The outcomes of COP28

From November 30 to December 12, the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP 28) took place in Dubai.
The BRICS Policy Center’s Socio-Environmental Platform covered the conference directly from Dubai, with the coordinator Maureen Santos and the Research assistant Maria Beatriz Mello on the ground. The coverage included summaries of the main points debated, speeches and agreements.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, COP28 has come to an end with a final document that points, in an unprecedented way, to the need to eliminate fossil fuels. The announcement is historic, given that, in 28 years of negotiations, the issue had never been mentioned in the text of a final COP decision, and it comes as a surprise that it was made in an oil-producing country, the United Arab Emirates. Although this is an unprecedented step forward, the document does not clearly indicate how the means of implementation will be ensured, historically pointed out as the most neglected pillar of the climate regime, a task that will have to fall under the preparation process for COP 30, to be held in Brazil.


The COP of contrasts

Held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from November 30 to December 13, COP 28 gathered almost 100,000 people, almost twice as many as at last year’s conference in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. The conference was undoubtedly a COP of contrasts: on one hand, there was the unprecedented participation of lobbyists from the oil sector, while on the other, the indigenous participation was historic: 300 indigenous people from all over the world were present in Dubai, 100 of them from Brazilian ethnic groups. It was also the first time that Brazil’s delegation, the second largest at the COP, was led by an indigenous leader. Sonia Guajajara, Minister of Indigenous Peoples, took charge of the country’s representation from December 3rd to 7th.

However, the ambivalence can also be seen in the positions taken by Brazil. While the Brazilian diplomatic delegation acted in official negotiating spaces in an incisive manner, aiming to ensure the objective of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5º C and boosting climate finance for developing nations, the country received the Fossil of the Day award after the disastrous announcement of joining OPEC+, an alliance of oil-producing countries that adopts refractory positions on the energy transition. The “honor”, awarded by the Climate Action Network, sheds light on the contradictions between Brazil’s energy and environmental policies and puts the country’s image in check with the international community, just as it takes over the presidency of the G20 and prepares to host COP30. On the same day that COP28 ended, the National Petroleum Agency auctioned off 603 oil and natural gas blocks – some of them overlapping with conservation units and indigenous and quilombola areas – whose exploitation could jeopardize Brazil’s mitigation targets, as recently presented to the Convention (Palmares, 2023).

Brazil’s insistence on investing in the exploitation of fossil resources runs against a scenario of a deepening climate crisis, political and diplomatic efforts to make the country a central player in this agenda and the positions of neighboring nations. In Dubai, the colombian president Gustavo Petro announced his adhesion to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and pledged not to sign any new contracts for the exploration of coal, oil and gas. Meanwhile, Brazil seems to be putting all its faith in initiatives to combat deforestation, which are fundamental to reducing national emissions but insufficient to guarantee Brazil’s targets. Furthermore, by sending out ambiguous messages regarding the survival of fossil fuels in a world on the brink of climate collapse, Brazil is not contributing to the ongoing efforts to raise countries’ climate ambition and ensure a 1.5°C temperature rise scenario.


The Brazilian proposals

In speeches during the COP, President Lula criticized the failure to meet climate commitments and excessive global spending on arms, referred to Brazil’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and presented them as more ambitious than those of many countries in the North. The president also reaffirmed his commitment to zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 and reaffirmed cooperation ties with other countries in the region.

During the COP, the United Kingdom and Norway announced new contributions to the Amazon Fund, totaling around R$267 million.  The Federal Government presented the Brazilian proposal to create a Global Fund for the Preservation of Tropical Forests. The mechanism, which should have its operating rules defined by COP 30, provides for a fixed annual payment per hectare of preserved forest and is expected to raise US$ 250 million, benefiting around 80 countries with forests.

The Ecological Transformation Plan was also presented by the Ministry of Finance during COP 28. The initiative aims to accelerate the green transition, promote sustainable development and combat inequalities, emphasizing areas such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture. According to Finance Minister Fernando Haddad, the plan has the potential to reposition Brazil at the vanguard of sustainable development. Although it can be seen as an initiative that seeks to promote a change in the current development model, the Ecological Transformation Plan has been received with concern by social movements and civil society organizations in Brazil. In an Open Letter to the Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, and the Minister of Finance, Ferndo Haddad, the Brazilian Network for Environmental Justice criticizes the lack of clear goals and deadlines for achieving the energy transition in Brazil, the lack of a plan to reduce oil and gas production, the government’s renewed interest in nuclear power plants, and points to the socio-environmental impacts of the competition for new technologies and energy sources, especially for the most vulnerable populations and the risks of perpetuating climate injustice in the country.


The participation of civil society

Although COP 28 took place in a country hostile to democratic demonstrations, the civil society was present throughout the negotiations. On the 8th, there were Fridays for Future activities, when young leaders gathered to demand the equitable elimination of fossil fuels and an immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territory. The 9th, the date of the Global Climate Action, was also marked by demonstrations to press for more ambitious results in the official negotiating spaces.

Brazilian social movements and organizations have announced the Peoples’ Summit, to be held during COP 30 in Belém do Pará in 2025. The document entitled “Letter to the Brazilian government: Towards the COP 30 Peoples’ Summit” was signed by 40 organizations and popular movements and delivered to President Lula by Maureen Santos, a member of the Belém Letter and Coordinator of the BRICS Policy Center’s Socio-Environmental Platform.

Facing protests and pressure over the serious situation of its rock salt mines in Maceió, the petrochemical company Braskem has canceled its participation in COP 28. For years, civil society representatives have been pointing out the contradictions surrounding the presence of large corporations, whose activities are highly damaging to the environment and human rights, in negotiating spaces. The growing participation and influence of these actors has made the climate negotiations a privileged space for the expansion of polluting businesses and the multiplication of greenwashing initiatives.


The key outcomes of COP28:

COP 28 has begun with the announcement of a concrete result. The opening session saw the official approval of the Loss and Damage Fund, the creation of which dates back to last year’s COP 27 negotiations. Immediately after the announcement, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Japan presented their first contributions to the fund, which will initially be administered by the World Bank and designed to address the challenges of countries highly vulnerable to climate effects. By the end of the COP, pledges had already amounted to US$800 million (Magnani, 2023).

It was also decided that the host of COP 29, to be held in 2024, will be Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. A new feature emerging from the COP processes is the launch of a troika, which will be made up of the presidents of COP 28, COP 29 and COP 30. Thus, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan and Brazil must lead the efforts to raise the climate ambitions of the parties and safeguard the goal of limiting the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C.

Another great expectation surrounding this COP was the finalization of the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement, the Global Stocktake. This is a huge stocktake that aims to determine how far we are from achieving the goals of the agreement and, based on the best available science, to map out the next steps to prevent the window of opportunity for guaranteeing a safe climate future for people and the planet from closing. In this sense, the content of the global stocktaking should inform the process of updating the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to be submitted by COP 30. The document pointed to the need to achieve net zero emissions globally by 2050 and to reduce global emissions by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035. It also stressed the centrality of the means of implementation and of scaling up climate finance to ensure that global emissions are reduced at the pace required for a 1.5°C scenario. The document also highlights the growing importance of adaptation initiatives, which must be informed by local priorities and context.


“The UAE Consensus”

After tense days of negotiation, on December 13, one day after the official closing date of the conference, the “UAE Consensus” was announced, the final document agreed by the parties at COP 28. The document calls on countries to transition their energy systems away from fossil sources in a fair, orderly and equitable manner, in order to accelerate action later this decade to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, in accordance with the prescriptions of the best available science. The adoption of the term “transition” came after pressure from oil-producing countries, which blocked more incisive language on the “elimination” of fossil sources. Even so, the unprecedented mention of fossil fuels, the biggest contributors to global emissions, was considered a victory by many.

The document also includes ambitious targets for boosting the use of renewable energies and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, without providing further details on how this transition will be achieved; it mentions the progressive reduction of non-sabatid emissions from coal – in a clear and contradictory nod to the survival of this fossil resource; stresses the need to accelerate the development of zero or low carbon technologies, highlighting the role of nuclear energy and capture and removal technologies in these efforts – in yet another of its contradictory points; and adopts dubious language to refer to the progressive elimination of “inefficient” fossil subsidies. However, it recognizes the role of “transition fuels”, i.e. fossil fuels, for the energy transition.

As the Convention’s Executive Secretary Simon Stiel pointed out, this is an insufficient advance, but it signals “the beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era.


Research: Beatriz Mattos, Isabelle Caon, Maria Beatriz Mello and Maureen Santos

Text: Beatriz Mattos