Countdown to COP28: Can we end the year on a high note?

COP28 is expected to focus on fast-tracking energy transition, fixing climate finance, and ensuring inclusivity in climate action. (Photo: Reuters)
COP28 is expected to focus on fast-tracking energy transition, fixing climate finance, and ensuring inclusivity in climate action. (Photo: Reuters)


  • Climate action and policies are discussed at every COP. What needs to be done differently this time around to prioritise action rather than reiterate commitments?

The Global Stock Take of the Paris Agreement conducted earlier this year made for depressing reading, but was anyone really surprised? We have surpassed a long-feared global average temperature increase of 1.4 degrees as compared to pre-industrial times, and current projections put us on track to reach 2.4 degrees of warming by end of the century.

Pandemics and wars have dominated the discourse with the old adage about bald men fighting over a comb coming to mind. Not since the 60s has the doctrine of mutually self-assured destruction been as viable as it is today. However, those of us who can must soldier on, trying to delay if not deny the inevitable. So what can we expect at COP28 (the 28th UN Climate Change Conference, or the Conference of the Parties)? Will we be pleasantly surprised? Can we end the year on a high?  

For starters, key questions on climate adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, and capacity building of developing countries must be answered. COP27 saw, among other initiatives, the formation of the ‘Loss & Damage Fund’, meant to be a central repository of funds for vulnerable countries and communities most impacted by climate change and associated natural disasters. 

The Transitional Committee in charge of working on the structure and operationalization of the fund has met over the course of the year to discuss the working and structure of the fund. However, fundamental questions like who governs and who oversees the fund remain unanswered. COP28 will hopefully build and fulfill earlier promises before making new ones. 

Who foots the bill for climate change? 

The questions that have seen more sidesteps than a dancing competition are about who needs to pay for mitigating the climate change damage caused thus far, and how about ensuring just transition to green energy for developing countries. The UNFCCC COP15 in 2009 (Copenhagen) announced commitments to the tune of $100 billion as climate assistance funding for developing countries, which remains unfulfilled. 

In 2021, the total climate finance provided and mobilised by developed countries for developing countries amounted to $89.6 billion, a significant 7.6% increase over the previous year, but still well short of what’s required to accelerate the transition. Further, the nature of payments was in the form of loans rather than grants or aids, which has led to concerns regarding the intent behind these bilateral agreements.

This is a vital question that needs to be addressed for any real progress to begin. This discrepancy between ideas and actions arises not from a lack of funds but priorities. We need to step up and adopt a milestones-based transparent model for assisting countries in scaling up their climate efforts. It’s not their problem alone to solve, but rather the world’s existential crisis. 

Green energy 

Last year, power sector emissions reached an all-time high, and fossil fuels still account for over 60% of global electricity generation despite the fact that renewable energy capacity is doubling every four years and its costs have plummeted to 40% of that of fossil fuels. The bottom line is simple: there needs to be a global target of tripling renewable electricity capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030 to accelerate a low-carbon energy system for the future. 

Through initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA), which was announced at the recently concluded G20 summit, India has signalled its climate leadership to the world. India has also walked the talk, with an installed renewable energy capacity of 168.96 GW and a commitment to double this by 2030. A total of 3,16,754.86 million units of electricity was generated from renewable energy sources during the year 2022-23, which can approximately cover one-third of Indian households. 

The government’s Green Hydrogen mission and focus on biofuels can further help cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost the economy. There needs to be emphasis on R&D and investment in new and emerging technologies, as announced by the US in its recent global nuclear fusion strategy.

Biodiversity & Nature Loss 

Climate risk and nature loss cannot be separated. The degradation of natural systems has contributed to close to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The World Economic Forum’s risk perception survey 2021-22 lists biodiversity loss as amongst the top three risks for the economy. The fast-depleting biodiversity is a threat to the ecosystem, man’s sustenance, and economic development, as 50% of global GDP depends on natural resources. 

The UN Biodiversity COP15 held in Montreal had initially set a target to mobilise at least $200 billion per year by 2030 from public and private sources for biodiversity-related funding. As per estimates from OECD, global biodiversity finance from all sources is estimated to currently be between $78 billion and $91 billion per year.  

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, established in December 2022, laid out a set of 23 biodiversity targets for 2030, including the 30x30 goal–to designate 30% of the earth’s terrestrial and ocean area as “protected". However, the definitions of protection and metrics on baselining and monitoring nature and biodiversity loss remain ambiguous. This has to be taken as an immediate priority by policymakers and scientists, and must include native and indigenous knowledge systems. 

Now or never

At COP28, I hope the policy commitments are bolstered with stronger financial commitments and a genuine understanding of the collective crisis in which we find ourselves mired. It’s not like we haven’t seen this at a COP before–the Koronivia Joint work on agriculture established during the COP 23 at Fiji in 2017 is a great example of what can be done if we set petty egos aside and work towards a common end.  

The stakes are high. COP28 can set it itself apart as the COP that prioritises action over words. No more grand gestures and 50-year commitments; it’s time for tangible, real on-ground action that is monitored year-on-year (an annual stock take perhaps?), and global economic treaties that include climate commitments as part of the expected outcomes. The time for transformation is now.

Ram Vaidyanathan is Head-Environmental Sustainability at Godrej Industries Ltd and Associate Companies

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.