, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that solutions to tackle climate change need to be implemented across all sectors, and result in changes to nearly every way of life globally. The inclusion of a wider agenda at COP28 demonstrates the increased understanding of the problem, and a solid first step towards finding solutions.

This year the food system and farming rose up the agenda, with a focus on how to create a more resilient, joined up food system. Farming and agriculture accounts for 30% of global emissions and farmland is also under threat from flooding and droughts. It’s widely accepted that our current farming and food system is unsustainable.

COP’s food, agriculture and water day saw more countries sign up to its plans and declarations, more money being pledged and partnerships forged to support countries in creating a food system that will withstand the more hostile climate of the future. With a huge amount to achieve in this area it feels like we’re only just getting started, but gains are made inch by inch and its top billing on this year’s agenda will ensure it remains a priority. 

Loss and Damage Fund

A definite win for COP28 was the agreement of a Loss and Damage fund on day 1; delegates welcomed this long-awaited achievement with a standing ovation. This is very much a first step however, as donations are currently underwhelming and detail needs to be agreed on how it will be funded and what will enable a nation to be eligible.

Once again, however, it’s progress! The need to establish a Loss and Damage Fund has been discussed for a long time, it’s now off the ground and the rest will follow as part of the Global Stocktake.

Tripling Renewables by 2030

The commitment to triple renewable energy output by 2030 is clearly a big one for us, and we’re fully behind investment in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. With a large focus on phasing down fossil fuels it was natural that there would be discussion about the alternatives.

Again, there is some lack of detail behind how this will be delivered with concerns being raised about whether the industry, which is already growing fast, can really expand at such an exponential rate. Estimates put the required growth at 20% more than the current trajectory and the industry is already facing challenges such as access to skilled labour, material shortages and grid constraints. It’s estimated that $1.2 trillion will need to be invested annually to reach this target by 2030. As Reuters reports, it’s doable, but not easy.

The first COP to Mention a Reduction in Fossil Fuels

It might feel that once again we have commitments and intent, without the detail and real action, and many are left frustrated that this was an opportunity missed. However, this was the first COP agreement ever to have wording around fossil fuels and although the text may have changed to “transition away” from and include references to nations moving at their own pace, it is momentous.

There was outrage at the first draft which didn’t reference a reduction in fossil fuels at all, with the EU and the Alliance of Small Island States refusing to sign, but the final 24 hours of COP28 turned this around.

COP28 may not be perfect, but it does show that there is still momentum, the direction of travel remains the same and progress has been made, albeit slower than many would hope. As always, it’s down to nation states to implement the commitments they have made, with some potentially doing more than others.

Whatever your personal feelings are on the final COP agreement, this does not stop you from doing more. In many ways private individuals and businesses are already outshining Governments on the values they are living by and the ambitious targets they’re setting around the globe. As the final COP28 text lays out, nations will proceed at their own pace, transitioning at a rate that is applicable to them; but the forerunners make it much easier for others to follow.

One message is clear, urgency and action are needed in this decade. We have much to do between now and COP29.

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