From ambitions to actions at COP28

Attending a COP for the first time, energy network and systems academic Meysam Qadrdan reflects on the energy transition emerging through the COP28 Global Stocktake.

By Meysam Qadrdan

Last updated:

Meysam Qadrdan, Cardiff University
Meysam Qadrdan, Cardiff University

The number of delegates who rushed to Dubai to attend COP28 is a record high of almost 100,000. Amongst the 100,000 were officials and politicians from 197 countries who showed up at COP28 and discussed pledges to close the gap to achieve net zero – there are 42 countries that have net zero as a legally binding target, and 118 countries have net zero in their policy, or as a pledge or proposal.

Genuine concerns over the worst impacts of climate change, a desire to show leadership on the international stage, or a response to the growing demands from their informed citizens could be the reason. Regardless, a consensus at such a scale is promising – that everyone has to come to COP and take part in the negotiations.

Loss and damage – a strong start

On day one of the conference, COP28 started with an agreement to establish the ‘loss and damage’ fund, in order to financially support developing countries in coping with the impacts of climate change. This is a crucial step towards a fair and feasible transition to a clean and climate resilient world. So far, the committed amounts by United Arab Emirate (UAE), Germany, Italy, France, UK, US and Japan who are amongst the main contributors to the fund is totalling around $700 million plus. This amount is way less than what is estimated to be the economic and non-economic losses faced by developing countries every year due to climate change – but commitments from major economies to the principle of paying to support loss and damage is an important thing.

The pledges by almost 130 countries to triple the renewable energy capacity and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030 are also bold moves to keep the 1.5°C target within reach. In particular, the target of improving the energy efficiency that will lead to less demand for energy, in the first place, to provide the same level of services is pivotal to sustainable and productive societies.

No half measures

Whilst the increase in renewable generation is necessary, it may not be sufficient on its own, due to the scale of emission reduction we need to achieve to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 C and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Several analyses, such as the one by IEA, suggest that the increase in renewable needs to be combined with a rapid and significant drop in using fossil fuels; the two essential for a net zero planet by 2050.

This is why more than 100 countries urge for the phase out of the fossil fuels in conjunction with the increase in the renewable and energy efficiency improvements – essentially, we need to use all tools available. The phase out of fossil fuels, however, has its own opposition of course; several large producers and consumers of fossil fuels. Although there remain significant technical and economic challenges to be overcome to achieve fossil fuel free energy systems (lack of storable energy careers in a highly renewable energy system, to name one), the heavy reliance on the export and use of fossil fuels for economic growth in some countries is the main reason behind such opposition.

Investing in the future

This is the time for making bold and strategic decisions – and for one of those to be for wealthy developed countries to do more to support poorer ones with finance to overcome the costs of transition from coal to clean. Such decisions will optimise the transition over a long-term period with overall net benefits across the board. After all, the efforts we put into this now are investments for future.

What about the actions?

Even though there is still no agreement on the phase out of fossil fuels at time of writing, the fact that more than 100 countries are supporting this cause was hard to imagine few years ago. There are many parties - including big emitters - NGOs, businesses and countries and people who are most threatened by climate change are here pushing and working for the highest ambition. The remaining but very crucial task, however, is translating these high-level ambitions into tangible and auditable actions, with clear timelines, to be included in individual countries’ nationally determined commitments (NDC).

Wandering around the COP28 venue in Dubai EXPO - a very nice site with good, if over-priced coffee and refreshment - the word “action” can be spotted in almost all mottos: “Action builds action”, “Action inspires hope”, “Unite, act, deliver”, and many more. It remains to be seen just how far we get here in Dubai - but then how committed parties are, when the spotlight is off them, to ratcheting up the action at home.

Meysam Qadrdan is Professor in Energy Networks and Systems at Cardiff University