They came in their tens of thousands to Dubai’s Expo City last December for what had been billed as the most crucial climate conference ever staged: National leaders, business heads, youth activists, indigenous peoples, philanthropists, and members of international organizations from around the globe.

All had a singular mission in mind – saving the planet.

COP28 took place following a year of weather extremes and new temperature highs.

A year which saw soaring volumes of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and record melting of oceanic ice.  A year when global warming took thermometers to an average 1.4oC above pre-industrial times, scarily close to the 1.5oC limit once designated as a benchmark for climate action success or failure.[1]

HE Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber
COP28 President, UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change & Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology

The goal, as laid out by the UAE’s Dr Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, COP28 President, was to focus dialogue on four fundamental pillars:

  1. fast-tracking a just, orderly, and equitable energy transition
  2. fixing climate finance
  3. focusing on people, lives and livelihoods
  4. underpinning everything with full inclusivity[2]

Two weeks later delegates departed.  Some left hailing new optimism, new agreements and new financial commitments to fuel our fightback against climate change.  Others left with a sense that perhaps more could have been achieved, and that the sands of time symbolizing our chances of averting disaster continue to slip away.

No one, though, could doubt that the gathering had catapulted the climate crisis back to the top of news agendas worldwide.

It was perhaps significant that the conference took place in the UAE, a place where temperatures of more than 50oC were recorded on multiple occasions in 2023.  The Gulf region as a whole is deemed at risk of regular Wet Bulb Temperature (WBT) events later this century, conditions of high heat and humidity exceeding the body’s ability to cool itself by sweating, with likely fatal consequences.

Dr Al Jaber, the UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Special Envoy for Climate Change, as well as COP28 President, highlighted the UAE’s many climate milestones, such as halting gas flaring in the 1970s.  The UAE, he noted, went on to become the first country in the region to ratify the Paris Agreement (the core 2015 international treaty covering climate change) and the first to announce a strategic initiative to achieve net zero by 2050.  It has invested US$ 50 billion in clean energy projects across some 70 countries to date, and recently announced a UAE-US Partnership to accelerate the transition to clean energy (PACE)[3], unlocking a further US$ 100 billion in financing for 100 gigawatts of clean energy globally.[4]

Against this backdrop, and with delegates energized by the increasingly urgent voices of climate campaigners worldwide, what were the key outcomes of COP28?

Taking the temperature of a divisive conference

In a widely quoted summary of the conference’s landmark agreement, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell touted “the beginning of the end” for the fossil fuel era in his closing speech to the conference.[5]

This appraisal, however, meant different things to different people.  Those hoping for more rapid climate amelioration decried a compromise deal vowing merely to ‘transition away from’ rather than ‘phase out’ fossil fuels – the latter a stance backed by 130 of the 198 countries attending Dubai.[6]  An article in Nature magazine went so far as to describe the outcome as ‘dangerous’.[7]

However, the agreement’s ‘global stock take’ of climate action – the first of its kind – took concrete steps towards reversing the climate crisis, declaring that global greenhouse gas emissions must fall 43% by 2030 (compared to 2019 levels) and reasserting the critical need to limit global warming to 1.5°C.[8]

Landmark deals help ‘four pillars’ stand tall

Notwithstanding the differing opinions of progress made at COP28, some of the more notable achievements have the potential to redefine the battle against global warming.

  1. Fast-tracking a just, orderly, and equitable energy transition – highlights:

A new Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge committed signatories to tripling the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030.  It also set out plans to double the global annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from 2% to 4% every year from now until the end of the decade.,[9] while a Global Cooling Pledge saw 66 governments vow to reduce cooling-related emissions across all sectors by at least 68% by 2050[10].

The case for nuclear power received a major boost with a declaration to triple nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050, and a plan for financial institutions to promote nuclear energy via ambitious lending policies[11].

New mutual recognition schemes for certifying renewable and green hydrogen projects[12] will help such schemes gain accreditation – and hence investment – across 37 participating nations.  The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter[13] obliges its 52 signatories to net-zero operations by 2050 and near-zero upstream methane emissions, while an Industrial Transition Accelerator[14] saw 35 major private sector companies agree to decarbonize heavy-emitting sectors including energy, industry, and transportation.

Adequate infrastructure is critical for any viable transition, so it was pleasing to see 25 global power companies establish the Utilities for Zero Alliance[15] to advance electrification, renewables-ready grids, and clean energy deployment around the world.

Similarly, the Cement and Concrete Breakthrough[16], launched by Canada and the United Arab Emirates, compels the industry to hasten decarbonization by sharing best practice and innovation across emerging technologies like carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).  Meanwhile, 10 further companies joined the Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels initiative, with more than 30 freight buyers now working towards zero-emissions ocean transport[17].

  1. Fixing climate finance – highlights:

Significant progress was made on recognizing the debt owed to developing countries, and reforming international financial architecture.

Notably, a raft of national governments endorsed the UAE Leaders’ Declaration on a Global Climate Finance Framework[18], which calls for the mobilization of US$ 100 billion in climate mitigation schemes through 2025.  Building on this, the declaration calls for investments of US$ 5-7 trillion in greening the global economy by 2030.  The ethos underpinning the agreement states that no country should have to choose between fighting poverty and fighting climate change.

Banks and NGOs united on a joint declaration to enhance sustainability-linked sovereign financing for nature and climate[19].  This translates into short-term debt relief and long-term fiscal solutions for developing countries, helping them balance urgent climate mitigation while accelerating their own decarbonization projects.

Similarly, the Global Capacity Building Coalition, supported by the UN, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), promised technical assistance for financial institutions in emerging markets[20].  Elsewhere, the new Net-Zero Export Credit Agencies Alliance (NZECA) will help decarbonize global trade and coordinate public and private finance[21].

Meanwhile, the Nature Solutions Hub for Asia and the Pacific[22], launched by the Asia Development Bank, aims to channel finance into conserving nature and biodiversity loss in these hard-hit regions.

  1. Focusing on people, lives and livelihoods:

The first day of COP28 saw delegates agree more than US$ 700 million towards a loss and damage fund to compensate developing countries for the irreversible economic and lifestyle losses of global warming[23].  Italy and France each promised US$ 108 million, the UAE and Germany US$ 100 million apiece, the USA US$ 17.5 million and Japan US$ 10 million.  The fund will focus on adaptation measures covering finance, surveillance systems, heat resilience, health infrastructure and agriculture.  Progress with the UAE Declaration on Climate Relief, Recovery and Peace[24] will be assessed at COP29 in November this year in Baku, Azerbaijan.

New declarations acknowledged the need for collective action on climate and health, sustainable agriculture and transforming food systems, while a new roadmap outlined 120 key actions to eliminate malnutrition while remaining within the global 1.5oC temperature rise threshold.

Forests, mangroves and oceans will be the focus of new nature-based finance initiatives.  Furthermore, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Papua New Guinea announced national finance packages for climate and nature preservation backed by public, private and civil society partners.

Improving climate resilience and livelihoods at community level is an ongoing challenge, so COP28 saw 65 governments agree on the Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnership (CHAMP) for Climate Action[25].

The group aims to overhaul climate finance, hasten the energy transition, and strengthen resilience through local measures on the ground.

The Buildings Breakthrough, launched in partnership with the UN Environment Program (UNEP), aims to make zero-emission, climate-resilient buildings the design default by 2030.

  1. Underpinning everything with full inclusivity:

Climate change has the potential to disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and traditionally underrepresented groups.  Unless all voices are heard, climate action will fail to inspire the next generation of leaders and innovators.

COP28 saw the appointment of H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of Community Development, as official Youth Climate Champion, to promote the inclusion of young people and amplify their climate priorities[26].  A new Gender-Responsive Just Transitions and Climate Action Partnership[27] will harmonize climate action with the advancement of women’s rights.

COP28 also took steps to ensure the participation of indigenous representatives.  The Podong Indigenous People’s Initiative[28] will provide funding directly to native communities, ensuring a proportion of climate funds reach indigenous territories directly.

With a formalized declaration to gravitate away from fossil fuels, and a vision in place to finally sever mankind’s dangerous addiction to these pollutants, COP28 in many ways marked a momentous turning point in our planet’s fight for survival.

Environmental activists and climate campaigners secured victories across the board.  Green energy companies also had plenty to celebrate with the international accord to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030.  No longer will solar, wind and other eco energy sources be merely supplementing the stalwarts of oil, coal and gas; now, a trajectory is set for them to replace those traditional fuels forever.  Likewise, commitments to double energy efficiency by the end of the decade will inspire widespread confidence in our ability to make meaningful change.

However, other parties mourned missed opportunities and highlighted the challenges COP28 failed to address on our journey to a greener, more equitable future.

Frustration over fossil fuels, small states, and loss and damage fund

The absence of a pledge to definitively ‘phase out’ fossil fuels left a number of commentators criticizing the influence of lobbyists at COP28.  The compromise left the 1.5oC target only ‘nominally alive’, from some perspectives.[29]  Indeed, lacking a solid timetable for fuel transition, and with enormous faith being placed in CCUS technologies as-yet unproven at scale, COP28 was perhaps more evolution than revolution in the ongoing battle against climate change.

Agribusinesses were well represented at the conference and accordingly the final text omitted any mention of the cattle industry’s role in global warming; this, despite research showing that ruminant herds globally account for at least 7% of avoidable methane emissions.[30]

Small island states, uniquely prone to sea level rise, felt they left COP28 without the protections needed to guarantee their survival.  The Alliance of Small Island States, whose members span the Caribbean, the Pacific, African and Indian oceans and the South China Sea, declared that the agreement failed to capture “the step change that is needed” and erred too much towards a business-as-usual approach.[31]

In some quarters, even the US$ 700+ million loss and damage fund was deemed too little too late.  Contributions from the US and China, two of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, were dwarfed by bequests from countries with far smaller GDPs.

Arguably the most overlooked group in the aftermath of COP28 may well be future generations – those left to bear the brunt of runaway global warming.  Studies show that climate change, left unchecked, could cost the global economy a crippling US$ 178 trillion by 2070; an unconscionable dereliction of duty, considering the potential US$ 43 trillion bounty waiting to be unlocked by a rapid net-zero transition over the next five decades.[32]

The responsibility for achieving some of these more dramatic and enduring reversals now falls upon the shoulders of the forthcoming COP29 in late 2024.  Which raises the question – where now for the climate crisis, and those working hard to ensure a safer tomorrow?

Why the fight is far from over

With disputes over the severity of the climate crisis continuing to rumble on, 2024 could see a sizable step forward in monitoring and authenticating the impacts of global warming.

The Enhanced Transparency Framework[33] negotiated at COP28 lays the foundations for new reporting and review tools developed by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC – the body charged with coordinating a global response to this unprecedented threat).  By June 2024, final versions of these standardized reporting instruments should be released, finally shining an unambiguous spotlight on a subject often beset by obfuscation.

November’s COP29 in Azerbaijan will see governments focus on new climate finance measures, while governments will deliver updates on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) fully aligned with the 1.5oC temperature goal.

Those who left COP28 underwhelmed by declarations on biodiversity will already be looking ahead to October 2024.  This is when a dedicated biodiversity symposium, the UN Biodiversity Conference, commences in Colombia, South America[34].  The meeting will address biodiversity’s intrinsic role in safeguarding planetary and humanitarian welfare.

COP29 and the UN Biodiversity Conference are far from the only climate forums seeking to grab headlines in 2024.  March sees the 11th Annual World Ocean Summit and Expo[35] in Lisbon, Portugal, with discussions on ocean-based climate solutions and how to establish a sustainable ocean economy.  The 4th annual International Conference on Small Island Developing States[36], scheduled for May 2024 in Antigua and Barbuda, will provide these vulnerable nations with another chance to highlight the injustice of climate debt, and the urgent need for partnerships to ensure land protection.

June will be a particularly busy month for climate advocates.  The ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) World Conference[37] in São Paulo, Brazil, will see local and regional governments from around the world share best practice on sustainable urban development.

Later that month the IUFRO World Congress will take place in Stockholm, Sweden[38].  This five-yearly gathering of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations will unite civic leaders and scientists to discuss issues around population growth, globalization and the commercial exploitation of forests.

These summits, and others like them, represent our best chance for coordinating a collective reaction to the looming peril of the climate crisis.  An impactful response will be one harnessing the unique attributes of both public and private sectors.

It is here where organizations like Abdul Latif Jameel, wielding the power and responsiveness of private capital, can help convert climate talk into climate action.

Private sector leads climate call to arms

Our flagship renewable energy business, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV), is actively supporting COP28’s declaration to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030.  FRV manages an ever-growing catalogue of wind, solar, energy storage and hybrid energy projects globally – across the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and Australia.

FRV’s innovation arm, FRV-X, already runs utility-scale battery storage (BESS) plants in the UK at Contego, West Sussex; Holes Bay, Dorset; and Clay Tye, Essex.  Autumn 2022 saw FRV-X secure two further additional BESS projects in the UK and a majority share in a BESS scheme in Greece.  In Australia, FRV-X operates a hybrid solar and BESS plant at Dalby in the eastern state of Queensland.

Solar energy has the potential to power homes and businesses wherever the sun shines so will play a central role in any future net-zero strategy.  FRV-X has thrown its financial weight behind ecoligo, a German ‘solar-as-a-service’ provider, with a US$ 10.6 million investment.  Founded in 2016, ecoligo helps commercial and industrial partners in South America, Africa and Asia fund solar projects via a crowd investment platform.

As the ecological crisis deepens more communities will face acute water shortages, with hundreds of millions potentially facing drought-led migration by the end of the decade.[39]  The team at Almar Water Solutions, part of Abdul Latif Jameel Energy and Environmental Services, is working to widen access to reliable supplies of clean water.  One of its projects is a smart-communication water scheme in Abu Dhabi, helping to develop a smart grid and to digitize local water infrastructure.

A changing climate and increasingly erratic weather patterns also endanger food security.  The Jameel Water and Food Systems lab at MIT (J-WAFS), co-founded by Community Jameel in 2014, funds research into cutting-edge agricultural avenues – think drought-resistant seeds, or tech-driven farms-of-the-future.

Fady Jameel, Deputy President & Vice Chairman, Abdul Latif Jameel, speaking at COP28. Photo Credit © Community Jameel

“COP28 took place during the hottest year on record, a year in which thousands perished due to extreme weather and our oceans recorded hazardously high temperatures,” says Fady Jameel, Deputy President and Vice Chairman of Abdul Latif Jameel.

“In the starkest terms, the COP delegation laid out the crisis facing the human race, and took correspondingly bold steps towards healing a blighted planet.”

“Our desecration of Earth has not happened overnight, and the available solutions will take patience and commitment.  

Only a concerted effort by multiple stakeholders – campaigners, scientists, governments and private sector champions – can deliver the technological tools, financial firepower and public passion to confront this existential crisis.”

“With renewed hope, delegates can look forward to emerging from COP29 in Azerbaijan with even more courageous strategies, armed perhaps with a declaration decisive enough to turn the tables in this era-defining struggle.”