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COP28 Day 6: The devil will be in the detail

By Sophie Morello
06 December 2023
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

Today was buildings and transport day at COP28 and the key announcement related to urbanisation.  The COP28 Presidency, UN and Bloomberg Philanthropies collectively called on housing, urban development, environment, and finance ministers to back the ‘Joint Outcome Statement on Urbanization and Climate Change.’

It was supported by over 40 Ministers of Environment, Urban Development and Housing, and sets out a ten-point plan to boost the inclusion of cities in the decision-making process on climate change, drive multilevel climate action and accelerate the deployment of urban climate finance so that cities are prepared and supported to respond to the climate crisis.

The statement builds on the ‘Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships’ (CHAMP), which was launched at the Local Climate Action Summit (LCAS) on 1 December and aims to identify and strengthen levers to increase and accelerate the deployment of climate finance to enable cities and local governments to respond to the climate crisis.

These agreements are important because finance remains an ongoing issue, with only 21% of climate finance allocated to adaptation and resilience, and only 10% reaching the local level.

And ensuring cities can cope with climate change and lower their impact is vital because they are home to most of the world’s population and contribute over 70% of CO2 emissions. Also, the majority of cities (as many as 90%!) are threatened by rising sea levels and storms, and their residents are exposed to ten degrees higher temperatures than their counterparts in rural areas.

Meanwhile, delegate discussions around a phase-down or phase-out of fossil fuels continue. Everything is still to play for and there is some optimism that an agreement on ‘phase-out’ will be reached by the end of the conference. COPs before have failed in this mission, but we need to pay close attention to the language here.

A ‘phase-out’ is unlikely to mean a compete departure from fossil fuels in the near term. Any agreement is going to include reference to “unabated” and “abated.” “Unabated” means the burning of fossil fuels where the emissions add to global warming, and “abated” means the burning of fossil fuels combined with the capture and permanent storage a portion of the resulting emissions. There are questions about what “abated” really means in practice and hugely conflicting voices about how the net zero equation can solved. There are also questions about the order in which countries ‘phase-out’; developed nations have the means to invest in renewables and ‘phase-out’ fossil fuels quicker than developing economies.

As ever, these talks are highly complex and no doubt negotiations will be down to the wire. It will be nigh on miraculous if the likes of India, China and Saudi Arabia agree to any “phase-out” language unless it’s tied to just unabated fossil fuels. There are also challenges for the UK in how much we can cease unabated fossil fuels when we have licensed new oil & gas exploration and carbon capture technology is not up to speed.

Speculation on the final text and response to the Global Stocktake will continue over the coming days. Tomorrow is a day of rest at COP, a welcome pause for breath, where we’ll take stock of the announcements made so far.