COP28 was scheduled to conclude at 11am on Tuesday 11 December, but by the evening getting agreement on a final text was not looking good. Commentators were speculating about whether we would see another COP end in gridlock with delegates leaving the negotiating table rather than agreeing a final text. Yet, on Wednesday 13 December we woke up to the news that an ‘historic’ agreement had been reached with the issue of fossil fuels firmly at the centre. Is this agreement a signal of the end of fossil fuels or just more empty rhetoric? Hannah Eves, A Rocha UK’s Policy and Campaigns Officer, explains the outcome and what it means for climate and nature.
COP28, the 28th Annual UN Global Climate Summit, has just concluded in Dubai. After a tense final two days, a ‘global stocktake’ decision was reached on the morning of Wednesday 13 December, known as the ‘UAE Consensus’. This stocktake acts as a climate report card, with the goal of measuring countries’ progress on actions to address climate change, against what was set out in the historic Paris Agreement (keeping temperatures as close to 1.5 degrees of warming as possible). It’s why fossil fuels were at the heart of discussions, because the science has been clear for a long time now that we cannot keep burning coal, oil and gas if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown. This was the moment for countries to take a long hard look at how their policies, and the implementation of those policies, measure up against the urgency of the climate crisis.
What we got was a mixed bag. On the one hand, this is the first time that we have seen the key cause and driver of climate change – burning fossil fuels – acknowledged in the text. This is not insignificant and the fact that the text refers to transitioning away from fossil fuels explicitly rather than just cutting emissions makes it harder for governments to avoid cutting fossil fuels. This offers a useful tool to push for more action from UK political leaders. However, the language in the document has been widely criticised as weak for falling short of what we needed according to the science, which is to insist on a rapid end to fossil production and consumption. The text simply calls on countries to transition away from fossil fuels.
The UAE Consensus also contains a ‘litany of loopholes’ which create opportunities for governments to avoid the necessary action of cutting fossil fuels in favour of concentrating solely on efforts to capture and store carbon – a technology untried at scale – and invest in renewable energy. It cannot be one or the other, we must phase out fossil fuels rapidly alongside investing in climate solutions. Whatever the groundbreaking rhetoric, it is clear that in reality, we are still not moving as fast on climate as climate science urges.
Finally, we saw on the second day of COP28 the operationalisation of a Loss and Damage Fund, a fund which seeks to address the effects of climate breakdown which cannot be mitigated or adapted to. The setting up of a fund for Loss and Damage, which has been fought for for more than a decade, was agreed at COP27 and this progress in Dubai is encouraging indeed, however, the Loss and Damage in developing countries is already estimated by some studies to be greater than $400bn annually – and expected to rise. The Loss and Damage Collaboration have criticised the progress on loss and damage at COP28, saying that it focused more on what developed countries need in order to provide finance for the fund rather than the scope and the scale of the needs of households, communities and countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis. As such, it is clear that we are still missing critical climate finance for countries facing the worst impacts of climate breakdown. John Silk, the negotiator from the Marshall Islands, commenting on the final agreement likened it to a “canoe with a weak and leaky hull, full of holes” and said “we have to put it into the water because we have no other option”.
Given that we know that restoring nature, especially our carbon sinks, like forests and peatlands,is integral to climate action, it was very positive to see the inclusion of a 2030 Deforestation goal in the UAE Consensus. The text “emphasises the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature and ecosystems towards achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal”. This is a useful recognition of the critical role of nature within climate debates. It has been estimated that approximately a third of the emissions cuts we need could come from nature based solutions, and so we are pleased to see nature acknowledged in the text. However, the failure to phase out the burning of fossil fuels and the subsequent rising global temperature would likely undermine this, given that global heating erodes forest resilience to drought, fire and disease. The text also notes the need for support and investment into nature based on “the best available science as well as Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and local knowledge systems”. It is encouraging to see the acknowledgement of the expertise of indigenous peoples and we welcome this focus on centring the local community in any nature based solution. This is the first time that the 2030 deforestation goal has been included in a UN agreement and so we have seen the voluntary language of the Glasgow Declaration on Forests by 130 countries strengthened into a commitment among 200 countries. However, as Fernanda Carvalho, WWF Global Climate and Energy Policy Lead, said, “It is disappointing to see countries not including the recommendation by the IPCC to protect 30 to 50% of all ecosystems. This should have been the moment where countries committed to tackle the climate and nature emergencies in parallel”. There is still so much more to be done.
So, how do we, as Christians who care deeply about the natural world, respond to this? Here are three ways to start:
>Speak Up. The inclusion of fossil fuels in the text, however weak the language is, creates an opportunity for us to push for further action in the UK and there is nothing to stop countries from going further and faster on phasing out fossil fuels than the COP28 text calls on them to do. Therefore, we will be calling on all UK political parties to prioritise nature and climate in their policies and manifestos. The Nature 2030 campaign provides a roadmap of 5 key policies to get us on track for the commitment to restore 30% of global land and sea and halt biodiversity loss by 2030. One of the most powerful tools you have to enact change is to vote and speak up, writing – or better yet meeting with – your MP to talk to them about what you’d like to see on climate and biodiversity. Read more and write to your representative about the Nature 2030 Campaign here and join our Wild Christian community for regular updates on our campaigns here.
> Pray. Pray that our leaders, both in the UK and globally, would have the courage to implement the commitments already made and go further and faster on climate action and pray for those facing the most catastrophic and unjust impacts of climate breakdown.
>Encourage others. Talk to your church and your local community, start the conversation about climate breakdown and biodiversity loss and think about how you could mobilise others to speak up for nature. If your church isn’t yet signed up to the Eco Church award scheme, consider signing up here or proposing this to your church leaders.