Cop28: Will high-ambition champions feel empowered by their political masters to push harder for strong outcomes?

World leaders have left and attention now turns to talks

The opening weekend of Cop28 was marked by a blizzard of announcements including big promises, billions in funding coughed up by governments and big business with endorsement, in many instances, from environmental groups.

There have been alliances, collaborations and initiatives that fall into the category of genuine climate actions – even projects showing the wealthy global north is finally helping the poor global south at scale. The munificence even extended to petrostates, though their motivations should always be questioned – and none more so than those of the hosts; UAE.

Climate action can be a great force for co-operation in the collective interest in spite of other differences. This was indicated by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, signing a declaration of support for urgent mitigation measures. This came via video addresses at the inauguration of a “faith pavilion”, where there were messages of urgency and hope for robust climate action.

Perhaps most significant was some 117 governments (including Ireland) pledging to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030 as a route to cutting fossil fuel use in the world’s energy production. It may not be all Cop28 parties, but others can come on board and it will become part of the final outcome.


Rather than being dazzled by it all, climate campaigner Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa called for focus on negotiation. The flurry of announcements was largely to be welcomed, but he said “the talks are why we are here”.

Much coverage centres on commitments governments and companies make outside of the formal negotiating process. But, he said, “getting an agreed fossil fuel phase-out date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit”.

“We need a fair, fast, full and funded fossil phase-out,” he added.

World leaders have left and attention now turns to talks, the main task at hand. As the cacophony of speeches dies down, it’s easier to hear the signal through the noise, energy think tank E3G noted.

“Momentum on loss and damage, renewable energy and financial system reform gives diplomats looking to capitalise on this important progress the vital ammunition they need to take to the negotiations,” it said.

Yet, leaders were worryingly quiet on many key issues, especially adaptation finance to prepare for the inevitable and that need to accelerate fossil fuel phase-out. The key question is now whether or not “champions of high ambition” feel empowered by their political masters to push harder in negotiating rooms for strong outcomes.

The UAE has made a play about wanting to inject pragmatism, but it is widely accepted that unless it can support the call to phase out fossil fuels – as well as accelerate clean energy – it’s hard to see this Cop being remembered as a success, given the world is in the grip of a worsening climate crisis. There are indications that some form of wording on this may be agreed, which would be historic.

The world is in the throes of a renewables revolution. The extent of it was detailed in a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

It came with a dose of realism as it highlights the key role of weather and climate information and services in meeting the untapped potential and huge challenges in transitioning to renewable energy. Climate change will impact energy supply and demand, particularly in the context of heating and cooling.

Renewables now dominate new sources of energy supply. Last year alone, 83 per cent of new capacity was renewable. Today, some 40 per cent of power generation globally is renewable. This is vital to achieving decarbonised energy systems by 2050, with an accompanying steep and decisive decline of fossil fuel consumption, the report underlines.

“This transition is a powerful catalyst for mitigating climate change, safeguarding our planet, and ensuring a prosperous future for generations to come,” said WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas.

The report stresses more decisive actions are needed to hasten the exit from fossil fuel use while increasing the resilience of renewable energy operations. It was a brilliant indicator of what’s needed at Cop28: absolute clarity on the roadmap ahead – while providing a much-needed glimmer of hope.