Climate change, Environment

COP28: Commitments, contradictions, contention, and challenges

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28), held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), from 30 November to 12 December 2023, marked a pivotal moment in the global climate dialogue. While it showcased significant advancements, it also exposed new commitments, contradictions, contentions, and challenges that shape our approach to mitigating climate change, particularly in keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5°C and ensuring we avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change on human society and the environment (UNFCCC 2023a).

According to the UNFCCC synthesis report (2023b), there is an urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030. However, current nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which embody the efforts and measures taken by each country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change risk, fall short of this target, underscoring a gap between global aspirations and national actions. Many commitments made in the past have not been fully realized due to the contradictions between the targets set in the international commitments made for achieving the Paris climate goals and the national policies of the participating countries for dealing with their own development priorities (Höhne et al. 2021). This discrepancy complicates international climate diplomacy and hampers progress toward the Paris Agreement goals.

Key achievements of COP28

COP28 saw significant strides in various areas, such as the global stocktake, climate finance, the Loss and Damage Fund, the food security and agriculture fund, and energy transition.

Global stocktake (GST): Based on current evidence, it is anticipated that the global average temperature will surpass the 2°C threshold established by the Paris Agreement. Consequently, the GST plays a pivotal role in assessing each country’s progress in combating the climate crisis and gauging their respective contributions to greenhouse gas reduction (World Meteorological Organization 2023). The GST can be thought of as a report card that provides a clear picture of our response to climate change, offering an opportunity to adjust our course or chart a new path toward achieving the Paris Agreement’s targets.

As a result, the GST provides real, tangible evidence of the imperative need for systemic transformation to realize the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement, while simultaneously pursuing a climate-resilient world along with sustainable economic growth. During COP28, the inaugural GST introduced a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption and production by 2050, with a particular focus on the phasing-out of coal.

Climate finance: During COP28, the UAE unveiled an impressive $30 billion fund dedicated to supporting climate-friendly projects worldwide, with an additional allocation of $5 billion specifically earmarked for countries in the Global South. In alignment with the efforts of the World Bank, it is committed to elevating its climate funding to encompass 45% of its total lending. The United Nations has stressed the urgency of mobilizing climate finance for developing nations and ensuring their critical needs and priorities are addressed.

In pursuit of financing climate-related initiatives, the World Bank has declared its intention to boost annual funding by $9 billion for 2024 and 2025. Furthermore, the multilateral development banks have collectively committed to a substantial cumulative increase of over $22.6 billion, reinforcing the global commitment to combat climate change.

Loss and Damage Fund: The concept of “loss and damage,” as outlined in Article 8 of the 2015 Paris Agreement, has been a thorny issue in previous COPs. Over the past several years, developing nations have consistently called for the establishment of a loss and damage fund, aimed at securing compensation from developed nations for the adverse impacts of climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions. The fundamental principle underpinning this fund is that those responsible for pollution should bear the costs.

During the opening day of COP28, an agreement was reached to establish the long-awaited Loss and Damage Fund. The UAE and Germany made generous contributions of $100 million each, while the countries of the European Union collectively pledged a substantial $145 million. Additionally, commitments have been made by the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), and Japan of $75 million, $17.5 million, and $10 million, respectively. These pledges now total approximately $800 million.

Food security and agriculture: One of the pivotal declarations at COP28 was the UAE’s announcement on Agriculture, Food Systems, and Climate Action. According to Mariam Bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, COP28 succeeded in mobilizing an impressive $3.1 billion for the food and agriculture sector, with 152 countries endorsing the declaration. The landmark declaration launches a comprehensive 3-year global initiative aimed at providing crucial support to farmers and food producers, enabling them to address the growing challenges posed by climate change.

Furthermore, the declaration commits to a substantial partnership worth $200 million between the UAE and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on innovative solutions within the food system to combat the escalating climate-related risks. Given that the agricultural sector is highly vulnerable to climate change and a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, international cooperation is essential for achieving the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

It is worth noting that current agri-food systems are estimated to impose an annual hidden cost of $10 trillion on human health and the environment (FAO et al. 2023). Thus, initiatives addressing agri-food systems are a welcome step toward tackling these challenges. Transforming conventional agri-food systems to become more climate-resilient and environmentally friendly is a pressing necessity.

Another noteworthy commitment at COP28 was the ministerial dialogue focused on building water-resilient food systems. This dialogue aimed at addressing the interconnected issues of food, water, and climate crises by integrating water and food system management to enhance both adaptation and mitigation strategies within nationally determined contributions (Viera and Puri 2023).

In total, approximately $7 billion in financing was pledged during COP28 to address climate-related challenges within the food system. Promises were also made to increase financial support for farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. Among these initiatives were funding pledges of around $519 million for CGIAR, intended to support ground research in agriculture. These initiatives will be pivotal in advancing agricultural research focused on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and food security, emphasizing the importance of technological and policy solutions in agriculture.

Transition to clean energy: The transition to clean energy emerged as a central theme during COP28. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underscored the importance of achieving consensus on the phase-out of fossil fuels as a key measure of COP28’s success. A primary focus of COP28 was addressing the gradual elimination of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels, recognizing that such subsidies tend to promote wasteful consumption while failing to alleviate energy poverty.

Notably, 118 countries committed to a renewable energy pledge, pledging to triple renewable energy capacity to reach 11,000 GW by 2030. Simultaneously, they vowed to double energy efficiency within the same timeframe. For instance, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has taken proactive steps to enhance energy efficiency through collaborative efforts with the US.

Contention and contradictions

Phasing out or phasing down fossil fuels: The debate over whether to “phase out” or “phase down” fossil fuels emerged as a significant point of contention among the COP member countries during COP28. The final version of the GST text adopted at COP28 opted for the term “transition away from fossil fuels by 2050” rather than “phase out.” While achieving net-zero carbon emissions necessitates the eventual phasing out of fossil fuels, an abrupt transformation could potentially have an adverse impact on economic growth, employment, income, livelihoods, and poverty alleviation.

The COP28 agreement outlined a series of measures to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, although it did not mention the complete “phase out” of fossil fuels.” During COP28, a coalition consisting of more than 100 countries called for the complete phase-out of fossil fuels, while oil-producing countries, including OPEC members, voiced opposition to this demand. The draft COP28 report presented several options for emissions reduction, encompassing both the reduced production and consumption of fossil fuels in a just, orderly, and equitable manner, ultimately aiming to achieve net zero by 2050.

The draft COP28 report also suggested various actions, including tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030, expeditiously phasing down unabated coal usage and scaling up carbon capture technologies. The ongoing debate surrounding fossil fuel use will largely affect future pathways for attaining the climate targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Hosting the Loss and Damage Fund: While there is a genuine commitment from the Global North to support the Loss and Damage Fund, the funding pledge is undeniably insufficient when compared with the substantial costs of loss and damage by the Global South. Another pressing concern revolves around the long-term sustainability of the fund.

Establishing a clear system and mechanism for the effective implementation of the Loss and Damage Fund is a crucial step forward in achieving global climate justice. However, this undertaking presents several challenges. Such a mechanism must prioritize transparency, inclusivity, and expert-driven decision-making, underscoring the need for genuine commitment from all stakeholders.

Roadmap for achieving a temperature increase below 1.5°C: Crafting a transformation pathway demands careful consideration, relying on data, research, and evidence-based policy engagement. These roadmaps should be meticulously drafted and follow a bottom-up approach. Failure to fully engage and reward local stakeholders and incorporate their knowledge and solutions could prove detrimental to our goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

Both national and international institutions tasked with executing and operationalizing these roadmaps should exhibit genuine commitment and establish strong connections with different stakeholders, especially local communities and institutions.

COP28 realities

Despite their pledges for reduced greenhouse emissions and the phase-out of fossil fuels, numerous countries have heavily invested in coal and other fossil fuel industries—for example, India continues to invest in the coal sector, while major economies like the US, the UK, India, and the PRC have all made substantial new investments in fossil fuels. Despite the PRC’s significant commitment to crafting a pathway for achieving net-zero carbon emissions, it still maintains the world’s largest coal power fleet and has approved an additional 106 GW worth of new coal plants (Xu 2023). These contradictions persist among major emerging economies, undermining efforts to realize the fossil fuel phase-out policies, which are essential for achieving the Paris Agreement targets.

At COP28, OPEC countries advocated focusing on greenhouse gas emissions reduction rather than a phase-out of fossil fuels, contradicting the well-established scientific consensus implicating fossil fuels as a primary driver of climate change.

Another concerning factor is that many of the pledges made during COP28 lack legally binding or official status within the event itself, raising questions about their effectiveness. Current investments made by G20 countries diverge from their international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The countries have allocated approximately $171.56 billion to oil and gas, while clean energy investments lag significantly behind (Eos 2020).

The road ahead: Challenges and strategies for climate finance and justice

The issues of equity and climate justice have remained, and will remain, major challenges for climate finance. The potential legal consequences for developed countries, which are historically the largest greenhouse gas emitters, could further exacerbate divisions between developing and developed nations regarding their contributions to the loss and damage fund. In the final week of COP28, the intense debate surrounding the phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels highlighted the complex journey toward meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement.

The allocation of climate finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation has been a long-standing concern. Some mitigation measures do not inherently provide adaptation benefits, raising the risk of maladaptation.

Efforts should span all sectors, with particular emphasis on those with substantial emissions reduction potential. In addition to transitioning to net-zero carbon emissions in the transportation sector, the focus should extend beyond electric vehicles to include the expansion of public transportation. The materials used in car manufacturing should prioritize low-emission alternatives. Similarly, green building strategies should prioritize energy-saving artificial intelligence-based systems and the use of low-emission-based materials with adequate green building financing.

Effective resource management and governance at multiple levels are critical for enhancing efficiency and effectiveness at the grassroots level. The objective of the Loss and Damage Fund and other climate funds can only be achieved if there are no leakages at various levels.

Beyond funding and resources, substantial support is needed for technology transfer, knowledge development, and innovation. These elements are pivotal for achieving climate justice during this crucial transition. As highlighted by Bill Gates, it is imperative to simultaneously pursue the goals of the Paris Agreement while addressing human welfare concerns. This will require careful coordination among multilateral, bilateral, and philanthropic institutions to attract private investment, bridge climate financing gaps, and drive systems transformation in important economic sectors, including agriculture, energy, buildings, and transportation.


COP28 has laid down a complex roadmap that requires concerted efforts, innovative solutions, and genuine commitments from all stakeholders. As we navigate these challenges, the focus must remain on finding a balance that addresses climate change and ensures human welfare and sustainable development.


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FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO. 2023. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023. FAO.

Höhne, N., T. Kuramochi, C. Warnecke, F. Röser, H. Fekete, M. Hagemann, T. Day, T. Tewari, M. Kurdziel, S. Sterl, and S. Gonzales. 2021. The Paris Agreement: Resolving the Inconsistency Between Global Goals and National Contributions. In J. Depledge, J. E. Jorge E. Viñuales, E. Lees, and D. Reiner (eds.), Climate Policy after the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (1st ed., Vol. 1). Routledge.

UNFCCC (2023a) UN Climate Change Conference – United Arab Emirates | UNFCCC

UNFCCC (2023b). Nationally Determined Contributions Under the Paris Agreement. Synthesis Report by the Secretariat. UNFCCC.

Viera, P., and J. Putri. 2023. Financing Climate-Adaptive, Water-resilient Food Systems. 10 December. SDG Knowledge Hub.

World Meteorological Organization. 2023. WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin: The State of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere Based on Global Observations Through 2022.

Xu, Y.-C. 2023. COP28: Why China’s Clean Energy Boom Matters for Global Climate Action.

Jeetendra Prakash Aryal

About the Author

Jeetendra Prakash Aryal is an economist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Tetsushi Sonobe

About the Author

Tetsushi Sonobe is Dean and CEO of the Asian Development Bank Institute.
Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle

About the Author

Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle is chief scientist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Dil Rahut

About the Author

Dil Rahut is vice-chair of research and a senior research fellow at ADBI.


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