COP28 at a crossroads: will negotiators deliver for climate action?

Friday, December 8, 2023

The first week of COP28 was not without its accomplishments, most notably on the issue of Loss and Damage. However, as the second and final week gets underway, much more will need to be achieved before the gathering in Dubai can be considered a success.

As COP28 passes the halfway point, significant challenges continue to obstruct the path to a positive outcome and, crucially, restore trust in the process. The victories on Loss and Damage, while commendable, are by no means enough. 

With this year being the hottest on record, a robust ‘energy package’ needs to be created, including the phasing out of fossil fuels, widening the adoption of renewables, and financing a just transition. This has to be accompanied by strong agreements on adaptation and climate finance, and anchored in the Global Stocktake (GST), which reviews progress made since the Paris Agreement and identifies ways forward. 

Unfortunately, talks are stalling, and we need urgent progress across several crucial areas to achieve a positive outcome. Here are four ways that negotiators can ensure that COP28 could result in positive outcomes and lasting change. 

Is there enough time left at COP28 for negotiators to make real progress? Photo: COP28 / Neville Hopwood

Loss and Damage: build on early achievements

The operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund is undoubtedly a step in the right direction — as is the agreement on a host of the Santiago Network, which provides essential technical support to developing countries on Loss and Damage. However, it’s just the beginning; the challenge now is to ensure that the fund truly serves those who need it the most. 

At this COP, the GST and the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance ( NCQG), underpinned by the principles of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC), are crucial components. They need to ensure a robust representation of the scale of Loss and Damage needs, and recognize the historical responsibility of polluters.

Global Stocktake: overcome key sticking points

Despite this conference’s initial spirit of collaboration, the political trenches were soon dug, including on the GST. Reaching consensus has proven to be a significant challenge, with strong disagreements on key issues (climate finance, the phasing out of fossil fuels, historical responsibility for climate change, and more) emerging on draft texts. Just as concerning is the absence of substantial paragraphs outlining the next steps. Without clear recommendations, the GST risks leading to delayed action, continuing to leave climate-vulnerable communities exposed to increased risks. Overcoming these divisions is paramount for a robust agreement on the GST to ensure a collective understanding about where we stand, and the necessary path forward. 

Adaptation: don’t overlook its importance

The fervor surrounding Loss and Damage pledges at COP28’s onset overshadowed a pressing issue — the dire need for increased finance for adaptation. The Adaptation Fund remains severely under-resourced, with a lack of support from developing countries leaving it short of even its modest target of 300 million USD. The slow progress on negotiations related to adaptation, including on the Adaptation Committee, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), further exacerbates concerns. 

Discussions on NAPs have now been deferred until June of 2024, (the next meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies in Bonn), and negotiators have also failed to agree on a text for the GGA. The urgency of moving forward on adaptation efforts in COP28’s remaining days cannot be overstated.

The UN Climate Change Conference at Expo City, Dubai. Photo: COP28 / Christophe Viseux

NCQG: make up for past failures

Finance lies at the heart of climate action; without financial support, vulnerable communities continue to pay the price as they try to adapt and respond to climate-induced hazards. Yet, the finance negotiations during COP28 so far have focused more on process than substance. The discussions need to start addressing the critical question of how much finance should be mobilized, in what form, and by whom.

A decision on a new climate finance goal is due by COP29, so substantive progress is essential. The lack of advancement is especially alarming given the escalating growth in climate finance needs, and the failure of countries to meet their existing commitments, including the agreement made at COP26 to double provisions adaptation finance.


As COP28 continues, there is an urgent need to break through the current impasse. Even in the short time that negotiations have been underway in Dubai, devastating floods have hit the Horn of Africa. All over the world, communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis are grappling with continued climate impacts, and their circumstances demand immediate action from those with the power to deliver lasting change. 

The GST, GGA, and NCQG are not mere abbreviations; they are instruments through which climate justice can be achieved. Negotiators must rise above entrenched positions and work towards a shared vision that reflects the enormity of the climate crisis. The decisions made by the end of COP28 will shape the trajectory of global climate efforts, and determine our ability to deliver for those most affected. 

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