Commentaries ESG and Climate Risk Geopolitics and IR

Charting a Course for Climate Action: Highlights and Challenges from COP28 in Dubai

  • The primary focus of this year’s COP was the inaugural Global Stocktake, a pivotal element of the Paris Agreement designed to evaluate advancements every five years.

  • The conference began with the creation of a new fund to tackle losses and damages faced by vulnerable countries due to climate impacts.

  • The Loss and Damage Fund, operationalized during COP28, is a positive development in addressing the severe impacts of climate change.

  • The UDA should take center stage in the future COP agenda, given its profound implications for environmental, economic, and social well-being.

COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Dubai, set forth five major priorities to address the escalating climate crisis and catalyse global action. The conference began with the creation of a new fund to tackle losses and damages faced by vulnerable countries due to climate impacts. This initiative acknowledges the severity of climate-related losses and sets the stage for more comprehensive responses to the impacts already occurring. Moreover, COP28 concluded by officially recognizing fossil fuels as the primary driver of climate change. The commitment to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, aiming for a just, orderly, and equitable shift, became the centerpiece of COP28. This moment was historic, marking the first time the term “fossil fuels” appeared in a COP’s formal outcome since the inception of UN climate negotiations three decades ago. This decision is a crucial step toward dismantling the fossil fuel era, especially in the face of intense pressure from oil and gas interests.

The primary focus of this year’s COP was the inaugural Global Stocktake, a pivotal element of the Paris Agreement designed to evaluate advancements every five years and galvanize more robust climate action. Termed the UAE Consensus, the Global Stocktake outcomes unveiled in Dubai comprehensively addressed various climate issues, offering crucial insights into energy, transportation, and nature. Additionally, it charted a course for the forthcoming set of national climate commitments (NDCs) scheduled for submission in 2025. As the world approaches the halfway point to achieve climate goals by 2030, the stocktake seeks to assess advancements, identify failures, and rejuvenate commitment to tangible actions.

Facing the intensifying impacts of extreme weather events, UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai emphasized the urgency to cap global warming at 1.5°C. However, the compromise faced criticism for lacking a clear reference to fossil fuel phase-out, weak language on coal and methane, and the acceptance of so-called transitional fuels. Clearly, the language used in the agreements fell short of the desired commitment. The agreement also calls for a rapid transition to clean energy, including a tripling of the world’s renewable energy capacity and a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030. Notably, the call to “transition away” from fossil fuels, rather than a more decisive “phase-out”, allows intentional loopholes, such as carbon capture and storage, enabling the continued burning of oil and gas. Despite over 100 countries committing to tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling global energy efficiency rates by 2030, concerns lingered about the sincerity of the commitment, especially given the dual role of the summit president in the oil and gas industry. While the commitment to a just and equitable transition recognizes diverse national circumstances, challenges remain in addressing the financial barriers hindering the adoption of renewable energy, particularly in developing countries.

The Loss and Damage Fund, operationalized during COP28, is a positive development in addressing the severe impacts of climate change that exceed adaptive capacity. However, the fund’s current funding, approximately $700 million, falls far short of the projected $580 billion in climate-related damages vulnerable countries may face by 2030. While the fund’s initiation is a positive step, it lacks proper recognition as the third pillar of climate action. It is crucial to incorporate detailed loss and damage sections in the next round of NDCs, fostering predictable and adequate financing. Recognizing the critical role of sub-national leaders, COP28 hosted the Local Climate Action Summit, bringing together mayors, governors, and leaders from business and NGOs. These leaders play a pivotal role in implementing climate policy at city and regional levels, contributing significantly to achieving climate goals. The summit aimed to foster new partnerships to accelerate the energy transition, focus on people, and ensure local voices are integral in international climate discussions. However, the broader leadership on climate change faced challenges, with skepticism about the effectiveness of commitments made by leaders with ties to industries contributing to the climate crisis.

The COP28 discussions focused on advancing the Global Goal on Adaptation established by the 2015 Paris Agreement. While the goal was initially outlined to enhance adaptive capacity and resilience, COP28 marked progress in defining a framework. However, these targets lacked quantification and omitted financial support details for developing nations. Therefore, finance issues, including the adaptation finance gap, will be crucial topics for negotiation at COP29.

"The significance of the ocean in COP28 discussions is especially relevant in the context of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA). The ocean, capturing approximately 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions and absorbing about 90% of excess heat, acts as a crucial regulator of Earth's climate."

As COP28 emphasized ocean-based action, the global stocktake (GST), underscored the importance of protecting marine and coastal ecosystems, advocating for “ocean-based action”. Therefore, integrating UDA into climate strategies becomes essential for monitoring and safeguarding these vast marine environments. The Ocean Pavilion’s COP28 Dubai Ocean Declaration, signed by nearly 130 institutions, emphasized the need for increased awareness and collective measures to enhance ocean protection, extending to the underwater domain. While not fully meeting its goals, COP28 showcased a growing recognition of the crucial role that nature-based solutions, including coastal and marine ecosystems, play in addressing climate change and the need for comprehensive underwater observation systems.

"The COP28 pledges for the ocean, including large commitments like the Bezos Earth Fund's $100 million donation, emphasize the need for increased protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems. UDA can enhance these efforts by providing continuous monitoring and early detection of changes in marine environments, supporting effective conservation and management initiatives."

It is imperative to safeguard underwater ecosystems through Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA). The UDA should take center stage in the future COP agenda, given its profound implications for environmental, economic, and social well-being. As COP28 converges on comprehensive strategies to combat the escalating climate crisis, emphasizing the pivotal role of protecting underwater ecosystems aligns seamlessly with the broader objective of securing sustainable and resilient futures through UDA. At the heart of this urgency lies the critical need for biodiversity conservation. Underwater ecosystems, teeming with a diverse array of marine species, underpin the global food web, making their preservation paramount. The nexus between underwater ecosystems, maritime security, and resource management adds a layer of geopolitical significance to UDA. UDA technologies offer a promising avenue to enhance maritime security, curb illegal activities, and promote sustainable resource management. By highlighting these linkages in COP deliberations, nations can collectively work towards fostering a secure and sustainable maritime environment. The COP28 discussions also, touched upon the potential use of geoengineering techniques, including ocean-based mitigation actions, to combat climate change. This includes controversial methods like ocean iron fertilization, which introduces iron to stimulate phytoplankton growth, and other untested approaches. Consequently, adoption of UDA can contribute by providing real-time data and insights into the effects of these interventions on marine ecosystems, while ensuring that such measures do not harm the delicate balance of underwater environments.

Additionally, the global stocktakes at COP28 revealed that the world is behind schedule in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, jeopardizing the 1.5°C warming limit agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. The COP28 Global Stocktake outcome emphasizes the imperative for countries to submit revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) well in advance of COP30 in 2025. This entails updating 2030 targets and introducing new goals for 2035. Acknowledging the IPCC’s findings, the decision highlights the necessity of achieving a 60% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions below 2019 levels by 2035 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As COP28 highlights the ocean’s critical role in climate mitigation and adaptation, integrating UDA into climate policies becomes imperative for ensuring comprehensive strategies that address the unique challenges faced by underwater ecosystems.

"By recognizing UDA as an essential component of climate action, COP28 can pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient future for our oceans and the planet. The global community has achieved a historic milestone with unanimous agreement to shift away from fossil fuels and accelerate the adoption of renewable energy."

The true litmus test lies in how nations operationalize the UAE Consensus within their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and through comprehensive domestic legislation and policies. Despite the progress made at COP28, much work lies ahead to achieve a sustainable and resilient future.

Divya Rai

Commentary By

Divya Rai is undertaking research on the Underwater Domain Awareness framework in various multilateral structures in South Asia under the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Project Fellowship offered by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC). Her expertise lies in analyzing the need for the UDA framework in the BIMSTEC and India’s role in it, she has also worked on various issues related to South Asia such as regional and intra-regional connectivity, economic architecture, maritime security, environmental issues, and transport connectivity. She has published articles in reputed digital and print news platforms and magazines on issues about South Asia and the growing maritime influence of China in the Indo-Pacific, and geopolitics and non-traditional security threats in the South Asia region. She holds a Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies and a Bachelor of Science in Physics, Mathematics, and Defense and Strategic Studies from Allahabad University, Prayagraj.

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