December 18th, 2023
As with my reflections on previous COP meetings and IPCC reports, my comments focus on the exact wording used where possible; they also focus on my particular interest in the demand side of energy and on Canada’s contribution. I prefer to focus on the exact wording as the media sometimes put their interpretation on what was actually said and I know that a great deal of thought and negotiation goes into the final wording.
The final COP decision, referred to as the “Outcome of the First Global Stockade”, is only 24 pages long with 196 clauses and is not overly technical – here is a link to it https://unfccc.int/news/cop28-agreement-signals-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-fossil-fuel-era. As an indication of the need for action, as with previous COP reports, all 196 clauses start with a verb (notes, emphases, invites, affirms, etc.) which are in italics for further emphasis.
- Transitioning Away From Fossil Fuels – This was by and away the most significant outcome of the meeting. Clause 28 starts with a general call for action: “Further recognizes the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in GHG in line with 1.5℃ pathway and calls on parties to contribute to the following global efforts, in nationally determined manner, taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches”. Subclause (d) states that “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. The most contentious point is that it did not call for a “phase-out” as had been sought by many countries. It remains a significant comment as it is the first time a COP meeting has signaled out fossil fuels as requiring action. Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, noted at the closing that “We didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era, but this outcome is the beginning of the end”. I am reminded of the quote from former Saudi Arabia oil Minister Ahmed Yaki Yamani “The Stone Age came to an end, not because of a lack of stones, and the oil and gas age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil”. A few interesting points include the limitation on “energy systems”, implying that fossil fuels could still be used for chemicals, plastics, etc. It is also important that it must be done in “just, orderly and equitable” manner and take into account “different national circumstances, pathways and approaches”. The final interesting feature is the last reference to “in keeping with the science” which is in stark contrast to the off-script comments that COP 28 chair Al Jaber’s made publicly before the meeting when former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson called for a phase out of fossil fuels. He is quoted as saying “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuels is what’s going to achieve 1.5 0 C”.
- Refers Specifically to the Climate Crisis – The opening clause “Welcomes that the Paris Agreement has driven near-universal climate action by setting goals and sending signals to the world regarding the urgency of responding to the climate crisis”. Along the same lines, the Canadian government’s recent climate TV ad campaign and web site refers to the “climate crisis”.
- Solutions are Available – Clause 15 (c) states “That feasible, effective and low-cost options are already available in all sectors to keep 1.5℃ within reach in the critical decade with the necessary cooperation on technologies and support.”
- Significantly Greater Emission Reductions Required – There are 24 clauses related to Mitigation initiatives. Clause 21 “Notes with concern … that significantly greater emissions reductions are required to align with global GHG trajectories in line with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement and recognizes the urgent need to address this gap”. Clause 24 “Notes with significant concern that, despite progress, global GHG emission trajectories are not in line with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, and that there is a narrowing window for raising ambition and implementing existing commitments in order to achieve it.”
- Renewables and Energy Efficiency– Clause 28 (a) calls for “Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030”. During this meeting, there were 191 separate announcements; one, which was signed by 116 countries, is the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge with parties “agreeing to triple worldwide installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW and to double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements to more than 4% by 2030.” These targets reflect the first two of five recommended actions by the International Energy Agency and the findings of a recent IEA report that noted the need to double energy efficiency from 2% to 4% by 2030.
- Coal – Clause 28 (b) calls for “Accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power.” This is similar to the wording from COP 26. The good news is that it calls for a “phase-down”, not just a transiting. It does leave open the potential for coal with carbon capture and storage.
- Nuclear – Clause 28 (d) calls for “accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low carbon hydrogen production.” The “hard to abate sectors” usually refers to steel, cement, chemical and other heavy manufacturing processes. In one of the other announcements, 22 countries, including Canada, signed the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050.
- Phase Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies – Clause 28 (h) calls for “Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible.” The International Monetary Fund has estimated these direct subsidies to be worth $1.3 Trillion. This is also similar to the wording from COP 26. Lots of questions here – does this mean that efficient subsidies are OK, whatever they are? Also, they are clearly ok if they are focused on energy poverty or just transitions.
- Conserving/Protecting/Restoring Nature – Clause 33 “Further emphasizes the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature and ecosystems towards achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through enhanced efforts towards halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030, and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gasses and by conserving biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental standards, in line with the Kumming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.”
- Future Targets – Clause 39 “encourages parties to come forward in their next nationally determined contributions with ambitious, economy wade emission targets, covering all greenhouse gasses, sectors and categories and aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5℃, as informed by the latest science, in light of different circumstances”. Last reference to “different circumstances” could be a loophole for some countries.
- Adaptation – The second major area covered is adaptation with 22 clauses.
- Means of Implementation and Support – The third major section includes clauses on Finance (34), Technology development/transfer (10), Capacity Building (9), loss and damage (14) and response measures (16). Some of the financial commitments include second replenishment of the Green Climate Fund to $12.8 billion, $174 million for the Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund and $188 million for the Adaptation Fund.
- International Cooperation and Guidance/Way Forward – The last two sections include 53 clauses. One of the more interesting is clause 182: Also requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, at its sixth session, to hold an expert dialogue on children and climate change to discuss the disproportionate impacts of climate change on children and relevant policy solutions in this regard.” It ends on a down note with the last clause 196: “Requests that the actions of the secretariate called for in this decision be undertaken subject to the availability financial resources.”
- Final Comment – Great final comment by Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary “The COP 28 agreement is a floor, not a ceiling. We must ramp up ambition and climate action”.
- Two Cartoons – You know what they say about pictures – I think it is even more true of cartoons. Here are my two favourites.
Canada’s Progress – Shortly before the conclusion of COP 28, the Canadian government released their 2023 Progress report. As per the chart below, they concluded that Canada is on track to meet its 2030 target.
Canada has had a terrible record of not getting even close to past targets (Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen) but we may be closer this time. The independent and respected Canadian Climate Institute reviewed this report and concluded that Canada is within 85-90% of meeting this target. They found that existing federal/provincial policies would result in a 25% savings. If policies at an advanced stage are also included, the savings rise to 31%. And if they include promises that have been made but not significantly developed, this rises to 34-36%. The national target is 40%. The report also noted oil/gas production and space heating of buildings are making particularly slow progress. Here is a link to the CCI report https://climateinstitute.ca/news/independent-assessment/.
In his November 2023 report, Canada’s Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development found that the federal government’s plan is not likely to reach the GHG reduction target as key measures were delayed or not prioritized. He did, however, comment that Canada could still meet its 2030 target “with drive, focus and leadership.”