PARIS AGREEMENT OP-ED
COP28 in Dubai must send signals of an urgent step-up in action on climate change
The 2015 Paris Agreement marked a pivotal moment in our global efforts to combat climate change. Parties to the agreement have already taken substantial actions. Yet there is an urgent need to set more ambitious targets to accelerate implementation.
In September 2023, a crucial technical report on the global stocktake highlighted a range of innovative solutions ready for implementation. The report serves as a robust technical foundation for the upcoming political negotiations scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates in December. Harald Winkler was one of the two facilitators of the technical dialogue and explains what still needs to be done to reach the goals set in 2015.
The technical report evaluates what is known as the global stocktake. It shows we are currently off course in achieving the Paris Agreement’s emission reduction goals. The global community is also off-target in responding to climate impacts through adaptation and addressing loss and damage, as well as in providing essential financial support to developing nations, while making broader financial flows consistent with climate-resilient and low-emissions development.
This assessment sets the stage for a climate summit scheduled for the end of the year in Dubai, where nations will come together to address these critical challenges.
The global stocktake (GST), an integral component of the Paris Agreement, serves as a vital tool to assess our global response to the climate crisis and chart a more sustainable path forward. Conducted every five years, the GST is designed to inform the next round of nationally determined contributions by 2025. It comprises three essential phases: the collection of inputs, a technical dialogue (TD), and political negotiations.
The global community has witnessed a dramatic shift in climate action since the ratification of the Paris Agreement, reflecting a growing need for accelerated implementation. There is a broad global commitment to the Paris Agreement, recognising its fundamental role in catalysing cooperative action to address the climate crisis. As the report’s technical findings indicate, there is a clear need for more urgent action to align with the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.
The report highlights the importance of system transformations, with energy, land, water, health and many other systems in our societies needing to change dramatically in response to climate change. This means that rapid and deep change is needed to shift to low emissions and climate-resilient development. Such change is likely to be disruptive — and that means a focus on social inclusion and equity is essential.
Mitigation, including response measures
Current global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission trends and forecasts are not in line with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement in terms of the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Urgent action is needed to implement domestic mitigation measures that achieve more ambitious targets within Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are the national plans that each country submits every five years under the Paris Agreement.
There are many opportunities for emission reductions, with some energy technologies now providing net benefits, whereas previously there were net costs. Yet given the scale of mitigation required, there are still large investments to be made, and these must take into account the diverse contexts of different countries.
The report emphasises the need for system transformations across sectors, such as scaling up renewable energy, phasing out all unabated fossil fuels, ending deforestation, reducing non-CO2 emissions, and implementing both supply- and demand-side measures to reach net zero emissions. Enhanced transparency can help track progress.
Participants in the global stocktake technical dialogue discussed multiple dimensions of equity in mitigation. Yet a common thread was that equity should align with raising ambition in implementing the Paris Agreement. Collective decision-making processes can promote equity and reduce the disruptive consequences of rapid system transformations.
For countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels, economic diversification is a key strategy to address trade-offs and promote positive synergies within long-term transitions.
Adaptation, including loss and damage
The technical report acknowledges that the impacts of climate change will intensify for every fraction of a degree of global warming. Climate impacts are eroding past human development gains, emphasising the need for more transformational adaptation actions to safeguard future development.
Efforts on adaptation planning, though ongoing, often progress incrementally and are unevenly distributed across regions. Comprehensive and impactful actions are needed, along with increased support for developing countries. Adaptation needs to transition from planning to implementation through an iterative cycle. All countries can benefit from strengthening the information base on climate-related events and impacts, which is fundamental to action on adaptation and to address loss and damage.
Urgent action is required to respond to losses and damages, which happen when they exceed the ability to adapt. People cannot simply adapt when flooding puts large parts of their country under water. Many countries are suffering losses and damages now. The report highlights the need for increased support for adaptation and funding arrangements, including a fund to address loss and damage, given the growing needs in developing countries.
Support and finance flows
Scaled-up mobilisation of support for climate action in developing countries entails strategically deploying international public finance, which remains a prime enabler for action. Enhancements in effectiveness, including access, ownership, and impacts, are crucial. Ensuring that international and domestic financial flows — both public and private — align with the pathway toward low GHG emissions and climate-resilient development presents an opportunity to unlock trillions of dollars and redirect investments to climate action.
Achieving the necessary transformation requires fundamental reform of the international financial system, which includes divestment from coal, oil, and gas, and the removal of fossil fuel subsidies that hinder climate action.
More effective and strategic international cooperation in technology development and transfer and innovation is essential for rapid system transformations aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Strategic scaling up of capacity-building support for developing countries should address locally determined needs.
Greater coherence and coordination of support, including within the United Nations system, will enhance effective delivery. COP28 in Dubai will need to send signals on a step-change in action on climate change. All actors need to act with a sense of urgency, taking seriously that climate change has indeed reached the proportions of a crisis. DM
Harald Winkler is a Professor in PRISM, School of Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He writes in his personal capacity.