Wrestling with Words and Mincing the Meanings

Wrestling with Words and Mincing the Meanings

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COP28 was historic but grossly inadequate.


“World has wriggled out to allow the rays of hopes to come in from the fast-closing window of opportunity to save humanity from climate crisis”-those were the thoughts in my mind when I returned from Dubai, after participating in COP28-that took place from 30th November to 12th December.

The COP28 got stretched by one more day as the delegates kept wrestling with the words used for ‘phase out of fossil fuel’, which are the main source of the emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs). Finally, 197 countries agreed to the final language that included a diluted phrase of “transitioning away from fossil fuels in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050.” The timetable for phase out of fossil fuel according to the science based on latest reports of IPCC -Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change- was keenly expected as outcome from COP28. That unfortunately did not happen. 

What did happen, however, in Dubai was extraordinary and historic. The words, ‘fossil fuel’ and ‘just transition away from fossil fuel’ were included in the final text of the decision approved by all, though grudgingly. “Historic but inadequate” is the way the outcome of COP28 can best be described.

The COP-Conference of Parties-is held   annually by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change-UNFCCC. 30 years back the world leaders agreed in 1992 to take action to address the climate change. The exact words that were agreed, without wrestling at that time, were to ‘stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system’.

Unfortunately, the world, engrossed in indiscriminate economic development and regional conflicts and pandemic has not progressed far and further in stabilizing the GHGs like carbon dioxide. Their emissions continue to rise unabated as observed in reports of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The pathbreaking agreement was later penned down in 2015 in Paris, when the climate crisis started affecting all the continents of the world. Overarching goal of Paris Climate agreement is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

The countries in 2015 agreed to commit their own contributions, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) , to stabilize and reduce the emission. They also agreed to update or enhance the NDCs regularly to further reduce the emissions.  

Earlier, at COP15, in 2009 in Copenhagen, developed countries agreed to provide USD10 billion annually rising to USD 100 Billion annually by 2020 to developing countries to meet their emission targets in NDCs. This commitment of developed countries was based on ‘Polluter to Pay’ principle’, of Agenda 21.

In one of the landmark decision the countries agreed to regularly take global stock of emission reduction by all countries and finances provided by the developed countries . The first such global stocktaking of emissions was scheduled, in 2023 at COP28. 

Today, the temperature increase has already crossed 1.2 deg centigrade,  clearly signalling that the world’s failure to halt the rise of emissions. More than 80 percent of emissions (carbon dioxide) come from fossil fuel like coal, oil and gas.

As per UN report released in 2023, 8 years after Paris climate agreement, extreme weather has caused the deaths of two million people and $4.3 trillion in economic damage over the past 50 years. Decade from 2010 to 2019 had the highest increase in greenhouse gas emissions in human history, last 4 months of 2023 are hottest on the records, last 11 months have caused the highest economic losses due to extreme climate events. The window to limit warming to 1.5°C, the target set by the world leaders in Paris Climate Agreement is rapidly closing and the gap between where emissions should be and where they are, is widening fast. So, expectations from COP28 , in 12th Month of 2023 were very high.  COP28 was expected to raise the ambition and make specific timetable to halt the production and consumption of use of fossil fuels.

What was expected from COP28?

First, raising ambitions for emission-reduction with specific time bound phase out of fossil fuel,

Second, making finance available and accessible to developing countries as matter of emergency for mitigation and adaptation,

Third, operationalising loss and damage fund that was agreed in COP27,

Fourth, emission reductions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases like methane, and fluorocarbon and nitrous oxides

Fifth, Climate actions by business, civil society and sub-national organizations,

Sixth, climate actions by deploying  out-of-box technologies including  Carbon Dioxide Removal -CDR, space reflected solar electricity and so on.

What was achieved in COP28

1. First ever Global Stocktake was alarming and of serious concern.  It recognised the need for deep, rapid & sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5°C pathways. But then the Stocktake did not include the full set of actions, including the finances to developing countries  that are needed to close the emission & adaptation gaps. 

2. Operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund: Loss and Damage Fund was operationalised on the first day of the COP28. It  gathered USD 700 million  in funding commitments. But it is just 0.2 percent of more than USD 400 billion needed by 2030.

3. Fossil Fuels: The call for countries to start “transitioning away from fossil fuels” was the first time that the major source of climate pollution was included in a COP decision. It was weaker than the expected text of ‘ Fossil fuel Phase-Out’ . However the text of the decision made it clear that this should be “in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050.” United Nations Secretary General said that

“To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase out is inevitable whether they like it or not.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late. The era of fossil fuels must end – and it must end with justice and equity.

4. Enhancing the ambitions : COP28 agreed to commitments to triple renewables capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030.

5. Just Transition: First ever in any COPs details on ‘just transitions’  was agreed . Accelerate climate action by maximising the social opportunities & responding to the social challenges for people. Such transition will help countries like India to great extent particularly for workforce  that includes farmers, labours , women, and SMEs through social dialogue, social protection & recognition of labour rights and their capacity building for transtion). The mention of labour rights was another first for a COP28 .

Finally, the gaps in financing to the developing countries as per the Paris Climate Agreement are widening but also contributing to emission gaps. I feel that real gap is of trust between the global north and global south. The real gap is also in political will to act.

“ How many more COPs are needed to fill those gaps? ”, asked one of the Small island countries in Pacific Ocean while leaving Dubai. I only heard the sounds of roaring waves of the rising seas of the Persian Gulf! 


Published in Marathi by Sakal Media: https://www.esakal.com/saptarang/cop28-releases-draft-for-solutions-on-climate-change-historic-paris-conference-rjs00#goog_rewarded


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