Reflections on COP28’s first global stocktake

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By Tim Dixon

14 December 2023

Good news and not-so-good news on the outcomes of COP28 from a mitigation perspective. After running over by one day, the COP28 Presidency worked overnight and issued a new Global Stocktake text version 3 (GST), and in plenary succeeded in getting Parties to adopt the “Outcome of the first global stocktake“.

This GST version 3 had progressed the energy section significantly from version 2. Instead of a “could include” list of actions, this now “calls upon Parties to contribute to the following” followed by the list which includes:

1. tripling renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030;

2. phase down of unabated coal power;

3. accelerating efforts to net zero fuels;

4. “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with science“;

5. “accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production“;

6. substantially reducing methane emissions by 2030;

7. reducing emissions from road transport;

8. phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies ASAP.

The whole GST can be seen at UNFCCC GST with the energy section in paragraphs 28(a)-(h).

So, this text is stronger than the previous version 2. In a COP agreement, for the first time, fossil fuels are named in general and there is a call for a transition away from all fossil fuels with a target timescale for achieving emissions net-zero. It is noted that this call is just for energy systems, not industrial uses such as in steel and cement. We welcome the inclusion of CCUS in the list of low-carbon technologies. We note the phase-out of unabated coal power has no timescale.

After it was adopted in the CMA plenary most blocs of countries spoke in support of this text, recognising it as a milestone, especially the energy section. The EU’s and John Kerry’s speeches were particularly notable for their pragmatism and positivity, this is significant progress in the right direction but not enough on its own, just a start. The small island states expressed the strongest concern over its lack of strength. The COP Presidency declared that this GST outcome, along with some other outcomes agreed here, becomes known as the “UAE Consensus”.

The not-so-good news relates to carbon markets. The reports on Article 6.2 and Article 6.4 were not able to be adopted in the CMA plenary, both being sent back to SBSTA for further work and reporting to CMA6 at COP29 next year. This creates some uncertainty and a one-year delay in fully operationalising the international compliance carbon markets. I think this is a great pity especially after Article 6.4 Supervisory Body worked so hard and achieved consensus in its recommendations on removals. I am not sure of the details of the further work at this stage, but I understand that some relate to nature-based removals.

Here are some personal reflections. There were several significant multilateral agreements out of COP28, including the Carbon Management Challenge which IEAGHG fully supports. At the UNFCCC level, given the misinformation generated by some media against CCS and CDR, it was good to see these technologies survive into the final GST text. Media reaction to the final GST has been mixed. Generally positive in the mainstream media, and negative in some environmental NGOs’ media. To me, it has been frustrating to see CCS described as a loophole, a fantasy, used for greenwashing, and undermined as a viable large-scale mitigation technology from before the start of the COP. This made our work at COP even more important, and that of other CCS-related organisations such as CCSA, GCCSI, International CCS Knowledge Centre, CEM-CCUS and Universities such as the University of Texas and the University of Oxford. All mitigation actions are needed and all need to be science- and evidence-based.

This was also the busiest COP for me since 2011 (then I was the EU’s lead negotiator getting CCS in CDM). When I look back over the two weeks, it appears that I had eight speaking events, organised two side events, had three discussions with youth, met with four Ministers, and met many people coming to the booth for information on CCS. When I reflected on what we do here in collaboration with the University of Texas and other CCS organisations, I realise that whilst we do inform and update the CCS-interested audience, especially with the University of Texas we also reach beyond the CCS audience, beyond our ‘echo chamber’, including reaching some youth groups who are very motivated and loud voices at COPs but had been fed much misinformation on CCS. With such misinformation on CCS prevalent around COP28, that is a very important aspect of our activities, and which in my view needs to happen much more widely. By the way, it was very helpful here when explaining CO2 geological storage to point out that the minimum storage depth is the same height as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the World’s tallest building!

So a much more positive outcome for mitigation than the last COP whose main achievement was not going backward from Glasgow COP26. This COP still just about ‘keeps 1.5 alive’, and has CCS and CDR being explicitly included in the final UNFCCC agreement, the “UAE Consensus”, and accelerated by the multilateral Carbon Management Challenge. But of course, it could have been even better and even stronger on mitigation. I wonder how much the misinformation focus on one major mitigation option influenced that?

I saw the COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber playing with and signing a football for a boy in the COP, you could say he certainly scored a goal against climate change with this COP, but we certainly haven’t won the game yet! I liked at the end that he said, after congratulating all Parties on a major achievement, in a cautionary way that countries now need to turn these words into action, “We are what we do, not what we say”.

The next COP will be in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 11 to 22 November 2024.

For progress through the COP28 and more information and summaries of IEAGHG’s activities, see Update on COP28 at almost the end – BLOG (ieaghg.org) and COP28 Update at Halfway – BLOG (ieaghg.org) and for the best summary of all the COP28 outcomes see IISD’s UN Climate Change Conference – United Arab Emirates Nov/Dec 2023 | IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin

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