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Rescue in the distant future or real progress?
COP28 - A review


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    The 28th UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai at the end of 2023 set out to evaluate and realign the climate agenda. How should the results be assessed against this backdrop and where are the turning points for the conferences in the coming years? Three experts who were present in Dubai explained the progress made in the areas of climate protection, adaptation measures and the financing of climate projects. 
    With around 85,000 participants, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) was the largest to date and faced a lot of criticism in the run-up to the event, partly due to its location in a major oil-producing country, the United Arab Emirates. But perhaps this was precisely what motivated the participating countries to make far-reaching decisions. "Some of the results of COP28 are remarkable," said Norbert Gorißen, Commissioner for Foreign Climate Policy and Deputy Special Representative of the Federal Foreign Office for International Climate Policy. 

    Beginning of the end of the fossil age

    After the first global stocktake since the Paris Agreement at the conference showed how far away the world still is from its climate targets, it was agreed to continue to use the 1.5 degree target as a guide for further national climate plans (Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs). "This was not a matter of course after the results of previous conferences," said Gorißen. In addition, the participating countries had recognized the necessary emission reductions specified by the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In addition to the expansion of renewable energies and measures to increase energy efficiency, the global community of states has agreed for the first time to transition away from the use of fossil fuels. This transition is to take place in a fair, orderly and balanced manner, with the aim of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

    Petter Lydén, Head of International Climate Policy at the environment, development and human rights organization Germanwatch, welcomed the fact that changes are to be driven forward intensively before the end of this decade. However, he also made it clear, how crucial the wording is: "A distinction must be made between hard commitments and voluntary measures," he said, dampening expectations. He sees the increasing discussions about underground CO2 storage (carbon capture and storage, CCS) and the importance of fossil fuel gas as a "bridge energy" as counterproductive on the path to global net zero emissions.

    Winning slowly is like losing

    Nathaniel Matthews was also able to take a lot of positives from the climate conference. However, progress is still far too slow, according to the CEO of the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP), an association of organizations promoting resilience. "Winning slowly on climate is the same as losing," he said, quoting environmental activist and author Bill McKibben. The window to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees is closing fast, and even with this temperature increase, significant environmental changes are to be expected worldwide. With the national climate protection plans currently on the table, we are heading towards 2.8 degrees global warming. 

    With regard to adaptation and resilience, he praised the historic decision to endow the Loss and Damage Fund with 700 million dollars, even if the amount is nowhere near what is needed. "I am optimistic about the growing commitment of the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the area of adaptation and the recognition of the climate conference that adaptation and resilience measures must go hand in hand with climate protection efforts."

    Screenshot Panellists, DF 2024 - COP Nachlese
    © Munich Re Foundation
    In the online forum, we discussed the results of COP28 with our experts.

    Opportunities for the private sector

    The financial requirements are enormous, as climate commissioner Gorißen made clear: "We are talking about several trillion US dollars over the next five to ten years. The public sector cannot cope with this alone." Public-private partnerships offer a way out, but there are also enormous opportunities for the private sector alone, according to Matthews: "A study presented at COP28 together with the Boston Consulting Group concluded that companies that invest in measures to promote resilience can achieve a benefit-cost ratio of 2:1 to 15:1." It is also in companies' own interests to protect their value chains and customers in countries at risk. 

    Lydén called for the development of innovative sources of financing. He cited the taxation of oil companies or the redistribution of part of the revenue from emissions trading as examples. "Such measures are generally difficult to enforce, but have enormous potential if they are implemented," he made clear. Even if compliance with national climate commitments NDCs is the sole responsibility of governments, the private sector is not absolved of responsibility, said Lydén. "In many cases, you even have to recognize that private actors take the commitments more seriously than their own governments, especially when it comes to concrete climate measures." When it comes to financing, however, governments have the key role to play by creating suitable framework conditions: "They can do a lot by taking risk-mitigating measures and increasing security. This enables private companies to invest in countries that would otherwise not be profitable for them."

    Focus on nature and biodiversity

    Matthews added: "We need a new global financial architecture for sufficient investment funds to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities. The global subsidies for fossil fuels alone, which amounted to around seven trillion US dollars in 2022, would offer plenty of scope. He also hopes that the global community will realize that we can only achieve the climate targets if we take into account the needs of nature and the role of biodiversity. Climate protection and adaptation are not possible without biodiversity and vice versa. The RAIN Challenge (Resilient Agriculture Innovations for Nature) launched together with the Munich Re Foundation to promote innovative solutions for climate-adapted agriculture points precisely in this direction. 

    Complexity slows down progress

    A frequently voiced criticism of the climate negotiations is that progress is slow and implementation plans are still too unambitious. The speakers outlined why this criticism is justified, but also explained the reasons for it. During the COP, 192 signatories (parties, i.e. countries or associations such as the EU) discuss how the Paris Climate Agreement should be implemented. Each of the parties sends dozens of delegates, sometimes well over 100. Negotiations with several thousand participants are of course not possible, so many countries join together in groups - for example low-lying island states. A consensus must then be reached within the groups before the global discussion can begin. 

    When texts are adopted, there are sometimes bitter disputes down to the smallest detail: should a goal be strictly "prescribed"? Or should the countries be "asked" or even just "encouraged" to do something? Every single verb has far-reaching consequences for the countries' national climate policies. In addition, climate policy now affects all areas of national planning, from agriculture to transport, security and health policy. As a result, dozens of negotiation threads are taking place in parallel at the COPs - up to 24 hours a day. However, Lydén highlighted a major paradigm shift: "Since the conference in Glasgow 2021, the negotiations have no longer focused so much on adopting future goals, but mainly on implementing them. We have moved away from the question of 'whether' we should do something globally and are focusing more on the 'how'. This is a real milestone!" 

    With the first global stocktake, COP28 has shown that the global community must take much more decisive action against global warming. Not only in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also in building more resilience to the effects of climate change and in providing financial and technological support. The next COP29 summit in Azerbaijan will show whether the call for governments to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has actually been followed by action.

    19 January 2024


    Event details


    Norbert Gorißen
    Commissioner for Foreign Climate Policy and Deputy Special Representative of the Federal Foreign Office for International Climate Policy 

    Nathaniel Matthews
    CEO of Global Resilience Partnership (GRP)

    Petter Lydén
    Head of International Climate Policy, Germanwatch



    Renate Bleich
    Chair, Munich Re Foundation

    Date of the event: 16 January 2024 

    Start: 18:00 CET

    Duration: 60 - 75 minutes