November 24, 2023
Written by
Mike Paul

COP28 preview: Can we make a dramatic course correction in a climate of uncertainty?

Simon Steill, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, says "COP28 is our chance to make a dramatic course correction." But will we be able to?

COP28 kicks off on Thursday November 30th, with all eyes on Dubai to see the world's collective progress towards achieving targets set in the Paris Agreement, as it marks the first "global stocktake" since the agreement was made at COP21.

While the Paris Agreement has certainly galvanised climate action worldwide, there's an awful lot more to be done to bring ourselves in line - and according to Simon Steill, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, "COP28 is our chance to make a dramatic course correction."

The question is, will this dramatic correction actually happen? Looking in from the outside with a few days to go until the conference gets underway, it’s hard to hold much optimism. Despite 2023 being the hottest year on record and the day-to-day effects of our impacts on the climate being laid bare for even the most sceptical to see, the air around the conference is turbulent and uncertain for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, and most obviously, is the fact that COP28 itself is being held in the United Arab Emirates, a country whose very existence is built on oil and gas extraction, and has named fossil fuel leader Dr. Sultan Al Jaber as its host. It’s hard to imagine a less appropriate setting for a climate change conference, especially since we also know that, in 2023, fossil fuels have been subsidised globally to an all-time high of $7tn USD, equivalent to 7.1% of global GDP. 

Of course, these subsidies exist mainly to protect consumers and businesses against the very worst effects of energy costs that have been spiralling out of control over the last 18 months, mostly because of the war in Eastern Europe. In 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices rocketing to their highest since 2008, while Russia also curtailed its natural gas supply to Europe in the wake of its war, which in turn saw global gas prices leap to all-time highs. We’ve all seen the impact of this on our home energy bills.

In spite of calls to phase out fossil fuels, and the best efforts of countries including France, Spain, Denmark, and Ireland, who have all at least introduced legislation to ban any new exploration and extraction, the inconvenient truth of our current energy situation is that, only due to a lack of unilateral investment and implementation, renewable energy production methods still can’t fill the gap that fully phasing out fossil fuels would leave, and in the meantime, national governments have to protect their people and business from the worst effects of price hikes. 

In terms of how this situation will impact discussions at COP28, I fear that even if stretching renewable energy targets are set, the escalation of the Middle East conflict will spike energy prices even further in 2024, putting us back into the same vicious cycle for another year at least. It is at least encouraging that, in October 2023, more than 130 companies including Nestle, Unilever, Mahindra Group and Volvo Cars urged political leaders to agree a timeline at the conference to phase out fossil fuels entirely. We can only hope that leaders at COP28 take this request seriously, and perhaps even push for subsidies towards the development of renewables to incentivise the energy sector to continue to invest there going forward – and while that has happened since COP27, giving us a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll see what kind of message our hosts decide they want to transmit to the rest of the world once the conference is over.

The “Global Stocktake’

Another key set of discussions at COP28 will come from the first “global stocktake”, which is a report intended to help set up the next round of climate action plans under the Paris Agreement, to be set into legislation by 2025. It is a key assessment tool for evaluating the world's response to the climate crisis, and it will be the first since the Paris Agreement was brought into legislation in 2016. 

UN Climate Change, also known as the UNFCCC, has released a synthesis report aimed at guiding governments in making these decisions during COP28. It captures the perspectives of governments on crucial elements for reaching a decision within the framework of the Paris Agreement, and highlights broad agreement on the inadequacy of past climate action. While there are differing opinions on the specifics of achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals, there is consensus on the need for increased action and support for developing nations to address climate change. The report emphasises the urgency of aligning global efforts with the Agreement's long-term objectives and stresses the limited time to secure a sustainable future.

When it comes to the stocktake and how its outcomes will set the pathway for the Paris Agreement’s goals of 45% GHG emissions reductions by 2030 and global net zero by 2050, it’s clear that strong, decisive and binding outcomes are needed in order for us to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change. The question is, while we expect some agreements to be made, will the contributing parties be able to keep their promises? Or will we find ourselves back again in November 2024, just five years from that first deadline, still admitting that we aren’t doing enough?

It remains to be seen what the outcomes will be from COP28, and how they will impact the behaviour of companies - and their suppliers - in their efforts to reduce scope 3 emissions. What is clear is that we must do more: greenhouse gas emissions are not under control, and from a corporate perspective, the majority of your impacts will come from scope 3, in your supply chain. 

Companies can’t be sustainable without their suppliers, so as long as you’re following best practice and using Supplier Collaboration and Innovation technology to engage with your key stakeholders, you can either get or stay on track to be carbon neutral by 2050. Talk to us today, and with our new SBTi Supplier Engagement Framework, we can get you on the path to net zero in just four weeks.

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