COP28: Absence of support for most vulnerable overshadows climate deal

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

COP28 has closed with the announcement of the UAE Consensus, which the Presidency calls “a historic package to accelerate climate action”. Experts from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance delve into the key takeaways, accomplishments and challenges that emerged in Dubai, and look ahead to what’s next.

The Alliance was represented in Dubai by Concern Worldwide, the IFRC, the London School of Economics, Plan International, Practical Action and Mercy Corps. Find out more about our events and activities here.

‘Landmark’ agreement, or missed opportunity? 

Following changes made to a highly criticized draft text, COP28 finally adopted the Global Stocktake (GST). Much has been made of the first mention in a COP agreement of the need to transition away from fossil fuels – a hard-won victory that had long been called for. Yet it’s clear that the chance to truly course-correct and accelerate climate action has not been taken. The final agreement is weaker than what is needed to address the climate crisis, and falls short of many of the demands from developing countries. 

While the GST text includes the much-needed recognition of the importance of concessional and grant-based funding, overall it lacks the urgent commitments needed to fund the transition to renewables, close the adaptation finance gap, and recognize the scale of Loss and Damage needs. 

Finance was yet again at the centre of many tensions this year, with developed countries failing to meet their promises and undermining trust in the process along the way. Climate finance is not just a numbers game; it is a lifeline for women, men and children who are losing their homes and livelihoods because of the climate crisis.

Salomé Lehtman, Project & Advocacy Advisor, Mercy Corps

New finance goal not on track

The New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate finance (NCQG) is the critical replacement for developed countries’ current commitment to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance. The new goal will be agreed next year at COP29, but this year’s summit was expected to put the foundations in place. 

Despite two years of technical discussions on the NCQG, the text agreed in Dubai is absent of any meaningful content, and instead only outlines the process for the year to come. Previous versions had in fact contained valuable substance – including on how to improve transparency and strike a balance of funding between mitigation and adaptation – but these were stripped out of the final wording. While mitigation and adaptation still hold a place in the text, the absence of any reference to Loss and Damage is very concerning, and incongruous for a COP that has just agreed to a loss and damage fund.  

All in all, this text does not take us further on climate finance, and arguably takes us backwards.  This is a huge concern for all those critically affected by the climate crisis. 

Loss and Damage is far from over

Agreement on a new Loss and Damage fund was met with a standing ovation from delegates, and was quickly followed by a large number of pledges, amounting to more than $700 million. Though these are important initial steps for the operationalization of the fund, they pale in comparison to what will be needed to address Loss and Damage (estimated to be $400 billion in 2030, rising to $1-2 trillion by 2050). Significantly, the text makes it clear that all inputs to the fund are ‘voluntary’ with no agreement on how much funding should be provided.  

The primary focus now revolves around ensuring that these funds quickly reach vulnerable communities already grappling with losses and damages. There also is still a significant amount of work to be done to ensure that the World Bank, in its role as the fund’s interim host, meets the conditions specified at COP28. This includes a particular emphasis on ensuring that the fund’s resources directly contribute to the well-being of communities, and that its operations adhere to human rights principles. The Santiago Network, which will provide technical support to countries on loss and damage, was also finally agreed in Dubai. Getting the fund and the Santiago Network to work well, and to work together, is critical to ensure that people recover from the severe consequences of climate-induced disasters. 

Prisca Chisala, Jackson Mekenye, Mary Friel and Michai Robertson participating in the Alliance’s COP28 side event on resilient recovery.

Adaptation falls down the agenda, finance gap widens 

While a new Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) has been agreed, action and finance for adaptation have been overlooked throughout this COP, risking lives and livelihoods. The targets of the GGA rightfully focus on strengthening water scarcity, food systems, health systems and ecosystems, as well as recognizing early warning, social protection and the role of locally-led adaptation – but the outcomes remain vague in terms of scale of action, and virtually no new commitments have come forward on adaptation finance – which, according to figures released ahead of COP28, dropped by 14% from the previous year. 

Countries have committed to “move beyond the doubling of adaptation finance” – but truly closing the gap on adaptation support for vulnerable communities will require tangible support. Today’s decision sets up a new work programme to establish indicators for the GGA, which we hope will bolster global efforts to support countries and communities to adapt and withstand climate impacts. 

There have been many debates and discussions at COP28, but the bottom line is that communities, especially in the developing world, are suffering the consequences of climate change. Rural communities across Kenya continue to experience devastating impacts, despite not contributing to its drivers. Action is the key to helping communities realize a climate-resilient future. The best time to act was yesterday, and the second best time is now.

Jackson Mekenye, Food Security and Livelihoods Coordinator, Concern Worldwide in Kenya

Absence of responsibility remains rife 

It is deeply worrying that neither the Loss and Damage Fund, the GGA nor the NCQG texts feature any references to Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) – a fundamental principle underpinning global climate agreements and action under the UNFCCC, which acknowledges that those who caused the climate crisis should bear a greater responsibility for solving it. 

This implies an indifference to the challenges faced by vulnerable communities who bear the brunt of the climate crisis; without it, the texts provide no indication of who will actually contribute to future climate finance, and thus give no assurance to developing countries that funding will be forthcoming. 

Beyond COP28: next steps

As thousands of delegates head back home, it’s clear that despite the early movement on loss and damage, as well as the unprecedented recognition to move away from fossil fuels, the failure to adhere to past promises and deliver a tangible path forward has again undermined trust in the COP process. Developing nations were loudly calling for finance for adaptation, loss and damage, and support for a just energy transition. None has been adequately delivered – and without finance, commitments are merely words.  

Negotiations will continue, as attention turns towards agreeing a new collective finance goal at COP29 in Azerbaijan that can truly meet the growing needs of climate-vulnerable communities all over the world. The small steps forward made at COP28 must become giant strides, with those most responsible for the climate crisis addressing their responsibilities to ensure a safer, more prosperous future for all. 

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  • Jackson Mekenye says:

    As we await the actioning, financing and access to quality and quantity of adaptation and loss and damage financing on behalf of the affected rural communities in Kenya, we will continue to play our part. We will be the voice of the community within and without. We will be enablers of resilient programming. We will empower the affected communities to play their part. As environmentalist Wangari Mathai put it, “you cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them and help them understand that these resources are their own and they must protect them.” Let’s keep on keeping on. We will get there.