COP28: Move beyond rhetoric

The urgency of climate action is clear

As the world continues to grapple with unprecedented climate disasters, the recently concluded COP28 in Dubai marked a significant milestone in global efforts to address climate change. The two-week summit saw more than 190 nations agreeing to a text known as the Global Stocktake, which, for the first time, urges countries to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, “in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. And the science is sobering—urging us to act now, act big, and act fast. The urgency reflected in this call is a direct reflection of the compelling scientific consensus on the precarious state of our planet’s climate. Striving for net zero emissions by 2050 means aiming to balance the amount of greenhouse gases we release with what we remove—aligning with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This target is crucial because it helps prevent severe and irreversible damage to the environment and our communities, as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.

However, the world is significantly off-course from this target. As nations continue to grapple with the complexities of transitioning away from fossil fuels, the truth remains that our carbon emissions are depleting the Remaining Carbon Budget (RCB) of 250 gigatonnes of annual CO2 emissions at an alarming rate. This budget, likened to a finite allowance of greenhouse gas emissions, is on track to be exhausted by 2029 at the current annual rate of 40 GtCO2, underscoring the urgency for immediate and substantial actions. The global community is at a crucial juncture where the gap between our aspirations for a sustainable future and the reality of our current trajectory demands a radical and collective rethinking of our approach to climate action.

The G20’s commitment to tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030 is a commendable step, yet the emphasis on substantially scaling up climate finance from billions to trillions is crucial for enabling developing nations to transition away from fossil fuels. This financial commitment recognises the immense resources required for these nations to implement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and achieve the ambitious targets set in the Paris Agreement. In addition, the focus on inclusive economic growth and development, with an emphasis on Lifestyles for Sustainable Development (LiFE), reflects a commitment to addressing both supply and consumption-side challenges.

India’s insistence on including the climate-vulnerable African Union as a permanent member of the G20 speaks of the importance of global solidarity. Decolonising decarbonisation—i.e., addressing historical inequities in climate action by prioritising justice, inclusivity, and empowering marginalised communities—is the key to unlocking a future that is fair, inclusive, and sustainable.

In the face of promising developments at COP28, challenges and loopholes persist in the global climate agenda. The transition away from fossil fuels encounters hurdles such as resistance from oil-producing nations, policy inertia in some regions, and the economic constraints faced by developing nations. Further, while international agreements outline targets and aspirations, they often lack effective enforcement mechanisms. For instance, the Paris Agreement relies on voluntary commitments without imposing binding obligations, allowing some nations to set ambitious targets without facing tangible consequences for non-compliance.

Corporate influence, ambiguous commitments, inadequate monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and a lack of financial accountability, all point to a pressing need to strengthen international frameworks, establishing clear and enforceable guidelines, and fostering a culture of accountability and transparency.

As COP28 concludes, the world stands at a crossroads. The urgency of climate action is clear, and we need to move towards implementation on ground. One per cent of the global companies account for 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The stock markets need to hold them accountable and punish them. The challenge now lies in ensuring that the global community moves beyond rhetoric, addresses loopholes, and takes concrete steps to transition away from fossil fuels.

Author is G20 Sherpa. He is ex-CEO, NITI Aayog.