Taking stock of COP28: Insights from Europe Jacques Delors’ experts
18 December 2023

Taking stock of COP28: Insights from Europe Jacques Delors’ experts


Our analysts looked at the Global Stocktake (GST) agreed last week through the lens of their policy fields - ocean protection, agrifood, trade policy and green finance.

Taking stock of COP28: Insights from Europe Jacques Delors’ experts

There have already been various comments on the overall conclusions of this first Global Stocktake (GST), eight years after the Paris agreement. Despite its imperfections, paragraph 28 can be considered as an historical step towards the phasing out of fossil fuels, even if the language used reflects the huge tensions remaining between the main victims of climate change, such as “Small Islands Developing States”, and the biggest emitters of CO2 and producers of fossil fuels, such as Saudi Arabia.

Paragraph d) of article 28 is the most important, as it contains a call to the Parties to transition away “from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. The “just, orderly and sustainable manner” is a very welcome recognition that some countries among the poorest and less developed will need fossil fuels longer than the most developed, and historically the highest emitters. Such a formulation is in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), recognised by the Paris agreement.

Those who follow the UNFCCC process for a long time – as I did since its launch in Rio in 1992, and at important COPs as in Paris in 2015 – will know that the official diplomatic negotiations do not always reflect the entire story. Therefore, it is important to look beyond, and more closely at what is happening in so called side-events where often solutions are discovered and discussed much ahead of their recognition by Parties. Pascal Lamy and I were present in Dubai from the 2 to 9 December, taking part to some official events, but also to “side-events” in the field of trade, agrifood and ocean protection.

In many of these domains, presented below, the implementation of the “common but differentiated responsibility” approach is promising. This is particularly the case in trade policy, where the “triangle approach” (trade/environment/development), which Europe Jacques Delors developed, has won wide recognition and support. Equally interesting is the growing awareness of the role that ocean plays in regulating our climate, or the renewed attention given to agrifood matters or to public and private climate finance.

The following paragraphs, written by EJD team, will give you an idea of what is happening in these different policy fields.

Geneviève Pons

A growing, but insufficient interest in ocean protection

The COP28's recently agreed Global Stocktake (GST) underscores the growing acknowledgment of the crucial role played by the ocean and the cryosphere in the global climate. The conclusions emphasise the consequential significance of preserving their integrity. 

As the Earth's greatest carbon sink and heat reservoir, the ocean stands as a vital component in our collective effort to combat climate change. The inclusion, for the first time ever, of references to ocean-based mitigation, adaptation, and resilience actions is, therefore, a highly welcomed development. 

However, despite these positive inclusions, it is concerning that only three paragraphs out of 196 address the ocean. Key aspects, such as the ocean's relevance in loss and damage costs, or the imperative need to address the shipping sector as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, remain disappointingly absent from the GST. This underscores the urgency for a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to address these critical issues on the global climate agenda.

Martin Binachon

The role of water and soil for the agricultural transition finally acknowledged 

Water, often side-lined in global discussions, finally gained prominence at COP28 by virtue of the water-food-energy nexus. The conference rightly identified water as a pivotal resource for both adapting to and mitigating climate change. Over 20 countries joined the first COP ministerial dialogue on building water-resilient food systems, united to tackle the pressing issues of droughts and poor water management. Commitments to innovate water and food management will be introduced in their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs), and National Adaptations Plans (NAPs), the countries’ communication plans for their mitigation and adaptation goals and strategies to the global community.

Soil was also in the spotlight of COP28. The COP28 Action Agenda on Regenerative Landscapes, supported by over 25 leading food and agriculture organisations, signals the beginning of a major shift. The commitment to transition over 160 million hectares (circa 3% of the world’s total agricultural area) to regenerative agriculture, involving 3.6 million farmers and an initial investment of $2.2 billion, is an essential first step for sustainable future farming practices.

The “Call to Action on Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature, and Climate” collected over 200 signatures from non-state actors, including farmers, cities, businesses, financial institutions, civil society and philanthropies. The signatory countries have committed to taking 10 priority actions to transform food systems and call for a set of timebound, holistic, and global targets by COP29 at the latest. 

However, this progress throws into sharp relief the European Commission’s sluggishness in publishing and progressing on relevant agri-food files – one of many, the Sustainable Framework for Food Systems law. Perhaps, with the UN leading the way, the EU will find new inspiration for policymaking. 

Arianna Lombari

The "newcomer" trade shook up this year's climate negotiations

This year’s COP was remarkable for several reasons. Not only did it mark the debut of trade matters in the COP programme, with a designated “Trade Day” (4 December), but the so-called trade-related climate measures proved to be a contentious topic at the official negotiations. 

At the start of the summit, Brazil, on behalf of the “BASIC” group of major emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, and South Africa) submitted an agenda request to discuss their “concerns with unilateral trade measures related to climate change and their potential adverse impact on equitable and just transitions”. While negotiators managed to avoid kicking off the summit on such a controversial note, scraping the issue of the discussions, a draft negotiating text emerged on the morning of 5 December, bringing this issue to the forefront of the global climate talks. 

In a move clearly targeting measures like the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), the draft text proposed that the COP Declaration “expresses serious concern that measures imposed by some countries, including, inter alia, sanctions on low-carbon products, (…) green barriers, discriminatory legislation, plurilateral constraints, etc”. Brazil and other countries backing this proposal argued that such measures are neither in line with the principles of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities” nor with WTO Rules. Ultimately, only a significantly watered-down version of the proposal found its way into the final COP28 Declaration (paragraph 154), “noting that measures taken to combat climate change, including unilateral ones, should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade”.

However, the fact that trade concerns were brought to the global climate talks stands as a significant development. First, it reflects that tensions between the EU and its trading partners remain high and measures like the EU CBAM are still widely perceived as discriminatory, protectionist, and non-WTO compliant. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it raised questions about the role of key international bodies in addressing issues at the intersection of trade and climate. Trade-related climate measures already entered the WTO realm a while ago, but their emergence at this year’s COP negotiations could be seen as a significant turning point, as it showcases the pressing need for more structured and comprehensive discussions at the multilateral level. Otherwise, there is a risk of these issues persisting as contentious roadblocks in both trade and climate negotiations going forward.

Cláudia Azevedo

No progress on private green finance, but positive news from multilateral development banks

The objective of keeping the rise of temperature to 1.5 necessitates a complete overhaul of economic activities that is much beyond what public money can finance. The vast majority of the financing will have to come from private sources. 

At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, there were two important developments for the private financial sector: First, the creation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), chaired by the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, a coalition of the biggest financial actors in the world, with the objective of cooperation to combat climate change; and second, the creation of the International Sustainability Standard Board (ISSB) tasked to propose climate-related reporting standards. The ISSB has published its climate-related standards in July 2013, while the European Commission published the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ECRs), including climate-related standards. ESRs are more ambitious than the ISSB, and are part of the EU regulatory framework, whereas the ISSB ones are encouraged by market authorities but remain voluntary.

Two years later, at COP 28 in Dubai, there have been several announcements on public finance pledges, all of them with a strong contribution of the United Arab Emirates, but no significant development from the private financial sector. COP28 also confirmed that the GFANZ Alliance is in trouble after suffering from the attacks of Republicans in the United States and losing some important members in the USA and Europe.  

A more positive note comes from the multilateral development banks, which, following the Paris Summit in June, are engaged with major actions from the private financial sector to lower the risks of investing in climate projects in emerging economies and attract private capital to cut emissions.

Jean-François Pons

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