Few English speakers knew “flygskam” before climate activist Greta Thunberg made the Swedish term famous in 2019. Loosely translated as “flight shaming”, it was meant to inspire people to refuse to travel on planes to combat climate change. The outrage triggered a survey besides some snide remarks. One survey found that a fifth of respondents were flying less due to climate change concerns, which is no big deal considering the broader climate change stake and its existential ramifications.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made headlines for spending more time flying to the event than at the summit. Once again, it looked more like optics than any substantial addition to the debate. Negativism got associated with COP28 much before thousands of negotiators, activists, and policymakers descended into Dubai for the event. Yet, contrary to perceptions, protesters made their presence felt at the venue and made more noise than silent negotiators.
Considering what COP28 has achieved, it should be labelled a substantial success even as the UAE gets used to the dose of criticism that comes with its mega-events. Cynics may have been quick to dismiss COP28 as “another round of greenwashing”, yet one cannot ignore the significant strides made during the summit.
The World Climate Action Summit began the two-week-long conference, gathering 154 heads of state and governments. Parties reached a historic agreement on operationalizing the loss and damage fund and funding arrangements – the first time a substantive decision was adopted on the first day of the conference. Commitments to the fund started coming in moments after the decision, totalling over $ 700 million to date.
Climate finance also took the spotlight at the conference, with the Green Climate Fund receiving a boost to its second replenishment. Six countries pledged new funding at COP28, with total pledges now at a record $12.8 billion from 31 countries, with further contributions expected.
Another significant one is the commitment by 118 governments to ramp up global renewable energy capacity significantly and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. This pledge signals the world’s shift towards sustainable energy sources. The nuclear industry has reasons to be optimistic as 22 governments pledged to triple global nuclear energy capacity by 2050, a move crucial for reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Renewable and nuclear energy are both pivotal in transitioning to a low-carbon future. The commitments made at COP28 underscore the urgency of swiftly building low-carbon capacity. However, the acceleration of these efforts is essential, and not the exact wording of the COP28 agreement, be it “phase out” or “phase down” of fossil fuels. Though perhaps overshadowed by the broader conversations around climate change, these developments represent tangible progress and offer a glimmer of hope in the fight against global warming.
Another significant announcement came from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which finalised a rule to slash methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by approximately 80 per cent over the next 15 years. This decisive action aligns with a broader international effort to tackle methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The EPA’s commitment goes beyond its borders, with a pledge of $1 billion to assist smaller countries in addressing methane emissions.
Financial support is critical in bringing more nations into the Global Methane Pledge fold. This initiative originated at COP26 in Glasgow and was strengthened at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, targeting a 30 per cent reduction in global methane emissions by 2030. Simultaneously, the European Union has led the charge with its new legislation setting strict methane leakage standards. True to the EU’s regulatory approach, these standards are expected to have a ripple effect, influencing global practices.
Another announcement from the oil and gas industry signified a leap forward. Around 50 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, including heavyweights like ExxonMobil, Shell, Saudi Aramco, and Adnoc, pledged to eliminate their methane emissions. This commitment encompasses measures to address both venting and routine flaring of methane, a practice that contributes significantly to air pollution.
While the UAE has banned routine flaring for two decades, its persistence in other regions underscores the importance of this industry-wide pledge. Hopefully, this commitment will transition from mere words to concrete action. This collective movement toward addressing methane emissions indicates a growing global consensus and a tangible shift toward “actionism” in the climate change arena.
Substantial local developments are also worth mentioning. The UAE inaugurated the world’s largest single-site solar plant two weeks before the conference. This mammoth facility, covering 20 square kilometres, boasts a two-gigawatt capacity and powers nearly 200,000 UAE homes. Remarkably, it does so at just $1.32 per kilowatt-hour, making it one of the most economically efficient projects of its scale.
COP28 President Dr Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber responded aptly to the initial hue and cry over his appointment: “Pragmatism and constructive dialogue must be at the forefront of our progress,” he then said. On Wednesday, it was time for him to laud the parties’ success in delivering a comprehensive response to the Global Stocktake and all the other mandates and “finding a new way.” Pragmatism and “actionism” had prevailed over negativism.
Ehtesham Shahid is an Indian editor and researcher based in the UAE. X: @e2sham.
He may well be the only leader with the standing to convince Palestinians to accept an imperfect compromise, if it means they can finally live peacefully alongside Israel in an independent Palestinian state