Held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, 2023, the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), brought together leaders from all over the world, including John Kerry, the United States climate envoy, Sultan Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and COP28 chief, and Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate envoy.

Leaders made key decisions at the summit, even as climate activists criticized the host country, one of the world’s top 10 oil producers, for appointing Al Jaber as chief, claiming he would not be able to take a neutral stance during negotiations as the leader of a prominent oil company.

So what were some of the biggest takeaways from the latest COP conference?

Fossil fuels finally made it into the negotiation texts

In the 28 years this conference has been held, fossil fuels have never been explicitly discussed as the source of climate change. That all changed this year, as countries acknowledged that fossil fuels are warming the climate. Most importantly, the final text of the conference calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” This was the first time the words “fossil fuels” made it into final decision texts, which have to be unanimously agreed upon by all countries at the conference. The goal is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

As pressure mounts on nations to reduce emissions, climate activists worry about the fact that no concrete plans or timelines were laid out to make this transition happen.

Wealthier nations pledged money to a fund for developing nations most impacted by climate change

On the first day of the conference, wealthier, more developed nations that were most responsible for climate change pledged $700 million to a Loss and Damage Fund, which was first established during COP27 for developing nations impacted by climate change. The two biggest contributors to the fund were Italy and France, with each country pledging $108 million. The U.S., the largest greenhouse gas emitter, pledged $17.5 million.

Currently, the annual cost of the fallout faced by developing countries as a result of global warming is an estimated $400 billion, which is over 500 times the amount of the promised fund.

Discussion of potential of nuclear energy

Jack Austin, researcher and writer and Northwestern graduate (Medill '23), attended the conference as part of Net Zero Nuclear, an organization that emphasizes the potential of nuclear energy in achieving net zero emission goals.

“This was one of the first COPs, really the first COP, where nuclear was really realized and accepted for its carbon benefits of not having any emissions,” Austin said. “A lot of the past COPs have been very proud of renewables, which is great, but they've excluded nuclear from the table and haven't really considered it as a way to fight climate change.”

COP28 saw the launch of the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy, recognizing the role nuclear energy can play in achieving the goal of net zero by 2050. Some of the countries that have endorsed it so far are the U.S., Canada, France and the United Arab Emirates.  

The next COP conference is slated to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan in November. With key dates inching closer, the pressure is on for leaders to take the necessary steps to reduce global warming and its effects.

Thumbnail courtesy of AP News.