Greater ambition called for before pivotal COP28 climate talks

The UN’s Global Stocktake is effectively a to-do list for the climate. Countries know where they need to be, but will they get there?
<p>China experienced its hottest recorded temperature in July, when a remote township in the Turpan Depression, Xinjiang, reached 52.2C (Image: Alamy)</p>

China experienced its hottest recorded temperature in July, when a remote township in the Turpan Depression, Xinjiang, reached 52.2C (Image: Alamy)

The climate movement is gearing up to the next round of international negotiations, at COP28 in November and December. Several significant events took place this month, including the publication of the first UN Global Stocktake report, and the UN Climate Ambition Summit, held in New York.

What did the stocktake find?

The global stocktake is held every five years to assess progress on dealing with climate change, and inform the next round of national climate plans, which governments will have to submit in 2025.

A key element of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the stocktake does not assess progress in individual countries, but rather the aggregate effect of action so far. It covers climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance.

The two-year stocktake process began at COP26 in 2021. The first phase gathered information from scientists and technocrats but also businesspeople, Indigenous leaders, farmers, youth and civil society. This was followed by several rounds of discussion on the technical details.

A report bringing together the findings was published on 8 September, just ahead of the G20 meeting in India. It highlights progress made since Paris, with global temperatures now expected to rise by 2.4-2.6C by the end of the century, compared to projections in 2010 of a 3.7-4.8C rise. However, it also makes clear that greater ambition and urgency are needed on all fronts to combat the climate crisis.

The window for reaching the internationally agreed goal to try and limit temperature rise to 1.5C is “rapidly narrowing”, the report warned. Greenhouse gas emissions, which are still rising, need to be slashed by 43% by 2030, and 60% by 2035, compared with 2019 levels.

The report stresses that systems transformation is needed across all sectors to achieve emissions reductions, including scaling up renewable energy and phasing out all fossil fuel projects that fail to abate their emissions. On adaptation, it notes increasing ambition in plans and support, but that most efforts are “fragmented, incremental, sector-specific and unequally distributed across regions”. Lastly, the report urges more financial support for developing countries for both mitigation and adaptation.

Though its findings are not new, the publication is intended to galvanise governments to agree a global response at COP28. In Dubai, delegates will produce a summary of key political messages which will will guide the next round of national climate plans (also known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs).

Some governments have already signalled that the final agreement at COP28 should include measures to accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels. The Nairobi Declaration adopted at the Africa Climate Summit in early September called for a universal tax on trade in fossil fuels.

group of four speakers with microphones on raised platform in front of crowd
The Nairobi Declaration that came out of the Africa Climate Summit called for a universal tax on trade in fossil fuels (Image: UNFCCC / Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA )

COP28 host the United Arab Emirates has supported calls for an agreement to triple renewable energy global capacity to 11,000 gigawatts by 2030, which G20 governments also signed up to at their meeting in India in early September.

Speaking at the official launch of the Global Stocktake (GST) report, UNFCCC executive secretary, Simon Stiell, said it confirmed what the world already knows, that progress was “far off track” what had been agreed in Paris.

“The challenge is how we use the GST as a global reset and tool to course correct, while at the same time not forgetting where we’ve come from,” he said.

The final agreement coming out of the stocktake at COP28 should both speak to the need for a “comprehensive and honest backwards look” at successes and barriers in order to reestablish trust among governments, but also have a strong forward focus towards more ambitious action, he said.

Not all parties were happy with the level of detail on certain topics in the stocktake. A representative of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) told the launch meeting that the report had understated the issue of loss and damage, meaning the impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, such as rising sea levels.

“We think loss and damage is very under-done in this report and that this is out of sync with the ongoing global discussion, and the current state of the climate,” he said.

A speaker from the African Group said: “Key fundamental issues raised by the African Group have not been adequately reflected, or not done in a manner that underscores their importance. For instance, the right to sustainable development and just transitions, important principles and considerations that unlock needed ambition in developing countries.”

The EU’s representative broadly welcomed the report’s findings, but noted: “There are few concrete numbers or targets. For the GST decision to be useful and really actionable, more concrete conclusions will need to be identified, pre and post 2030, and through to 2050.”

Climate Ambition Summit no-platforms countries without robust goals

The other major event on the climate calendar in September was the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit, held during the UN General Assembly in New York. The summit was convened by UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, who said in his opening speech that “humanity has opened the gates of hell”, and that if the course was not changed, temperature rises of 2.8C would lead to a “dangerous and unstable” world.

Organisers of the summit put a heavy emphasis on policy credibility, and weeded out speakers who did not have robust net zero goals. Out of more than 100 governments who asked to speak, only 34 were approved, with the leaders of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany and South Africa the only G20 nations who made the cut.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
At the Climate Ambition Summit in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge” (Image: Alamy)

Key developments at the summit included the unveiling of institutional reform of the UN’s Green Climate Fund by its new executive director, Mafalda Duarte. The fund has been criticised by poorer countries and development experts for being bureaucratic, slow and hard to access. Duarte, a Portuguese banker, acknowledged that the fund’s design was no longer fit for purpose.

“It’s a single blueprint that has been enhanced over time, but instead of simplifying access, has made it more complex with high transaction costs,” she said.

Her aim was for the fund to have a capitalisation of $50 billion by 2030, up from $17 billion today, she said. This so-called “50 by 30” vision, would include overhauling the accreditation process to significantly speed up project approval, and focus on country- and sector-wide programmes to maximise private-sector investment, she said.

Incoming COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, emphasised his aspiration for the COP to deliver progress on phasing down fossil fuels while phasing up zero-carbon alternatives; tripling renewable energy by 2030; and supporting the energy transition by minimising permission timelines for green projects and “supercharging” investments in battery storage and energy efficiency.

Guterres ended the summit more positively, noting that there were regions, cities, companies and financial institutions that were already aligning their policies, strategies and investments with the 1.5C limit. “If these first-doers and first-movers can do it, everybody can do it,” he said.

Tom Evans, policy advisor in E3G’s climate diplomacy and geopolitics team, comments that the Global Stocktake had set out a clear task, but that there was a long process ahead. “There’s a big gap between expectations set out by the report in order to close the gaps to meet the Paris Agreement and where we are politically.

“Climate action is struggling to move quick enough in a context of geopolitical fragmentation, and insufficient action, especially on financing for low-income countries.”

The summit had been unusual for a UN event in that it left some countries out of the room, he says. “When we have everyone around the table, there is just too much opportunity for warm words but not actual delivery. The secretary-general was very clear he wants to have that space for leadership, and I think that’s been successful.”

“It’s trying to take inspiration and use this vanguard of countries to be able to bring everyone else up – but let’s see whether that works.”