COP28 (The 28th Convention of Parties on Climate Change) has now wrapped up. A final agreement was reached following plenty of disagreements and discussions. Read on for an overview of what happened and why it is important.

What is COP?

Climate COPs take place every year and are the world’s largest decision-making forum on climate change. Almost every country in the world is involved as a member.

This most recent COP was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from the 30th November — 12th December 2023. Although a final agreement has been reached, it has proved controversial.

What happened at COP28?

Commitment to move away from fossil fuels

This year, for the first time countries have agreed on the need to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which means moving away from using coal, oil and gas to produce electricity.

The final text of the agreement calls for countries to contribute to: “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

This is a major step forward on paper. However, one of the main reasons it has proved controversial is the language that is being used.

From ‘phasing out’ to ‘transitioning away’

There was a huge amount of debate over the initial use of ‘phasing out’ fossil fuels which has now been replaced with the weaker ‘transition away’ . This new term puts less impetus on countries to decarbonise.

This change in the text was primarily pushed by petrostates. These are countries which gain a large portion of their income from the sale, excavation and production of fossil fuels. The final agreement also still gives fossil fuel industries the leeway to keep expanding their businesses, with no final date in sight for when we can finally move on from fossil fuels.

Despite this, there are some positive steps forward:

Loss and damage fund

A loss and damage fund to help the most vulnerable countries repair damage caused by the climate breakdown was finally agreed upon. This fund currently totals around $700 million. This signals a commitment by developed, polluter nations to provide financial support for the damage that is already being caused as a result of climate change.

This is a big step forward. Although the fund does not yet force countries to take responsibility for historical emissions and will need significant increases in funding to fully cope with the damages caused by climate change, it does recognise the differences in responsibility that each country has for climate change.

Support for renewable energy

Countries from across the world have also spoken in support of renewable energy. They backed the call for global renewable energy to be tripled and for the rate of energy efficiency improvements to be doubled by 2030. This would see wind and solar displace coal, oil and gas in many countries as the cheapest and most efficient form of energy production.

Achieving this would mark a significant step in moving away from our reliance on fossil fuels as they would become more and more expensive when compared to renewable sources.

How were young people involved in COP?

The scale of the challenge presented by climate change and the scope of the COP on climate can seem too large to get involved with, particularly for younger people. However, younger generations have an important role to play in climate change governance.

The world is currently home to the largest generation of youth in history. Young people have shown unprecedented mobilization around the climate crisis to push policymakers towards solutions and justice for those impacted by climate change.

COP28 saw expanded participation from younger generations, with 100 delegates selected from the International Youth Climate Delegate Program embedded within the COP process, pushing to make younger voices heard at the table. This model for inclusion will now be replicated in COPs moving forward, giving younger people the opportunity to hold policymakers to account for the damages caused by climate change.

Why does COP28 matter?

COP28 may not be the COP that solves the climate crisis. Yet, for many, it marks the largest step forward since the 2015 COP21 in Paris.

Finally, getting the need for countries to move away from fossil fuels on paper is a historic moment. And hopefully, it spurs momentum in the right direction.

Text written by Douglas Lewns, Policy Officer at Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).

Keeping up to date with environmental laws and policies is a key skill for those looking to work in environmental policy roles. Read more about policy and law roles in the environmental sector.

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Header photo by Markus Spiske.