It took 28 years of climate negotiations for world leaders to agree to wean the global economy from the principal source of climate change: the burning of fossil fuels.

That was the New York Times’ summary of the recent COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

“We’re finally naming the elephant in the room,” it quoted Mohamed Adow, a climate campaigner from Kenya.

Despite fears ahead of the conference, geopolitics didn’t derail COP28, nor did the competing energy priorities and needs of individual nations, reflecting a measure of the gravity of climate hazards facing both rich and poor countries.

“Crises are mounting around the world, the floods, the wildfires, the impacts,” said Alden Meyer, a veteran climate summit analyst with E3G, a research and advocacy group. The Guardian argued that while the need to “transition away from fossil fuels” may finally have been recognised after three decades of climate talks, there was no clear obligation or hard timetable to achieve this, and numerous loopholes in the form of “transition fuels” and allusions to carbon capture technologies and carbon credits.

The University of Melbourne asked the next generation of scientists, policymakers and activists – their graduate researchers – for their reflections on COP28.

There was less optimism and more cynicism from the recent university graduates, with one saying the outcomes of COP28 can only be described as an ‘incremental win’ for small islands like Maldives whose people live with the brunt of climate impacts daily.

Another said while the agreement from COP28 calls for “phase-down”, rather than “phase out” of fossil fuels, it was not just a missed opportunity, but emphasised an over-reliance on development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies alongside existing fossil fuel infrastructure in near future. And that while the decision was still a long-awaited and important one, the past has shown there always remains a significant gap between stated commitments and actionable plans.

With the urgency of addressing climate change becoming increasingly evident, COP28 carried high expectations and the responsibility of delivering meaningful outcomes. What were the key achievements, losses, and implications of COP28 and did it meet the world’s expectations?

Key Outcomes and Achievements from COP28:

  • Enhanced Climate Commitments: One of the major wins at COP28 was the collective effort to enhance climate commitments by participating nations. Building on the foundation laid by previous conferences, countries pledged more ambitious targets to limit global temperature rise, showcasing a growing recognition of the severity of the climate crisis.
  • Financial Commitments:COP28 saw an increase in financial commitments towards climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Developed nations pledged to mobilise more funds to support developing countries in their transition to sustainable practices and resilience-building initiatives. This was a crucial step in addressing the historic imbalance in climate finance.
  • Innovative Solutions and Technologies:The conference showcased a surge in discussions and collaborations centered around innovative climate solutions and technologies. From renewable energy advancements to sustainable agriculture practices, COP28 emphasized the importance of technological innovation in achieving climate goals.
  • Nature-Based Solutions:COP28 placed a significant emphasis on nature-based solutions, recognizing the role of ecosystems in sequestering carbon and enhancing climate resilience. Initiatives to protect and restore forests, wetlands, and other natural habitats gained traction, contributing to a more holistic approach to climate action.
  • Global Cooperation: The spirit of global cooperation was evident as nations worked together to address shared challenges. While disagreements persisted on certain issues, the overall sense of collaboration and shared responsibility was a positive outcome of COP28.

Major Challenges and Losses:

  • Insufficient Emission Reduction Commitments: Despite progress, some critics argue that the emission reduction commitments made at COP28 were not ambitious enough to meet the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. The gap between rhetoric and action remains a challenge, and the urgency of the climate crisis calls for more immediate and drastic measures.
  • Lack of Binding Agreements: COP28, like its predecessors, faced challenges in securing binding agreements that hold nations accountable for their climate commitments. The absence of legally enforceable mechanisms raises concerns about the efficacy of the pledges made during the conference.
  • Social Equity and Climate Justice: Some activists and experts argue that COP28 fell short in addressing issues of social equity and climate justice. The burden of climate impacts disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, and more robust measures are needed to ensure that climate policies prioritize inclusivity and fairness.

Meeting Expectations or Disappointment?

While the conference made notable strides in enhancing climate commitments, fostering global cooperation, and promoting innovative solutions, challenges persist. Critics said the urgency of the climate crisis demands swifter and more decisive action, and some argue that the outcomes of COP28 did not match the scale of the challenge.

Overall, consensus on COP28 was that it was a step forward in the collective global effort to combat climate change via increased awareness, financial commitments, and collaborative spirit demonstrated at the conference.
However, most agree that the true impact of COP28 will be measured in coming years as nations work to implement and exceed the commitments made.

Or as one future climate leader, University of Melbourne graduate Aditya Sengupta, a PhD graduate studying climate variability and global teleconnections post net-zero, said:

“It is my hope that the momentum generated at COP28 translates into tangible policy measures and collaborative efforts, with specific emphasis on ‘phasing out’ carbon emissions in the coming decade, alongside the development of clean energy infrastructure,” Sengupta said.

However, as seen in the past, there always remains a significant gap between stated commitments and actionable plans.”


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Vision of Humanity

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, Brussels, The Hague, Harare and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.