According to the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2023 was the warmest year on record. Data revealed that global temperatures had soared 1.48ºC above the pre-industrial baseline. The year witnessed unprecedented highs in sea levels, greenhouse gas levels, and a stark decline in Antarctic sea ice. The result? Wild and erratic weather patterns worldwide. Additionally, the Met Office has said last year was the second warmest on record for the UK.
COP28, the UN Climate Conference held in Dubai, UAE from 30 November to 12 December, unfolded against this backdrop. Its controversial location, hosted by one of the top oil-producing nations, drew criticism from the offset. The appointment of Dr Sultan Al Jaber, who is head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as COP President raised eyebrows, especially amid allegations of discussions about gas and oil deals during government meetings.
Tensions escalated further when during a live event before the start of COP28, Al Jaber told Chair of the Elders group Mary Robinson that there is “no science” backing calls for a phase-out of fossil fuels. He sensibly backtracked and clarified his stance, acknowledging the necessity of phasing down and phasing out fossil fuels in an orderly, fair, and responsible manner.
Making the transition
This was the first COP to include the Global Stocktake (Article 14 of the Paris Agreement) to assess Parties’ progress towards meeting the Agreement’s goals. As it stands, the Global Stocktake report indicates that a 43% reduction in GHG emissions is required by 2030 and 60% by 2035 (compared to 2019 levels) to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
While hailed by some as a ‘landmark’ text, the inclusion of “transition away from fossil fuels” to achieve net zero by 2050 in The UAE Consensus left many countries frustrated with the watering down of the original language to exclude the use of “phase-out”. Environmentalists were also dismayed at several loopholes that favour using unproven carbon capture and storage technology and transitional fuels, ie natural gas. The deal doesn’t include fossil fuels for other industries such as plastics, agriculture or transport.
In his closing speech, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said: “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end. Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”
Twinned with the fossil fuel announcement, around 130 countries – including the UK – signed up to the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge to triple global renewable power capacity by 2030 and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements from around 2% to over 4% every year until 2030.
According to the International Energy Agency, these countries together account for 40% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion and 37% of total global energy demand. While ultimately this is good news, there were also the notable non-signatories of India and China.
From a UK perspective, while there has been plenty of progress in cutting emissions, much of this has been gained from the transition away from coal. Plus, the recent weakening of the current government’s climate policies and recently announced new North Sea oil and gas licences under the guise of energy security are at odds with reaching net zero.
On the sidelines
As with every COP, aside from the headline announcements, there’s lots of other wheeling and dealing going on. One of the first decisions at the event was the launch of a loss and damage fund for developing countries suffering from the widespread effects of climate change.
Staying with splashing the cash (or not), the Green Climate Fund launched at COP27, received a boost with more countries pledging, bringing the total to almost $13 billion. Even coupled with other schemes designed to help tackle specific climate issues such as the setting of a new collective quantified goal on climate finance, the money is far short of the trillions required.
A major setback of COP28 was the failure on Article 6 (specifically 6.2 and 6.4) of the Paris Agreement concerning international carbon market trading and a framework for carbon markets. The responsibility to address these issues now falls to next year’s host, Azerbaijan – again, a controversial choice given its status as a significant oil and gas exporter. Nevertheless, several countries signed bilateral deals for voluntary carbon trading during the event.
One interesting announcement from UK Environment Secretary Steven Barclay was the pledge to ban supermarkets from selling products containing palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather and soy linked to illegal deforestation. However, the fine print means this only applies to those with sales of more than £50 million and campaigners point out that illegal deforestation is incredibly difficult to monitor.
Although the announcements and deals at COP28 tend to operate in the realm of ‘blue sky’ thinking, for small businesses, the writing is on the wall. There will be mounting pressure to embrace sustainable practices, curb CO2 emissions, and report environmental performance. On the flip side, it is expected that more green financing will be made available, and the shift will open avenues for business opportunities in providing environmental goods and services.
Workplace360 asked two of the UK’s most sustainable resellers for their take on COP28:
Andrew Bryers, Head of Sustainability, Lyreco UK
Like most COP meetings, each one is a significant opportunity for the nearly 200 nations to agree on critical global solutions for limiting global temperature rises. Having international discussions is important and does show commitment by states and helps to pressure some countries to change their attitudes towards climate change.
However, the window for action to keep to a 1.5°C limit is rapidly closing and the news that the world is on track for a 2.7°C of warming by 2100 is disturbing. Following COP28, dramatic and quick changes are needed for it to be seen as successful.
Lyreco is committed to reducing its global impact through its Great Impact sustainability strategy, which not only looks at reducing our emissions but also supporting the communities we work within. A large part of this is bringing our supply chain on the journey and making sure our customers can make transparent and ethical buying decisions.
Simone Hindmarch, Managing Director, Commercial
The decision taken by world leaders at COP28 to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels is ground breaking, but turning that wish into something meaningful and tangible will be the true gauge of whether we have taken a significant step towards mitigating climate change.
For many organisations, the desire to take action has always been there but too often the knowledge isn’t. It’s why Commercial has always sought to help those in our value chain to make a difference.
Our sustainability work will turn 18 this year and has matured into a well-rounded plan. As such, we want to share the benefit of our learning and use it to help others reduce not only their Scope 1 and 2 emissions, but also Scope 3 too.
Knowing where to start with Scope 3 can be difficult, especially when it counts for more than half of an organisation’s emissions. However, if we work together on a coherent plan and build on the will of COP28, we can all win the race to net zero.