Reflections on COP28’s Global Stocktake and emissions reductions

COP28 national flags at night in Dubai.

With carbon emission of around 25tCO2 per capita (global average around 4.5tCO2eq per capita) and energy demand of around 150MWh per capita (global average around 20MWh per capita), both among the 5 highest in the world, the UAE is on a per capita basis one of the largest contributor to climate change. And the host of COP28, the 28th Conference of the Parties, the main decision-making body of the UNFCCC. This makes uncomfortable reading, especially given the lack of progress in tackling human-made climate change. Then again, it probably does not matter where COPs are held as it is the agreements which countries commit to, and their success in fulfilling these commitments, which ultimately count. The number of fossil fuel business representatives makes equally uncomfortable reading. But maybe the number of fossil fuel lobbyists is a sign that they are taking COPs more seriously and rightly recognize strong action on climate change as a challenge to business as usual. Their desire to have their voices heard is testament to their recognition of the importance the UNFCCC’s process and progress on climate policy more generally.

The event itself, meanwhile, was discombobulating. Dubai’s geography of nowhere which robs you of any sense of scale and place is replicated in its Expo2020 site where COP was held. Huge distances between everything and the closed doors behind which languished side events and pavilions, mainly of countries but also of non-governmental organisations, multinational development banks, even universities, were the polar opposite of a bazaar where exchange was facilitated at previous COPs and in the space of 100 meters you might come across the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank, Egypt, Japan, Zambia, and Portugal. Thus, COP28 was sapped of interaction where browsing is enabled, chance facilitated, and happenstance happened. Instead, it felt strangely disjointed, more like an in-person zoom conference in the desert.

But the food was good, if expensive, the streets eerily safe and clean, the organization well executed, the venue shiny and spotless, public transport clean and efficient, water plentiful, and the sun reliable. It is hard to imagine impoverished countries not choosing a similar development trajectory if they were provided the opportunity. According to some calculations, African countries are sat on $10trn worth of hydrocarbons capable of pursuing such a development trajectory while pushing global warming to 6-7 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But which alternative development trajectory are we supporting which keeps these hydrocarbons in the ground while improving living standards and increasing opportunities? Access to climate finance is essential, while debt relief is the elephant in the room (I wonder how this analogy will read if we tacitly enable their extinction through poverty?). Calculations suggest that sentencing debt costs the 58 countries that make up the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) over £100bn/a. This sum would go a long way towards greening development and keeping hydrocarbons in the ground.

Instead, the Global Stocktake, the COP28 agreement, ‘calls on parties’ to ‘tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030’. This is important as we need something to replace fossil fuels the Stocktake agrees to ‘transition away from’ and coal especially which it agrees to ‘phase-down’. While it will be virtually impossible to eliminate fossil fuels entirely from our economies, this language emphasizes the need to reduce their stranglehold on our energy systems. With emphasis placed on renewables and energy efficiency, this provides a plausible, just, and equitable transition pathway. While the statement that ‘abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage’ should be accelerated leaves a loophole for abated fossil fuel technologies, it emphasizes its use ‘in hard-to-abate’ sectors such as steel and cement. This loophole is to bring on board countries with very high fossil fuel dependence, not just for power generation but as the foundation of their entire economic prosperity.

Regarding transport, the document emphasizes the ‘reduction of emission from road transport on a range of pathways, including through development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles’. This reference to infrastructure is highly relevant as it refers to mass transit systems which, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are far more efficient than electric vehicles for example. Finally, ‘phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible’ should act as a financial driver of this transition. According to the International Monetary Fund, such subsidies amount to $7tn per year, or 7.1% of GDP. This implies that governments around the world effectively subsidise every tonne of CO2 emitted to the amount of $125. If we used this money to subsidise renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as abatement in hard-to-treat sectors and eventually removals to account for historical emissions, 1.5 degrees is still alive, and African countries for example could be placed on a clean development trajectory towards prosperity and opportunity.

Despite tentative progress, however, parties failed to agree on the modalities of Article 6. Article 6 is the last building block of the Paris Agreement which has yet to be agreed on, with a rulebook in place that all parties agree on. Apparently, a bloc led by the US favours a light-touch approach akin to voluntary carbon markets. Unsurprisingly given their discreditation in recent months, a bloc involving the EU an African and Latin American states favours stronger checks and balances to avoid the creation of junk credits and discreditation of all market mechanism. A lot is at stake. Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the predecessor of Article 6, over £200bn was channelled into Chinese wind energy. For all its flaws, the CDM in this particular case supported the development of a renewable energy industry in a country which barely had a wind turbine installed when it came into force. Market mechanisms are powerful instruments which are difficult to guide but their potential to incentivize climate finance is evident.

To deliver the objectives of the Global Stocktake and the Paris Agreement, we need mechanisms to avoid free-riding which occurs when countries benefit from ambitious net zero emission mitigation activities in other countries without contributing to the cost. If market mechanisms are operationalised through climate clubs, this issue of free-riding can be overcome. This enables  ambition to be raised and collective action to be supported. Yet significant efforts are required to ensure that poor countries can benefit while excludable benefits are sufficient to ensure integrity and support higher ambition in climate change mitigation. The stakes are high and the Global Stocktake is a small but significant step in this direction. But a lot more climate diplomacy is necessary, alongside a collaborative spirit, to ensure that the transition away from fossil fuel is actions and that this transition is just.


This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Colin Nolden, University of Bristol Law School.

Colin Nolden
Colin Nolden


How banks are trying to capture the green transition

philip openshaw / shutterstock

Private sector banks in the UK should have a central role in financing climate action and supporting a just transition to a low carbon economy. That’s according to a new report from the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics.

Framed as a strategic opportunity that climate change represents for investors, the report identifies four specific reasons why banks should support the just transition. It would reinforce trust after the financial crisis; it would demonstrate leadership; it would reduce their exposure to material climate risks; and it would expand their customer base by creating demand for new services and products.

The report is not alone in its attempt to put banking and finance at the centre of a green and just transition. Similar arguments are presented by the World Bank, by the European Union, and by many national task forces on financing the transition, including the UK’s.

In all these cases, banks and financial markets are presented as essential allies in the green and just transition. At the same time, the climate emergency is described as a chance that finance cannot miss. Not because of the legal duties that arise from international conventions and the national framework, but because banking the green transition could help reestablish public legitimacy, innovate and guarantee future cashflow.

Twelve years after the financial crisis, we may be aware that banks and finance were responsible for the intensification of climate change and the exacerbation of inequality, but such reports say our future is still inexorably in their hands.

Is there no alternative to climate finance?

Four decades on from British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s infamous motto that There Is No Alternative to the rule of the market, the relationship between financial capital and the green and just transition is presented as universal and inevitable. However, a vision of the future is a political construction whose strength and content depend on who is shaping it, the depth of their networks and their capacity transform a vision into reality.

Nick Beer / shutterstock
UK banks haven’t recovered their reputation since the financial crisis.

In the case of climate finance, it seems that a very limited number of people and institutions have been strategically occupying key spaces in the public debate and contributed to the reproduction of this monotone vision. In our ongoing research we are mapping various groups involved in green financial policymaking: the EU’s High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance and its Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance, the UK Green Finance Task Force, the participants to the 2018 and 2019 Green Finance Summits in London and the authors behind publications like the LSE’s Banking on a Just Transition report.

Across these networks, key positions are occupied by current and former private industry leaders. Having done well out of the status quo, their trajectories and profiles denote a clear orientation in favour of deregulation and a strong private sector.

Often, the same people and organisations operate across networks and influence both regional and national conversations. Others are hubs that occupy a pivotal role in the construction of the network and in the predisposition of the spaces and guidelines for dialogue and policy making. This is the case, for example, of the Climate Bond Initiative (CBI), a relatively young international NGO headquartered in London whose sole mission is to “mobilise the largest capital market of all, the [US]$100 trillion bond market, for climate change solutions”. Characterised by a strong pro-private finance attitude, CBI proposes policy actions that are infused by the inevitability of aligning the interests of the finance industry with those of the planet.

Let’s unbank the green and just transition

COVID-19 has emphasised the socio-economic fragility of global financial capitalism and represents the shock that may lead to an acceleration of political processes. While corporate giants are declaring bankruptcy and millions are losing their jobs, governments in Europe and across the global north continue to pump trillions into rescuing and relaunching the economy in the name of the green recovery.

Political debate and positioning will decide whether these public funds will be spent on bailouts or public investments, on tax breaks for the 1% or provision of essential services, or whether the focus will be on green growth or climate justice. But private finance is already capturing this debate and may become a key beneficiary. Getting a green and just transition does not only depend on the voices that are heard, but also those that are silenced.

Intellectual and political elites on the side of the banks are making it harder to have a serious discussion about addressing climate change. NGOs and campaign groups are participating, but only if they share the premises and objectives of the financial sector.

This crowds out more transformative voices from civil society and the academy, and establishes a false public narrative of agreed actions despite the numerous voices outside of this club. And it also normalises the priority of financial market activities, putting profit before people and planet.

The current crisis is an opportunity to rethink what a green and just transition would entail. We must continue to question the role of finance rather than taking it for granted and ensure that the “green and just transition” becomes precisely that: green and just, rather than another source of profits for banks and the 1%.The Conversation


This blog is written by Cabot Institute members Tomaso Ferrando, Research Professor, University of Antwerp and Dr Daniel Tischer, Lecturer in Management, University of BristolThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Daniel Tischer
Tomaso Ferrando




Participating and coaching at a risk communication ‘pressure cooker’ event

Anna Hicks (British Geological Survey) and BUFI Student (University of Bristol) Jim Whiteley reflect on their experiences as a coach and participant of a NERC-supported risk communication ‘pressure cooker’, held in Mexico City in May.

Jim’s experience….

When the email came around advertising “the Interdisciplinary Pressure Cooker on Risk Communication that will take place during the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR; World Bank) Understanding Risk Forum in May 2018, Mexico City, Mexico” my thoughts went straight to the less studious aspects of the description:

‘Mexico City in May?’ Sounds great!
‘Interdisciplinary risk communication?’ Very à la mode! 
‘The World Bank?’ How prestigious! 
‘Pressure Cooker?’ Curious. Ah well, I thought, I’ll worry about that one later…

As a PhD student using geophysics to monitor landslides at risk of failure, communicating that risk to non-scientists isn’t something I am forced to think about too often. This is paradoxical, as the risk posed by these devastating natural hazards is the raison d’être for my research. As a geologist and geophysicist, I collect numerical data from soil and rocks, and try to work out what this tells us about how, or when, a landslide might move. Making sense of those numbers is difficult enough as it is (three and a half years’ worth of difficult to be precise) but the idea of having to take responsibility for, and explain how my research might actually benefit real people in the real world? Now that’s a daunting prospect to confront.

However, confront that prospect is exactly what I found myself doing at the Interdisciplinary Pressure Cooker on Risk Communication in May this year. The forty-odd group of attendees to the pressure cooker were divided in to teams; our team was made up of people working or studying in a staggeringly wide range of areas: overseas development in Africa, government policy in the US, town and city planning in Mexico and Argentina, disaster risk reduction (DRR) in Colombia, and of course, yours truly, the geophysicist looking at landslides in Yorkshire.

Interdisciplinary? Check.

One hour before the 4am deadline.

The possible issues to be discussed were as broad as overfishing, seasonal storms, population relocation and flooding. My fears were alleviated slightly, when I found that our team was going to be looking at hazards related to ground subsidence and cracking. Easy! I thought smugly. Rocks and cracks, the geologists’ proverbial bread and butter! We’ll have this wrapped up by lunchtime! But what was the task? Develop a risk communication strategy, and devise an effective approach to implementing this strategy, which should be aimed at a vulnerable target group living in the district of Iztapalapa in Mexico City, a district of 1.8 million people. Right.

Risk communication? Check.

It was around this time I realised that I glossed over the most imperative part of the email that had been sent around so many months before: ‘Pressure Cooker’. It meant exactly what it said on the tin; a high-pressure environment in which something, in this case a ‘risk communication strategy’ needed to be cooked-up quickly. Twenty-four hours quickly in fact. There would be a brief break circa 4am when our reports would be submitted, and then presentations were to be made to the judges at 9am the following morning. I checked the time. Ten past nine in the morning. The clock was ticking.

Pressure cooker? Very much check.

Anna’s experience….

What Jim failed to mention up front is it was a BIG DEAL to win a place in this event. 440 people from all over the world applied for one of 35 places. So, great job Jim! I was also really grateful to be invited to be a coach for one of the groups, having only just ‘graduated’ out of the age bracket to be a participant myself! And like Jim, I too had some early thoughts pre-pressure cooker, but mine were a mixture of excitement and apprehension in equal measures:

‘Mexico City in May?’ Here’s yet another opportunity to show up my lack of Spanish-speaking skills…
‘Interdisciplinary risk communication?’ I know how hard this is to do well…
‘The World Bank?’ This isn’t going to be your normal academic conference! 
‘Pressure Cooker?’ How on earth am I going to stay awake, let alone maintain good ‘coaching skills’?!

As an interdisciplinary researcher working mainly in risk communication and disaster risk reduction, I was extremely conscious of the challenges of generating risk communication products – and doing it in 24 hours? Whoa. There is a significant lack of evidence-based research about ‘what works’ in risk communication for DRR, and I knew from my own research that it was important to include the intended audience in the process of generating risk communication ‘products’. I need not have worried though. We had support from in-country experts that knew every inch of the context, so we felt confident we could make our process and product relevant and salient for the intended audience. This in part was also down to the good relationships we quickly formed in our team, crafted from patience, desire and ability to listen to each other, and for an unwavering enthusiasm for the task!

The morning after the night before.

So we worked through the day and night on our ‘product’ – a community based risk communication strategy aimed at women in Iztapalapa with the aim of fostering a community of practice through ‘train the trainer’ workshops and the integration of art and science to identify and monitor ground cracking in the area.

The following morning, after only a few hours’ sleep, the team delivered their presentation to fellow pressure-cooker participants, conference attendees, and importantly, representatives of the community groups and emergency management teams in the geographical areas in which our task was focused. The team did so well and presented their work with confidence, clarity and – bags of the one thing that got us through the whole pressure cooker – good humour.

It was such a pleasure to be part of this fantastic event and meet such inspiring people, but the icing on the cake was being awarded ‘Best Interdisciplinary Team’ at the awards ceremony that evening. ‘Ding’! Dinner served.

This blog has been reposted with kind permission from James Whiteley.  View the original blog on BGS Geoblogy.   This blog was written by James Whiteley, a geophysicist and geologist at University of Bristol, hosted by British Geological Survey and Anna Hicks from the British Geologial Survey.