Ensuring Our Climate Future

Achievements of COP28 and Priorities Ahead

An issue brief by FP Analytics, with support from the COP28 Presidency

COP28 marks a turning point in global climate action: for the first time, the international community has collectively acknowledged that reliance on fossil fuels must end in order for the world to reach its climate goals and avert the worst impacts of climate change. Emerging from the deliberations in Dubai are notable new agreements, declarations, and commitments that hold great potential to reinvigorate global efforts for climate change mitigation, from reducing methane emissions to protecting the world’s most vulnerable populations to tripling annual investment in renewable energy. The agenda of COP28 also shone a spotlight on oft-overlooked and underprioritized issues such as the nexus between climate and health and the need for gender-responsive climate action. Ongoing challenges, such as the significant financing shortfalls required for adaptation across low- and middle-income countries and debates about the pace of phasing out fossil fuels in the energy transition, will require continued collaboration, compromise, and action. However, the decisions made in Dubai could enable the nearly 200 countries present at COP28 to finally course correct to meet climate targets set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. This post-COP28 report focuses on three key issue areas relevant to climate action, including accelerating the energy transition, safeguarding lives and livelihoods, and bolstering sustainable finance, to highlight notable developments and examine the roadblocks and opportunities ahead.

Accelerating the Energy Transition

After several days of intense negotiations requiring compromises and concessions, COP28 produced a historic agreement in which, for the first time ever, the world agreed to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” This consensus represents a truly global coalition for change—from the world’s highest emitting states to the least developed countries that are disproportionately experiencing the severe impacts of climate change today. This commitment is especially critical considering the “rapidly narrowing window” of opportunity to keep emissions targets in line with keeping warming below 1.5°C by 2030, according to the inaugural Global Stocktake. The report’s key projections indicate that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak by 2025—before falling by 43 percent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. Based on extant Nationally Determined Contributions, staying under the 1.5°C threshold would require further annual reductions of between 20.3 and 23.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent—or as much as 1.5 times the total annual emissions from coal combustion in 2022.

The many agreements penned and declarations issued at COP28 look to serve as the foundation for action on the scale necessary to accelerate the energy transition and reach the world’s shared climate goals. Chief among these is the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, endorsed by 130 countries, which includes the goal of tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and doubling the rate of global energy efficiency improvements from 2 percent to 4 percent annually. Moreover, 66 countries backed the Global Cooling Pledge, which includes sustainable cooling targets such as increasing the global average efficiency of air conditioners by 50 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, the private sector has targeted the dangerous warming potential of methane through the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter. This agreement maps out the commitment of 50 global fossil fuel companies representing 40 percent of global oil production to end methane flaring by 2030 and achieve net-zero operations by 2050 at the latest. It involves national oil companies such as ADNOC, Petrobras, and Saudi Aramco alongside independent oil producers such as BP, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies.

The report’s key projections indicate that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak by 2025—before falling by 43 percent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.

Beyond oil and gas, in recognition of the many energy pathways needed to enable a net-zero future, COP28 participants also backed declarations to support the development of the hydrogen and low-carbon hydrogen markets and to triple the nuclear energy capacity by 2050. The Mutual Recognition of Certification Schemes for Renewable and Low-Carbon Hydrogen and Hydrogen Derivatives, endorsed by 37 countries, seeks to develop and align certification schemes related to hydrogen in an effort to create a more interconnected, efficient global hydrogen market. Likewise, the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy represents a pledge by 22 countries to foster all aspects of the nuclear energy enterprise, from engaging international financial institutions to developing small modular and other advanced reactors. Together, these efforts deliver sizable contributions to addressing the GHG emissions that underlie anthropogenic climate change and shifting to cleaner, more efficient sources of energy.

Notwithstanding these important outcomes and agreements emerging from COP28, details about some key issues remain unspecified, representing priorities for future deliberation and action. For example, the final COP28 agreement does not set specific production targets for reducing fossil fuels, which were responsible for 91 percent of carbon emissions worldwide in 2022. It calls for a transition away from the “unabated” use of coal, implying that coal may yet long continue to play a role in the energy mix, and it retains a prominent role for carbon capture, utilization, and storage—despite the International Energy Agency calling on states before COP28 to let go of “the illusion that implausibly large amounts of carbon capture are the solution.” The COP28 agreement similarly stakes out a position for “transitional fuels” such as natural gas, which may run against a more rapid shift to renewable energy but has garnered support in countries such as Japan and the United States for energy security reasons.

Most importantly, despite sizable commitments on issues such as methane emissions and energy efficiency, the underlying urgency of carbon reduction remains the same: the world needs to drastically cut emissions and scale up investments in clean energy today to avoid an existential crisis in the future. For low-lying and small-island nations disproportionately vulnerable to climate change, anything but a complete course correction away from carbon-emitting energy sources would be tantamount to a “death sentence,” as the Marshall Islands Minister of Commerce and Natural Resources John Silk noted on December 9. Following COP28, it is incumbent upon governments, in coordination with industry and civil society, to fully implement the commitments made in Dubai to galvanize the net-zero energy transition. The fight for an inclusive and equitable energy transition will be ongoing and demanding, capable only with iterative efforts and continued dedication from policymakers to listen to and support all communities, including those that are underserved.

Safeguarding Lives and Livelihoods

Beyond the debates on energy consumption and production that tend to dominate the annual COP conference, climate change is fundamentally about the wellbeing of people and the planet. Yet, all too often, the worsening human suffering wrought by climate change remains underemphasized on the global stage. Recognizing this, COP28 brought intersectional challenges—for example, how climate change undermines health and exacerbates gender inequality—to the forefront of the agenda, elevating the voices of marginalized groups, protecting vulnerable communities, and prioritizing people-centered approaches to building climate-resilient livelihoods. One of the key achievements at COP28 was the commitment of $792 million made by several states, including major emitters, to operationalize Loss and Damage, first agreed upon at COP27 to support communities and countries that have contributed the least to climate change but are suffering its worst effects. To be sure, establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund is an important step, but the estimated need for such a fund far outstrips what has been made available, with multiple estimates putting the need for loss and damage funds at around $300 billion or more by 2030. Therefore, continued funding and sustained commitment will be essential in the years and decades to come.

Another noteworthy people-centered outcome of COP28 is the Declaration on Climate Relief, Recovery and Peace, which 80 countries endorsed, urging action to assist the most vulnerable populations worldwide, particularly those in fragile, conflict-affected, or humanitarian settings that are particularly susceptible to climate change. To that end, the declaration calls for strengthening institutional capacities, financial resources, and data. Meanwhile, highlighting the overlap among livelihoods, resilience, and climate, the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action outlines how forward thinking and sustained, targeted investment in agricultural systems can simultaneously help vulnerable workers contend with ongoing climatic shifts while delivering multifaceted benefits for counteracting climate change and advancing global food and nutrition goals, such as under UN Sustainable Development Goals 2.3 and 2.4. These and other efforts emerging from COP28 showcase global resolve to help those most in need and avert potential climate crises.

The Declaration on Climate Relief, Recovery and Peace, which 80 countries endorsed, urges action to assist the most vulnerable populations worldwide, particularly those in fragile, conflict-affected, or humanitarian settings that are particularly susceptible to climate change.

COP28 carried this human-centered focus further through a series of efforts that recognized the centrality of equity concerns and inclusion to sustainable climate solutions. At the first-ever Health Day at COP28, states focused on addressing the nexus between climate and health, resulting in the Declaration on Climate and Health. Endorsed by 143 countries, the declaration seeks to foster climate-resilient and equitable health systems, supported by $1 billion in collective financial commitments from across the public, private, multinational, and civil society sectors. COP28 also featured a Gender Day on December 4 to highlight the gendered impacts of climate change and the need to generate gender-responsive climate data and solutions. This culminated with the launch of the Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership, endorsed by 76 countries, which seeks to empower women and girls as players in climate action alongside men and boys, takes into account the socioeconomic sectors impacted by climate where women play an outsized role, and calls for gender-informed approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation. Also launched at COP28, the Podong Indigenous Peoples Initiative, spearheaded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, highlights the vital role of Indigenous populations in nature and diversity and includes among its goals to mobilize $200 million in climate finance by 2030, with at least 85 percent of those funds targeting Indigenous territories and local communities. This is especially important because Indigineous people comprise 6 percent of the world population, represent 19 percent of those living in extreme poverty globally, and conserve 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity.

Additionally, part of the climate challenge that remains unaddressed is acknowledging the vulnerable groups who have yet to be incorporated into climate thinking. For example, the acute vulnerability to climate change of people living with disabilities, who are two to four times more likely to die or be injured in disasters compared to the general population, has yet to feature strongly in climate discussions, though the Declaration on Climate and Health could serve as a platform to further relevant solutions in the years ahead.

Bolstering Climate Finance

In the lead up to and during COP28, climate finance was a major focus of leaders across the public, private, and multilateral sectors. This year’s Global Stocktake underscored the wide and persistent gap in climate finance, particularly the inadequate and glacial mobilization of resources to support the energy transition, enable resilience and adaptation, and meet the needs of those most at risk from climate change’s impacts. The stocktake noted a demand for $4.3 trillion in annual investments in clean energy from now through 2030 to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. COP28 has responded with a number of new agreements and coalitions, as well as pledges of $85 billion. However, the fact remains that the resources committed to fight climate change at COP28 are only a small portion of what needs to be mobilized and deployed in the long term.

The stocktake noted a demand for $4.3 trillion in annual investments in clean energy from now through 2030 to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The largest single financing action at COP28 was the UAE’s commitment of $30 billion to establish Altérra, a private investment vehicle that will seek to mobilize $250 billion annually by 2030, with a targeted focus on less developed states and vulnerable populations. Likewise, various MDBs pledged new actions, such as enabling climate-resilient debt clauses, developing the MDB Common Principles for Tracking Nature-Positive Climate Finance, and issuing a joint declaration on sustainability-linked climate financing, among others. Several smaller but still important financial commitments were also made, such as $3.5 billion to replenish the Green Climate Fund, $3 billion from Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners for a fund focused on renewable energy projects in emerging and middle-income countries, and contributions to the Adaptation Fund and Loss and Damage Fund. These financial commitments were complemented by agreements on climate finance, such as the Declaration on a Global Climate Finance Framework, which seeks to mobilize $5–7 trillion in “greening the global economy” by 2030, and the Net Zero Export Credit Agencies Alliance (NZECA), representing a group of public finance institutions committed to achieving net zero by 2050. 

Taken together, the momentum achieved on climate finance at COP28 is significant, but the vast scope of the funding gap demands continued efforts to mobilize resources. For example, long-term goals about future totals, such as Altérra’s goal of activating $250 million annually by 2030 or the Global Climate Finance Framework’s goal of activating a “highway of private finance,” will be shaped by real-world considerations such as macroeconomic and currency risks. This makes continued planning and reassessment critical, as well as commitments to follow through on climate investments, even amid unforeseen circumstances such as geopolitical tensions or health emergencies. The financing gap also warrants closer inspection of current commitments and how they stand up against unexpected shocks and challenges. For instance, while COP28 produced an additional $188 million in pledges for the Adaptation Fund, the Global Stocktake acknowledges adaptation finance needs of as high as $387 billion annually until 2030 in developing countries alone. Meanwhile, the World Bank pledged to devote 45 percent of its total financing to climate-related projects starting in 2025, up from 35 percent today, which promises to deliver much needed funding for climate-focused development efforts. However, it will be important that international financial institutions and bilateral donors prioritize climate change initiatives without merely rebranding other projects or double counting investments.

The Road to 2030

Leveraging the momentum and gains of COP28

Emerging from COP28, the global community is at a crossroads with a critical opportunity to bring people everywhere along and course correct toward a more sustainable and just future. Backed by the overarching acknowledgment of the need to move away from fossil fuels, the summit in Dubai delivered action on key aspects of the energy transition, such as energy efficiency, clean energy, and emissions reductions, alongside the human impacts of climate change, particularly relating to vulnerable groups and underrepresented issues. And while the world still faces a significant challenge from the climate finance gap, there are new tools, networks, and ideas to mobilize financial resources on the scale necessary to deliver tangible progress. As UNFCCC executive secretary Simon Stiell summarized, the COP28 agreement is “a floor, not a ceiling, so the crucial years ahead must keep ramping up ambition and climate action.” Looking ahead, the nearly 200 countries who made their voices heard at COP28 must now unite to carry their ambitions through to fruition. They include formalizing concrete goals over the coming years for moving away from fossil fuels, developing new Nationally Determined Contribution plans to outline pathways to enact change, and following up non-binding declarations and plans with the political commitment and investments to deliver much-needed and overdue change.

Read the first issue brief

Fostering Energy and Climate Security as Part of a Just Transition

Read the second issue brief

Financing Climate Resilience

This issue brief was produced by FP Analytics, the independent research division of The FP Group, with support from the COP28 Presidency. FP Analytics retained control of the research direction and findings of this brief. Foreign Policy’s editorial team was not involved in the creation of this content.