Measuring COP28: Part 1 – Main outcomes, agreements and impacts

COP28 is over, but what does the international community have to show for nearly two weeks of intense negotiations? Equally, what does the final wording of the agreements mean for the world’s clean energy transition and its broader efforts to combat climate change?

Key COP28 outcomes and agreements at a glance:

  • First ever Global Stocktake (GST) definitively lays out areas of progress.
  • Over 100 nations endorse tripling of renewables from current capacity levels.
  • Climate Loss and Damage fund approved with initial pledges made

Global Stocktake highlights importance of language in Climate agreements

The publishing of the first GST was considered the Central outcome of COP28. A two-year process due to occur every five years, it summarises every element under discussion at successive COPs and can serve a concrete indication of progress levels as well as areas for improvement, allowing countries to develop stronger climate action plans due by 2025.

The release of the GST – an initiative backed by all signatories of the Paris Agreement – is crucial for benchmarking purposes, reminding every stakeholder involved of the range and complexity of climate-based issues while highlighting the need for greater cooperation. Alongside a raft of other updates on everything from climate financing to nature-based solutions, the GST recognised that by 2030 we must collectively cut all GHG emissions by 43% (from 2019 levels). 

However, while the wider goals are clear, the path to achieving them remain unclear. The revised language of the final draft made headlines as the key phrasing of “phasing out” fossil fuels was changed to “transitioning away from” their use. On the surface, this appears to be only a small change, but all manner of climate experts say that the language matters greatly, because “phase out” is a much more measurable target of reducing fossil fuel use to zero by a set date. Phrases like “phase down” and “transition away”, on the other hand, are more ambiguous, lacking set dates and clarity of language needed to galvanise support. 

This specific language of the final draft pushed the conference into overtime, showing just how complex and politically sensitive the issue is. Even so, the final GST agreement represents the first COP text that openly calls on countries to wean themselves off fossil fuels, which was considered a win in many quarters, given the obstacles in place.

Key pledge to triple renewables by 2030

While wider agreements on global decarbonisation were essential for keeping the 1.5C Paris Agreement target alive, specific vehicles for boosting the sustainability of our combined energy mix provided more clarity on the “how” part of the equation.

Foremost among these was the pledge by 130 national governments to triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW before the end of the decade. This agreement also recognises that consistent efficiency gains will remain crucial for making renewable energy adoption more economically viable. Accordingly, a further target was set to collectively double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around 2% to over 4% every year until 2030.

This pledge was led and championed by the COP28 host, the UAE. Key signatory countries included China, the US, the UK, Brazil and all member states of the European Union (EU).

Climate Loss and Damage Fund Approved – Trickle before flood

COP28 also saw the formal launch of a global “loss and damage” fund to compensate climate-vulnerable countries in the aftermath of disasters.

Opening contributions have started small. At the time of writing, the overall pledge level is at $792 million, with the UAE, EU and Scandinavian nations leading the way.  This is only a tiny fraction of the $100 billion that developing nations called for when the fund was first tabled at last year’s COP in Egypt. It looks even less meaningful when the estimated damage inflicted by climate change has risen to $400 billion per year.

The fund, launched during COP28, represents a tangible commitment by developed economies to equitably share the climate burden of at-risk and vulnerable communities worldwide. To be more effective than a token gesture, however, this initial contribution will need to develop into a more substantial flow, and quickly. One of the long-term ramifications of the fund is that it may spur further investment in climate adaptation efforts; building more climate-resilient global systems may prove much more cost effective than ploughing endless billions into disaster relief efforts. Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes.

“Beginning of the End” for Fossil Fuel Era

The final signing of the COP28 agreement was met with both celebration and concern in equal measure. This is nothing new; the heated discussions on the final draft’s language should immediately remind us of the “phase out vs phase down” debate at Glasgow for COP26.

Every year, the enormity of the task involved in getting hundreds of nations to agree on approaches to tackle our most pressing, contentious, and complicated challenges loom large over proceedings. Compromise is the only viable vehicle for progress, and this year has produced compromises that at least set out promising paths for faster and further climate action, if not delivering the strength of message or weight of monetary commitments demanded in some quarters.

The tangible achievements of the climate loss fund and tripling of renewable energy capacity both set the stage for faster action across the remainder of the decade. Similarly, the broader pledges to transition away from fossil fuels suggest that the accepted status quo among all nations is that hydrocarbons will give way to cleaner energy sources in a steadily accelerating manner. Even placing this accepted reality in the diplomatic language of COP may speed up the mentality shift in the minds of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, both in industry and government.


Look out for parts 2 and 3 of our mini-series of post-COP28 analysis. Part 2 dives into the detail of the monetary element of the conference, assessing the level and makeup of funds earmarked by different countries for their respective climate-based actions. Part 3 looks to the immediate future, outlining the likely impact of COP28 and what needs to happen next to build momentum for the following two conferences in Azerbaijan and Brazil.