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Wopke Hoekstra, the EU's Commissioner for Climate Action, noted at the end of COP28: “humanity has finally done what is long, long, long overdue”.

Following intense negotiation and extension to the summit, the final text of the Global Stocktake called on countries to contribute, "taking into account their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches" to "transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner". It marks the first time fossil fuels were directly mentioned in a COP decision.

Global Stocktake

The call to contribute towards the energy transition is undoubtedly the headline outcome of COP28. This wording marked a strengthening of the language used previously.
Whilst many had hoped that the agreement would set out a firm commitment to phase out the use of fuels, concerns remain that, in the absence of express targets or requirements for countries to reduce fossil fuel use, little will result in meaningful actions or reductions. The agreement also failed to mention the need to reduce emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

The Global Stocktake sets a target of cutting COemissions by 43% by 2030, relative to 2019 levels. It also recognises that current financial pledges by developed countries to help their developing counterparts deal with climate change and the transition to renewables are lacking. Yet it does not go as far as requiring developed countries to do more.

Key outcomes

Encouragingly, COP28 witnessed agreement for the World Bank to operationalise the 'Loss and Damage Fund', intended to assist developing countries in dealing with the adverse impacts of both extreme weather and slow-onset disasters. It also saw 118 countries sign the Global Pledge on Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Each signatory has committed to triple global installed renewable energy capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

With a forward-looking perspective an agreement to draft a 'new collective quantified goal' at COP29 was also reached, setting a post-2025 climate finance target in accordance with Article 9 of the Paris Agreement (currently $100 billion annually).

A notable failure were the negotiations regarding the adoption of guidelines for the operationalisation of a UN-run carbon market mechanism pursuant to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. No agreement could be reached on the rules for the approval of carbon offset projects.

Key finance pledges

With that in mind a number of key climate finance-related pledges were made at COP28, including a commitment totalling $700 million to the Loss and Damage Fund and $600 billion of funding for African nations looking to develop wind and solar projects, announced by Kenya, Denmark, Germany, the UAE and the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Ultimately, what became clear was that the concept of a just transition was front of mind at both governmental and business levels. It means that general counsel will need to consider the implications of the policy agreements adopted. It will be particularly important for them to focus on the scope of influence their business may have, recognising that the growing importance of disclosure relating to sustainability governance and financial activity.

Other significant COP28 outcomes and announcements

It is fair to say that the summit, like previous iterations has had its controversies, but COP28 will also be remembered for a variety of notable outcomes and announcements. For example,

the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions launched the 2030 Climate Solutions Implementation Roadmap, containing specific actions and insights from non-Party stakeholders on scaling up effective measures to reduce global emissions by 2030. At the same time, it secured commitments to boost the resilience of food and public health systems and reduce emissions from the agriculture sector. How this is achieved will be an intriguing question for the legal community who will be keeping a keen eye on how standard-setting bodies and regulators respond.

The verdict

Some will view the outcomes achieved at COP28 as a compromise and, while COP28 marked a key milestone as participants undertook the first 'Global Stocktake' to assess progress made regarding the global aim of "1.5 degrees", questions will inevitably be raised about whether Mr Hoekstra was right in his assessment.

Nevertheless, COP28 introduced a number of key milestones so there is reason to be optimistic that it has just marked the starting point of greater international collaboration on climate action. The hope must be that future summits will see further breakthroughs particularly in relation to carbon markets and the new collective quantified goal for climate finance.

This article first appeared on Law.com

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