As the COP28 delegates return to work after a relaxing Christmas, we look at the latest climate summit and what it means for biodiversity and forest protection.

As the gavel came down on a “historic” deal that calls on all nations to transition away from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change, there was a standing ovation in the plenary hall of COP28 in Expo City, Dubai. The climate summit’s president, Sultan Al Jaber, received the congratulations of his fellow panel members and even a hug from the UN Climate Chief.

What they were celebrating was a call for countries to contribute to global efforts to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

On the face of it, the statement doesn’t move the world much closer to effectively tackling climate change, but the summit’s leaders maintain it’s a historic moment.

“We have delivered a robust action plan to keep 1.5C in reach,” said Al Jaber. “It is an enhanced, balanced, but make no mistake, a historic package to accelerate climate action. It is the UAE consensus. We have language on fossil fuel in our final agreement for the first time ever.”

‘Phasing out’ phased out

While there were handshakes and backslaps all round in the summit hall, there was plenty of head-shaking from the world’s environmentalists and campaigners, as well as a number of smaller countries. Reading through the final agreement, there is a lot of “notes with concern” and very little in the way of binding agreements or solid guidance.

One of the main issues was with the use of “transitioning away from fossil fuels” rather than “phasing out” – a much stronger phrase. With no specific deadline, it leaves the door open for organisations, businesses and countries to continue to generate and use fossil fuels without sanction.

In addition, there was no clear guidance on how this transition would be financed, particularly for low- to middle-income countries. If all countries are to convert to clean energy and protect their more vulnerable communities, it will require significant investment from the richer nations. But with no details of what’s required from which country, the funding is much less likely to happen.

Commitments to nature

For the tenth day of COP28, the theme was Nature, Forests and Oceans, which resulted in a number of declarations and pledges that emphasised the need to urgently address climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation. In the Global Stocktake text, the need to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 was stressed, with a note on the “results-based finance” needed to achieve it.

Among the pledges was new funding of US$186m for nature and climate towards forests, mangroves and the ocean, in addition to the US$2.5bn commitment made during COP28’s World Climate Action Summit to protect and restore nature.

“There is no path to fulfilling the Paris Agreement and keeping 1.5 degree Celsius within reach without protecting and restoring nature, land, and the ocean,” said Razan Al Mubarak, the United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28. “We must work in partnership especially with the Indigenous peoples and local communities who steward these critical assets.”

It’s hoped that the 2024 UN Biodiversity Conference will build on these pledges and commitments, and assess how different countries are doing with the ambitious environmental targets set at the previous Biodiversity Conference in 2022.

The journey to net zero is a long and difficult one, but initiatives such as Carbon Balanced Print and Paper are definitely steps in the right direction.

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