cop28 simon stiell unfccc


  • The success of this COP28 hinges on the level of ambition for mitigation 
  • The mitigation agenda remains an empty text with no mention of phase out or emissions peaking. 
  • What is even more serious is that ambition has been significantly reduced even in the new text on Global Stocktake

The favourable outcome of this COP28 hinges on the level of ambition for mitigation that will be achieved in the next 24 hours, said Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.
With current policies, global temperatures are heading for an increase of between 2.5 and 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels, and we need to reduce emissions by 42 per cent over the next six years if we are to have any chance of keeping the goal of staying within 1.5°C. 
Given the vital importance of reducing emissions and limiting rising temperatures one would expect a great deal of attention on the negotiating thread of the Mitigation Work Programme (MWP).
Instead, no new draft was published on Monday either, and the most up-to-date document is more than five days old. Countries have not even met daily to negotiate, and the mitigation programme seems to have taken a back seat.

During his Press Conference on Monday, a very tired Simon Stiell said bluntly that the game is now played on two questions: 

  • how high the ambition on mitigation will be,
  • how willing countries will be to support the transition with the appropriate financial means. 

Stiell thundered that the UNFCCC believes it is possible to achieve the highest level of ambition on both issues. 

Three things are needed for the final COP28 agreement to be considered satisfactory: 

  • Remove tactical negotiating blocks that hold back ambition and negotiations. Stiell did not mention specific countries, but we can easily guess that he was referring to nations like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and the Emirates. The UNFCCC secretary reminded us that the world is watching, and there is no hiding from its responsibilities: we need to reach an ambitious Global Stocktake agreement that can help us get out of the mess (‘mess’) we have put ourselves in by burning fossil fuels.
  • Reject incrementalism. Every step back from the highest ambitions will cost millions of lives. Not to the next leaders to come, but here and now, in every country. The highest climate ambition means more jobs, stronger economies, higher economic growth, less pollution, better health. And also safe and affordable energy for all.
  • Abandoning the ‘I win – you lose’ logic is a recipe for collective failure when the future and security of 8 billion people is at stake.

Stiell concluded by mentioning that science is the backbone of the Paris Agreement, especially with regard to the 1.5 target, and this centre must hold.

The topic of ambition on mitigation was also at the centre of the annual high-level ministerial roundtable on pre-2030 ambitions that took place on Saturday 9. The session was opened by Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Espen Barth Eidee, and Singapore’s Minister of Environment, Grace Fu, who drew attention to the key objectives of the Mitigation Ambition Programme (MWP): 

  • exit from fossil fuels;
  • accelerate the just energy transition;
  • end investment in fossil fuel production and related infrastructure;
  • reaching peak emissions before 2025;
  • adopt global targets such as tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements.

Yet none of this has been translated into the mitigation programme, which currently consists of a text of just three pages, devoid of content and mainly procedural, in which there is no mention of phase out of fossil fuels, (nor of phase down), no mention of peaking emissions by 2025, and no mention of how to translate the programme into action. In short, a disaster, as we reported here.

What is even more serious is that the ambition has also been considerably reduced in the new text on the Global Stocktake, circulated on Monday afternoon.

There is no reference here to the phase out of fossil fuels, but there are many turns of phrase to mask the lack of a clear decision to abandon fossil fuels.
In fact, the latest draft talks about:

  • Tripling renewables and doubling energy efficiency by 2030: an important goal, but one that according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) would only reduce the emissions gap by 30 per cent to maintain the 1.5 C° 
  • Phase down unabated coal: a robust mitigation programme should phase out both abated and unabated coal).
  • Accelerate global efforts towards net-zero energy systems. Remember that announcing you want to achieve net-zero is not enough if you do not specify how and when you intend to do it. The science calls for at least 90 per cent of emissions to be reduced and for neutralisation instruments to be used only for residual emissions (maximum 10 per cent of total emissions). Not specifying what percentage of emissions can be neutralised (e.g. with carbon credits) to achieve net-zero reduces ambition and opens up the possibility of continuing to burn fossil fuels, merely neutralising their emissions.
  • Accelerate zero and low emission technologies, such as nuclear power, and abatement and removal technologies, including carbon capture, utilisation and storage.
  • Reduce (the choice of words is ‘reducing’ not phase out or down) both consumption and production of fossil fuels.

The text does not reflect the highest possible ambition, which Simon Stiell and all of us hope for, and is the result of the negotiating block brought about by countries and lobbies with an interest in curbing ambition. This is a conversation between two blocks that do not communicate, and let us hope this does not lead to a further downgrading of ambition in the texts that will circulate in the coming hours, because as Stiell reminded us, we must aim for the highest level of ambition: there are human lives at stake, our own.

Article by Margherita Barbieri, Italian Climate Network delegate at COP28

Cover image: Photo by COP28 / Christopher Pike

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