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.