COP28 saw the conclusion of the first ever global stocktake, how nations reacted is being described as a breakthrough

The global stocktake is part of measuring the world's progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement. It addresses how far nations have progressed towards meeting their climate obligations and guides them towards greater ambition. At COP28, some say it succeeded.
December 13, 2023

The UN’s global stocktake

The UN describe the global stocktake as “a moment to take a long, hard look at the state of our planet and chart a better course for the future”. As COP28 reaches its climax, so too will the first ever global stocktake. To expedite climate action, the global stocktake involves reviewing all aspects of global climate action and support, pinpointing gaps, and cooperating to develop a roadmap. The stocktake is conducted every five years, and the first one concluded as COP28 drew to a close. It is meant to provide guidance for the upcoming round of nationally determined contributions, or "NDCs," which are supposed to be submitted by 2025 as part of the Paris Agreement. Policymakers and stakeholders can increase their climate policies and commitments in their next round of NDCs and expedite action by utilising the stocktake's evaluation of the world's current state in meeting the Paris Agreement.[i]

According to research from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to keep global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2025 and then decrease by 43% by 2030. The IPCC issues a warning that going over the 1.5°C barrier might unleash considerably more catastrophic climate change repercussions. Such a stark warning demonstrates the necessity of the global stocktake in order to be aware of the world’s current position, but the UN make it clear that more important is how global governments raise their ambitions in response to the findings.[ii]

The purpose of the stocktake, as a component of the "ratchet mechanism" of the Paris Agreement, is specifically to promote this kind of increased ambition. Governments and civil society organisations are suggesting a number of strategies to do this. A large portion of the attention is devoted to directing nations as to what they ought to include in their improved national determined contributions (NDCs), or new climate plans. Every five years, nations are required to submit their NDCs; the next round is due in 2025. Currently, several high emission emerging nations, including Saudi Arabia, China, and India, have less detailed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Tom Evans, a policy advisor at E3G, who works on climate diplomacy told Carbon Brief:

“There was this agreement that developed countries would set economy-wide targets from the get go, and the developing countries would move towards setting them over time… Many of the developed countries, the EU and the US, say ‘over time’ is now.”[iii]

The turbulent path to a final draft of the global stocktake

You could be forgiven for thinking that M Night Shyamalan was a co-author of the final draft of the global stocktake considering the twists and turns the process took. On the 8th of December, WWF, perhaps the world's most recognised environmental NGO, reacted positively to the development of a draft text for the global stocktake. Shirley Matheson, NDC Enhancement Coordinator, WWF International said:

“This new Global Stocktake draft text is a move in the right direction. The language on fossil fuels is much improved, with most options including a fossil fuel phase out. It is concerning to see the option to have no text relating to fossil fuels still remains in this draft. This must be rejected, along with options that give countries the scope to delay action or rely on technologies that have not been proven at scale. The Global Stocktake needs to be the moment the world acknowledges that the age of fossil fuels must end.”[iv]

The positivity of the WWF was undercut on the 12th of December when the language on fossil fuels, that Matheson was very clear must remain in the document, was removed. At that moment, the world looked on in anticipation as a deal at COP28 hung in the balance. With all 198 nations needing to agree to the deal, furious reactions to what was termed a ‘weak’ draft with regard to fossil fuel. Eamon Ryan a negotiator for the EU said the draft was “unacceptable” going on to say "We can't accept the text," but adding that abandoning the process was "not the outcome the world needs".[v]

As the sun set on the final day of COP28, it was clear that many agreed with the sentiment of Mr Ryan as negotiators set in to work through the night, beyond the originally planned schedule. The BBC reported that delegates were required to present their text by 6am on the morning of the 13th of December having worked through the night catching what sleep they could on sofas around the COP complex.[vi]

With the midnight oil burnt up, at 11am on the 13th of December the gavel came down on a final text that called on all parties to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”. This was an historic moment in climate negotiations as it represented the first time fossil fuels have been mentioned by a COP deal. EU Chief negotiator, Wopke Hoekstra said the agreement was “truly consequential” and the “beginning of the end of fossil fuels”.[vii]

President Al-Jaber announcing final outcomes of negotiations at COP28

Source: COP28

President Al-Jaber called the deal “historic,” commenting:

“We have language on fossil fuel in our final agreement for the first time ever.”
“All of these are the world’s first and all of these are crucial actions that will help shape a better, cleaner world with greater and more equitable prosperity.”
“You reconnected with your spirit of collaboration. You got out of your comfort zones and started speaking to each other from the heart…that made all the difference.”[viii]

With the successes outlined and celebrated, Al Jaber also had a final poignant warning that:

 “An agreement is only as good as its implementation,” “We are what we do, not what we say. We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible actions.”[ix]

This warning comes as some criticism of the final agreement begins to creep in after the initial euphoria of a unanimous agreement to mention fossil fuels by name for the first time. According to the Alliance of Small Island States, the deal features "a litany of loopholes" that could impede the reduction of emissions and fail to address many of the issues raised by countries that are susceptible to climate change. Billions of dollars in climate finance are still needed to support developing nations in their shift away from fossil fuels. The group noted that climate finance, crucial language about human rights and the necessity of upholding Indigenous rights is absent from the agreement.[x] The UK minister at COP28 has also voiced concern, doing so after calling the agreement “historic” but averring that "There are elements here we do not like,".[xi]

In finality, the agreement should bring hope, hope that collaboration can lead to better things. But it should also been seen as a step forward not an all conquering solution to the climate crisis. The deal should embolden all towards further action and not lead to stagnation of ambition in the wake of success.


[i] UN- Global Stocktake

[ii] UN- Why the Global Stocktake is Important for Climate Action this Decade

[iii] Carbon Brief- Q&A: What is the ‘global stocktake’ and could it accelerate climate action?

[iv] WWF- COP28: WWF responds to ‘encouraging’ new Global Stocktake draft text

[v] BBC- UN climate talks in jeopardy in fossil fuel backlash

[vi] BBC- COP28 deal pledges global transition away from fossil fuels for first time

[vii] Climate home news- Dubai deal: Ministers and observers react to the UAE consensus

[viii] Alarabiya News- COP28 President says ‘historic’ first-ever climate deal on fossil fuels approved

[ix] Ibid

[x] Euronews- COP28: Landmark deal signals 'beginning of the end' for fossil fuels at UN climate conference

[xi] BBC News- COP28 deal calls for global transition away from fossil fuels for first time

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Oscar Pusey
Research Analyst

Oscar is a recent graduate with a background in earth science. He is currently studying an MSc focussing on disaster responses, emergency planning and community resilience. His postgraduate research project will assess the link between climate crisis risk perception and attitudes to green energy projects. “Adapting to the climate crisis through the pursuit of net zero requires community engagement and understanding. Zero Carbon Academy’s goals closely align with this approach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to research and communicate a variety of topics relating to our environment and sustainability”.

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