COP28 must deliver a rapid response plan for the climate

Workers assemble electric scooters at the Ather Energy factory in Hosur, India, April 20, 2022

Workers assemble electric scooters at the Ather Energy factory in Hosur, India, April 20, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Vivek Muthuramalingam

Incremental action can't solve the climate crisis - at COP28, leaders need to accelerate the exponential change already underway

Andrew Steer is the president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. Helen Mountford is president and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation.

In the face of an escalating climate crisis, the world finds itself at a crossroads. Multiple reports ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) paint a grim picture. This year has been the warmest on record. And last week the United Nations projected that under current pledges we are on track for an average global warming of 2.5-2.9 degrees Celsius (3.8-5.2 degrees F), which would be disastrous for the wellbeing of humans and millions of other species.

According to the State of Climate Action report issued this month, we are falling woefully short of meeting critical climate targets, with only one of 42 indicators - the share of electric vehicles in passenger car sales - on track to meet its 2030 target.

As global leaders and the climate community prepare to convene in Dubai for COP28, this stark reality demands more than incremental action. It calls for a rapid response plan that transcends business as usual.

There is good news: there are positive tipping points in our near-term future if only we have the courage and determination to pull them forward.

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Across sectors and geographies, we are seeing such tipping points come into view. Progress in some sectors is occurring at a pace that is surprising even optimists. From renewable energy additions expected to increase by a third this year to EVs surging to market dominance and heat pumps witnessing double-digit growth, rapid innovation is both possible and underway.

Navigating this duality – our collective shortcomings in most sectors versus the exponential progress in others – is challenging. But it can also fuel a sense of urgency emboldened by progress already underway.

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Positive tipping points

At COP28, countries must agree to a plan that ratchets up commitments, brings positive tipping points forward and enables policies and action across economies between now and 2025 to accelerate the change we know is possible. Success at COP28 will send signals across five areas where progress is already afoot.

First, we must at least triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 while phasing out fossil fuels, in line with a 1.5°C pathway.  

Renewable generation and electricity storage technologies such as batteries are increasingly mature and are now cost-competitive or cheaper than fossil fuel-fired electricity.

The rise of more flexible, local energy sources will also help boost affordable access to clean energy. While access continues to increase, some 745 million people are still without a reliable source of daily energy, according to the IEA, largely in Africa.    

Second, COP28 must address how we create a more resilient, sustainable food and agriculture sector while avoiding further land expansion and reversing deforestation.

Deforestation is slowing in some critical regions, thanks to political leadership prioritizing nature protection, increased enforcement, and corporate commitments. Forest loss in Brazil was nearly halved in 2023 following a change of government. Indonesia and Malaysia have kept the loss of their primary forest near record lows, reversing an upward trend across the early 2000s.

Third, we need to help countries that are least responsible for, and yet most impacted by, climate change. Resilience against climate impacts can be built, and where this is not possible, losses and damages must be addressed.

The better that countries are equipped to adapt to changing weather patterns for crops, or rising sea levels in coastal cities and towns, the better they can support livelihoods, public health, and sustainable development.

Fourth, finance must be scaled up, especially for low-income countries that struggle to access it.

It appears that the rich world may finally have reached the $100 billion per year they had promised, but more is needed. Finance for adaptation needs to double, and the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at last year’s Climate Summit must receive funds. But more important than these contributions of public funds, private sector funds must be mobilized. Multilateral Development Banks can do a much better job at de-risking private funds, and governments everywhere can create policies that make private flows much more likely.

Some governments will say that they can’t afford more finance. But IEA calculations,  showing that fossil fuels benefited from record subsidies of over $1 trillion in 2022, demonstrate that we have the money to finance the transition we need should we choose to get our priorities right.

Finally, governments can and must raise their level of ambition. The entire point of the Paris Agreement was that each five years, as the costs of new technology fall and as citizens see how urgent climate change is becoming, targets would be revisited, and ambition raised. It is important that countries ratchet up their ambition well in advance of the deadline of 2025’s COP30 conference in Brazil. These new targets for 2030 and 2035 should be set in line with net-zero emissions, reflecting the ambition required to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Data from two directions cry out for a response: mounting evidence each month of the cruel impact of climate change, and mounting evidence each month of declining costs, job opportunities, and positive tipping points in the low-carbon economy of the future. COP28 is the time to respond. It’s not too late!

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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