Explainer and roundup of COP28: Outcomes and initiatives

14 Dec 2023

Cornerstone Climate

Associate member Dr Christina Lienen rounds up the latest developments and outcomes from COP28.


COP28 drew to a close in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. As the coverage of it confirms, the COP is the world’s main annual international climate summit. The acronym stands for Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”). The UNFCCC has grown significantly since its inception three decades ago, enjoying almost universal membership (197 nation states as well as the European Union).

At the forefront of COP28 in Dubai, as was the case with many of its previous iterations, was the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement was adopted at COP21, in 2015, featuring at its core an overarching goal to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

To limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century, experts say greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline by 43% (compared to 2019) by 2030, which is now only seven years away.

Against the context of those targets and the broader climate change challenge:

  • Some of this year’s focus was on improving nationally determined contributions (“NDCs”) on greenhouse gas emissions, essentially a stocktaking process. NDCs stem from the Paris Agreement, Article 4 of which requires each party to the Convention to prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that it intends to achieve. They are submitted every five years to the UNFCCC secretariat; the next submission deadline is 2025. The final statement of COP28 (see below) calls for the fostering of alignment of countries’ NDCs. More information on NDC’s can be found on the NDC Partnership
  • The loss and damage funds set up at last year’s COP in Egypt, which is intended to financially assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to and already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change, was operationalised through multiple financial pledges. The background to this fund is Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, which says parties “recognise the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”, but without committing countries to providing funds for loss and damage. By the end of COP28, USD700 million were pledged; it’s a start, but obviously nowhere near what is – and will be – needed.
  • A final joint statement was adopted, the “First Global Stocktake”, also referred to as the “UAE Consensus”. It has been hailed as signaling the “beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era by laying the ground for a swift, just and equitable transition, underpinned by deep emissions cuts and scaled-up finance.” (UNFCC website). It stresses that, despite overall progress, parties are not on track towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals and that Net Zero carbon emissions are required by 2050. To that end, for the first time in the history of the COP, it recognises the need to “transition away” from fuels in energy systems.

That said, the relevant article’s unprecedented nature is worded in a very broad way, phrased as a “call on” countries to “contribute to” the transitioning away from fossil fuels or to take the other measures listed in Article 28 in light of “their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches.”

The above are among the main outcomes of COP28, however it is also worth highlighting some of the interesting initiatives that were promoted over the past two weeks, which may of interest to professionals working in areas related to climate change:

  • The Chancery Lane Project: A website that provides free of charge ‘climate aligned’ template clauses for a huge variety of different contracts. These can be incorporated into law firm precedents and commercial agreements. Other tools and a helpful glossary also feature.
  • The Transition Plan Taskforce, which assists private sector companies in the UK to transition to Net Zero, featuring different tools and resources.

Winning the bid for Eastern Europe, COP29 is set to be held in Azerbaijan next year.