COP 28 Momentum: Leaning into a just transition away from fossil fuels

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Global negotiations on climate change are absolutely necessary. The outcomes and decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COPs) send important signals to the world, “responsible for keeping international efforts to address climate change on track.” The actual process undertaken during COPs is complex, requiring consensus on all decisions among 198 parties. During COP 28, 30 November to 12 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), negotiations navigated moments of tension to result  in a landmark headway for a much-needed transition to a just transition away from fossil fuels. While momentum is now building from the top-down, equally important is what takes place on the ground, from bottom-up. MedWaves, as a regional activity centre, continues to support and resource efforts on the ground to ensure that global goals result in local actions.   

Building Momentum

COP 28 was contentious before it even began. Around the world, doubts surfaced when the COP Presidency appointment went to the head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). Adding to the weight of expectations was the recent release of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report which clearly reported “the world is heading for a temperature rise far above the Paris Agreement goals unless countries deliver more than they have promised.” The question floating was whether this COP could deliver the ambition needed to address what many consider the heart cause of the climate crisis – fossil fuels. 

Depending on who you speak with, COP 28 provided a nuanced promise for progress. Perhaps not as triumphant as the feelings shared in 2015 with the signing of the Paris Agreement, COP 28 did become the first in the history of climate negotiations to include specific reference to fossil fuels. This year delivered the first Global Stocktake (GST) to the table; somewhat of an inventory process that takes place every five years, providing a window to evaluate progress made on the goals of the Paris Agreement. COP 28 decided in the final GST text to include a specific reference to fossil fuels, calling on countries “to contribute to” a list of goals, including “transitioning away from fossil fuels…accelerating action in this critical decade”. 

Although the reference to fossil fuels is monumental, much of the world had hoped to see stronger language. Several announcements made throughout the climate talks were a testament to the interest for stronger action. For example, Spain was among a group of countries that joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, a pledge to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies. During a press conference, Teresa Ribera, Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge noted that “we set the COP on a good foot, with financial pledges from big emitters to be funnelled for loss and damage mechanism.” She translated the work ahead as a “deep transformation of consumption and production.” 

At the closing plenary, COP 28, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell reflected:  “We needed this COP to send crystal clear signals on several fronts. We needed a global green light signalling it is ‘all systems go’ on renewables, climate justice, and resilience. On this front, COP 28 delivered some genuine strides forward: Tripling renewables and doubling energy efficiency. A framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation. Operationalising the loss and damage fund and making an initial down payment.”

We Are The Wave

Without detracting from the value of the impact and importance of the global decision making process, COP 28 drew attention to the power of smaller groups coming together to share, discuss and negotiate. COP President Al Jaber applauded the Changemakers Majlis which was grounded in an Emirati tradition to bring “together a small, curated group of personally and professionally diverse climate actionists to discuss specific climate challenges in an open, bold, and solutions-oriented way.” These smaller groups were used to unlock solutions in a manner that is relatable to how regional activities progress change. 

The Mediterranean region, as a global hotspot for pollution and climate change impacts, has had to address the changing climate, using innovation to develop ways to avoid, or mitigate, emissions. MedWaves participated in several side events throughout COP 28 to connect the progress made in the region to the global dialogue.

On 1 December, MedWaves co-hosted an event: Circular thinking for climate action: The synergy of circular economy and climate change mitigation. This session was devoted to engaging in meaningful dialogues around the power of circularity as a solution. The session also provided an opportunity to launch the Working Paper on the contribution of circular economy to climate action.

This report delivered tangible and specific ways to understand the value of a circular economy and SBM as tools to mitigate climate change. The globally relevant sustainable business experiences in the Mediterranean are used to highlight how to prevent pollution, recover resources, extend resources, and maximise efficiency by adopting a circular design. The report directly addresses the largest emitting sectors, such as energy, food production, construction, and mobility, in order to identify  opportunities to deliver substantial greenhouse gas emission reductions. The Working Paper underscores the critical importance for policies and institutional backing to establish enabling conditions to make the transition to SBM possible. There is also a social dimension to circular economies and SBM playing an important role in the just transition cited. 

On 2 December, “Technological innovation and green entrepreneurship in Tunisia: A catalyst in the fight against climate change” MedWaves Director Jesús Maestro highlighted how circular principles can help reduce carbon footprints while Sustainable Business Models (SBMs) can help generate economic value and social and environmental benefits.  

On 4 December, Giorgio Mosangini (Green Entrepreneurship & Civil Society Team Leader) joined a panel discussion on Empowering Young Innovators: Catalyzing Climate-Friendly Businesses to share results of several projects funded by the ENI CBC Med Programme (predecessor of Interreg NEXT MED), such as INVESTMED, Stand-Up, INTECMED or MED4WASTE. In all cases, cooperation across the Mediterranean entities has led numerous young entrepreneurs to start business paving the way to decarbonization.

On 5 December, Giorgio Mosangini also spoke on the untapped opportunities of circular economy for local resilience during SMEs, essential partners for a just transition towards a circular economy with low energy consumption.

Just Transition

In the words of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell: “While we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end.” He continued that “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

MedWaves continues its work on the ground, ensuring that real climate actions are supported and enabled. JUST2CE is a MedWaves programme dedicated to the just transition to a circular economy. Project Manager Matías Ibañez Sales reflected on his time participating in COP 28, emphasising the value in hearing voices from youth, civil society, Indigenous Peoples and others. He explained that being able to attend a gathering of people with different cultural backgrounds helps “open our minds and bring back to our own countries ideas, knowledge and approaches that we can translate into our own work.” He articulated that a just transition is one that includes the voices of people who are suffering the impacts of climate change, and that effective policy solutions “put people in the centre of policy action”. 

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