Context at COP28: Mitigation and Adaptation under the Global Stocktake

 /  Jan. 13, 2024, 2:09 a.m.


Photo by COP28/Christopher Pike, December 2023

Dr. Sultan Al Jaber during COP28 Closing Plenary on December 13, 2023, in Dubai

On Dec. 13, following a one-day negotiation extension, the 28th Conference of Parties (COP) concluded with the First Global Stocktake. For the past two weeks, representatives from over 200 countries gathered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to discuss climate change at this annual United Nations event. In the hottest year on record, leaders deboarded their fuel-consuming private jets to gather within the air-conditioned EXPO compound. Taking stock of progress halfway between signing the Paris Agreement in 2015 and meeting its 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature increase limit, expectations for this stocktake were high—as were its controversies and challenges. 

Hosted within an oil-exporter state and by the national oil company ADNOC President Dr. Sultan Al-Jaber, the conference’s context prompted public concerns of fossil-fuel sympathy and performative ‘greenwashing’ climate action. However, this criticism dismisses the importance of the Middle East in the climate conversation, especially as the region faces the most harmful impacts of climate change, undergoes rapid renewable development, and confronts ongoing conflicts in Palestine, Syria and Yemen. Given the truly international nature of climate change and its intersections with other global problems, tackling this issue presents rewards just as great as its challenge. With fossil fuels and conflict in its backdrop, the Global Stocktake lays the groundwork to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the escalating consequences of climate change—if implemented by leaders worldwide.   


Stalling its finalization, the issue of phasing out fossil fuels forced the Global Stocktake into overtime negotiations. In a statement at a panel earlier that week, COP28 President Dr. Al-Jaber claimed, “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5.” Maintaining this bullish fossil-fuel view, the first draft of the document called merely to “reduce ‘consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner’” and provoked criticism, especially from Pacific Island nations who argued simply ‘reducing’ fossil fuels is not enough to mitigate the rapidly exacerbating environmental damages, like sea level rise, that they will face in the coming years. UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels…Not reduce…Phaseout.” 

In the final version, the conference president modified his language to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” While still short of ‘phasing out,’ this language moved beyond ‘reducing’ to appeal to critics and receive more global support. In advocating for goals with “more ambition” than the first draft, Denmark's Global Climate Minister Dan Jørgensen responded more positively to the final version, noting its fossil fuel context: “We're standing here in an oil country, surrounded by oil countries, and we made the decision saying let's move away from oil and gas.” 

Along with this commitment to transition fossil fuels out, COP28 produced the Global Cooling Pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cooling by 68 percent of their levels today. For the first time, the 50 companies accounting for 40 percent of global oil production targeted methane through the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, a commitment to eliminate all their methane emissions by 2050. At the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Forum, United States Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk highlighted the importance of reducing methane emissions to meet greenhouse gas targets. In his Foreign Press Center meeting, he explained that methane’s short atmospheric lifetime poses “the biggest no-brainer opportunity to reduce emissions, to reduce emissions quickly, to reduce emissions at scale.” 

Viewed within its fossil fuel exporter context, COP28’s ultimate commitments to transition away from fossil fuels, curb emissions from cooling, and limit methane demonstrate the achievements of the Global Stocktake to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, achieve the Paris Agreement goals, and mitigate climate change. 


In addition to the oil exporter background, COP28 came to a Middle East facing escalating climate impacts, amplified by the ongoing conflict. One panel was called “Climate, Peace, and Security,” where the UN Development Programme Assistant Secretary General and Director of Regional Bureau for Arab States, Abdallah Al-Dardari, spoke. In opening his discussion on the impacts of climate change on the Middle East, Al-Dardari prefaced that 14 out of 20 Arab countries are currently in an ongoing conflict. 

Climate change and political conflict exacerbate each other by limiting resource access, forcing migration, and destabilizing governments and economies. Climate change contributes to intensified heat and dryness,  heightening these challenges within the Middle East’s desert environment. Conflict worsens resource scarcity, especially as foreign powers impair infrastructure to further limit resource access. For example, in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bomb local water infrastructure, and in Gaza, Israel shut off water pipes. 

With limited resource access, climate and conflict drives people to migrate. As described by Natalie Caloca at the Council on Foreign Relations, such “migration from relatively climate- and conflict-vulnerable areas to more stable areas…strains local resources and state capacity, increases sectarian and interstate tensions, and sometimes puts migrants’ lives at risk.” This added strain contributes to political instability further straining resources, limiting response coordination, and perpetuating a vicious cycle of these issues. 

In the face of these high stakes, Secretary Al-Dardi said, “Don’t be discouraged…this is a great opportunity.” While bringing many problems, addressing both climate change and conflict holds equally great potential for improvement. Policies promoting climate adaptation financing, migrant support and resource management could target both issues at once. 

The Global Stocktake includes several provisions that might mitigate climate issues related to conflict, especially finance and well-being provisions. The Loss and Damage Fund commits millions of dollars to support climate-vulnerable developing countries. Countries have further pledged $3.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund; $150 million for the Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund; $9 billion in 2024 and 2025 for the World Bank to finance climate-related projects. In addition to financing, support from 120 countries for the UAE Climate Health Declaration would accelerate action to protect health from increasing climate impacts. The UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food, and Climate signed by 130 countries would support food security and resource management. 


When asked to grade COP28 at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Forum, Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy for the African Union, emphasized that COP28 would be remembered for its inclusivity. In gathering thousands of people from governments, corporations, and NGOs, COP28 included many voices in the conversation on climate—and certainly paved the way towards global solutions, not just for the Global North or big business, but with benefits that can be reaped for all. 

No COP or singular document can solve climate change. Concrete action, taken on the state level, is necessary to translate aspirations into impact. In a year, international leaders will reunite at COP29 in Azerbaijan, with the priority to “establish a new climate finance goal.” As represented by the ongoing efforts by those at COP28 in crafting the Global Stocktake, international cooperation and diplomacy are necessary to target the growing plethora of climate-related issues.  

The image used in this article is licensed for noncommercial use under CC by 2.0. It was created by Christopher Pike and has not been modified from its original form found here.

Nat Larsen


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