COP28: Draft global stocktake exhibits ‘alarming changes’ as deadline looms

Vague references and timelines are being questioned by onlookers on the final day of COP28

The “highest levels of ambition” are on the table for the final global stocktake, according to Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UN Climate Change Committee, with finance “the bedrock to scale-up climate action on all fronts”.

His comments came at a media stakeout, held at the event on the eve of its conclusion, in which Stiell also stressed: “The reality is the highest ambition outcomes are the only way for all governments to leave Dubai with a win under their belt. One thing is for certain: ‘I win – you lose’ is a recipe for collective failure. Ultimately, it is eight billion people’s security that is at stake.” 

Click here for ESG Clarity‘s COP28 coverage.

Here is a roundup of the news from the final days of COP28:

Fossil fuel lobby exerts its influence

COP28 will see the first global stocktake published, taking into account climate initiatives and action achieved since the Paris Agreement, as well as setting out how to overcome obstacles on the path to net-zero.

Earlier draft texts of the stocktake included an option to “phase out fossil fuels in line with best available science”. But, according to UNEP’s head of climate risk and TCFD, David Carlin, more recent drafts point to some “alarming changes”, including:

  • A lack of reference to a fossil fuel ‘phase out’, only a reference to the phase out of ‘inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’.
  • Fossil fuel reduction being listed as just one of eight actions to reduce emissions that countries ‘could’ pursue.
  • And timings are left relatively ambiguous, with no explicit reduction for methane by 2030, and net-zero “around 2050”.

Meanwhile, a leaked letter from the head of OPEC – an organisation which looks after the interests of some of the biggest oil-exporting countries in the world, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Venezuela – has warned its members that “pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences”. The letter also noted, while a fossil fuels phase-out remains on the negotiating table, members should “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy, ie fossil fuels, rather than emissions”.

This has caused anger among nations at the forefront of the climate crisis. The Marshall Islands’ John Silk, for example, said the deal would commit the hi island nation to its “watery grave”, with representatives from Australia responding by saying they “will not sign their death certificates”.

In response, Majid Al Suwaidi, COP28 director-general, commented: “As you know, yesterday we released a text. As you also know, lots of Parties felt it did not fully address their concerns. We expected that. In fact, we wanted the text to spark conversations, and that is what happened.

“What we have seen since, is that the Parties have deeply held and deeply split views, especially on the language around fossil fuels. By releasing our first draft of the text, we got Parties to come to us quickly with their red lines. We spent last night taking in that feedback and that has put us in a position to draft a new text.

“We have been seeking the right balance between those elements. But this is a process of the Parties. It is a question of how ambitious the Parties truly are and where they want the balance to be. That is what we are negotiating about. And, while the Presidency can guide, direct and encourage, the level of ambition is for the Parties to agree.”

Protecting and restoring forests, mangroves and oceans

Elsewhere, the weekend’s Nature, Land Use and Ocean Day saw leaders endorse commitments and pledges of over $186m to build momentum to protect and restore forests, mangroves, landscape restoration, nature finance and the oceans – all viewed as essential to delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“There is no path to fulfilling the Paris Agreement and keeping 1.5°C within reach without protecting and restoring nature, land and the ocean. We must work in partnership especially with the indigenous peoples and local communities who steward these critical assets,” said Razan Al Mubarak, the UN Climate Change high-level champion for COP28.

“The diverse, incredible turn-out for Nature, Land Use and Ocean Day at COP evidences the support for this dual nature-climate agenda and its centrality to the response to the global stocktake. I am delighted that we also have a clear pathway for nature to COP30 in Belém.”

For investors, the main news was that more than 150 businesses and financial institutions announced plans to set climate and nature targets under the Science-Based Target Network and Science-Based Target International’s Forest Land and Agriculture frameworks. Under these frameworks, businesses agreed to increase investments in nature-based solutions and to begin assessing, managing and disclosing their nature-related impacts, dependencies, risks and opportunities through the Taskforce on Nature- related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework.

Water scarcity and food security

Also over the weekend, COP28 devoted a day to food, agriculture and water, with 152 countries mobilising behind the COP28 UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food Systems and Climate Action. Philanthropic funders announced $389m in new funding to support food producers and consumers meet the Declaration’s ambitions.

The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4Climate) also announced an increased $3.4bn in aggregated funding for climate-smart food systems and agriculture, as well as 27 new innovation sprints. Launched by the UAE and US at COP26, AIM4Climate has since evolved into the largest advocacy and coordination platform for increased investment in dual climate-food investment.

“COP28 continued a trend towards the broadening of the climate agenda to encompass wider systemic issues. In one of the most underappreciated outcomes thus far, 130 countries have agreed to embed a consideration of food systems into their individual climate action plans,” said Thomas Hohne-Sparborth, head of sustainability research at Lombard Odier IM.

“Food systems are responsible for most biodiversity loss, agrochemical pollution, deforestation and water use. They are wildly inefficient, with nearly 80% of land use to support animal agriculture rather than to feed humans.

“As obvious as these problems are, so too are the solutions, spanning from moves to regenerative forms of agriculture, precision farming and alternative proteins – investable opportunities that should greatly benefit from the focus that these 130 countries will be affording it.”