Post-COP, I’ve tried to detangle how I feel about the outcomes. The more I sit with the text, the more I am in awe that the almost 200 nations agreed on so much.

Of course, “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner” is the big news headline. And given that this language is in the Global Stocktake (GST), it doesn’t just sit as nice words forever: the purpose is to directly shape the guidelines for every Member State that will update their Nationally Determined Contributions every five years per the Paris Agreement. The call to “accelerate action in this crucial decade” builds a pressure (that civil society can hold governments accountable to) to ensure we see increased ambition in the next two NDCs (set for 2025 and 2030).

There are quite varied views on whether this GST language is an applaudable success. 

Some, like Samoan climate justice activist Brianna Fruean who I first met at COP26 in Glasgow, remind us that “we’re given crumbs to celebrate, but it’s like asking us to celebrate flowers that will lie on our graves. How do we celebrate that?” I think she’s right. Science and feedback loops show us there is some action we can only take now—while some issues will require negotiation throughout my life, we can’t push all action to the future COPs. If action now is not strong enough, that is a huge loss in particular to island nations and the most affected people and areas.

Many youth and climate groups were calling for a “fast, full, fair, funded, feminist, forever” phase out of fossil fuels. These adjectives were not seriously expected in the outcome text given they have no agreed meaning or past use under the UNFCCC. But as a visionary framework, this language represents the level of equity, ambition, clarity, and permanence that many were expecting from governments.

Governments fell short of this, particularly with the loopholes that encourage abatement technology, inexplicitly allow natural gas as a “transitional fuel,” and avoid placing clear accountability against methane or coal (there was no progress made from the Glasgow Agreement’s “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power”). 

However, one AP article I read on the plane ride back offered me a new perspective. According to Li Shuo of the Asia Society, if you translate “transition away from fossil fuels” in some languages like Japanese and Mandarin, it is understood the same as “phase out.” What we needed and what we got are not worlds away. Likewise, while oil and gas have yet to be explicitly named in COP agreements, we all know the elephants in the room. Reading this helped me reframe my initial disappointment in the GST. We can acknowledge that the work continues, while also shaping Dubai into the win we need. Outside of its use to shape domestic government pledges, these precedents can be taken into many other spaces. To be able to say that almost all the worlds’ countries agree fossil fuels are a problem is remarkable — and should not be taken lightly.

Here is my breakdown and perspectives on a few other notable agreements from COP28.

On youth: YOUNGO, the UNFCCC youth constituency, was quite involved in the institutionalization of a recurring two-year appointment of a Youth Climate Champion to support future COP presidencies and engage in COP and CMA proceedings (read the Presidency youth climate champion text here). This year was the first YCC appointment, and it is great to be seeing this continue. It’ll take, as the agreement states, “meaningful, inclusive engagement of youth” to ensure this position is truly impactful and non-tokenistic.

On adaptation: The Global Goal on Adaptation was a sticking point at COP, and many are disappointed that the GGA remains a series of “dialogues.” It does call for all countries to enact “gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent national adaptation plans” by 2030. On adaptation, there is also a call for progress on universal multi-hazard early warning systems by 2027, which according to UNEP, can “reduce damage by 30 percent” with only 24-hours notice of a climate-related disaster.

Overall, though, the text avoids addressing means of implementation. There is a desperate need for more finance to help developing countries adapt. While there was initially a call for a doubling of finance, data shows we need much more than that (18x, in fact). The growing gap was (kind-of) reflected in the text.

On mobility: Most of the language came through the GST Loss and Damage section.  It calls “to improve coherence and synergies between efforts pertaining to disaster risk reduction, humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction, and displacement, planned relocation and migration, in the context of climate change impacts, as well as actions to address slow onset events.” This is a win!

For more analysis, I love Carbon Brief

Thank you to Duke and Ina, Jackson, and Gabriela for this amazing opportunity!