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Despite this year’s United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) controversially taking place in one of the world’s biggest oil-producing countries, we should be grateful that after 13 long days of debate and diplomacy in Dubai, a global deal was struck — now known as “the UAE Consensus”.
By Wednesday December 13, all 198 attending parties agreed that the world must transition away from fossil fuels to ensure deep, rapid and sustained emission reductions.
As a UN Climate Change Conference veteran — having attended most of them since COP15 — I’ve experienced a range of good and bad outcomes over the years.
Details behind the deal
This year, the headline news was the agreement that ending oil, gas and coal is the way forward. However, the final language on the call to “transition away” doesn’t carry the weight that we hoped for.
Many, like me, are concerned that allowing delegates to leave Dubai without a defined timetable to structure this transition will allow countries to assume it’s non-binding and exploit loopholes.
As an optimist, I nevertheless believe this united message is a crucial step in the right direction. Let’s hope that countries press ahead with the required policies.
This was also a decisive COP in other ways.
From day one, the host nation took action to close the climate finance gap, with all parties agreeing to support those on the frontline of climate change for “loss and damage”. What’s more, we saw financial commitments and pledges, as well as details of how they would be managed.
Here, the UAE led the way, with Germany and a few others matching their commitment with major funding contributions. But other countries have hesitated far too long on this and, unfortunately, many are still making slow progress.
The final COP28 deal also led to some more measurable outcomes, like tripling renewable energy capacity worldwide and doubling annual energy efficiency improvement rates.
As encouraging as these goals are, more must be done to transition to cleaner and more efficient energy supply and demand systems. All this ties in with what we’ve been saying: plenty of solutions are available, but greater adoption and faster action are needed to rapidly accelerate decarbonization.
Scaling up private-sector support
What I’ll remember most this year was the sheer scale of the gathering. Back in 2009, 20,000 people attended. In Dubai, that number was closer to 100,000. I’m impressed by the unprecedented private and public cooperation.
For example, 50 of the world’s biggest petrochemical companies signed a decarbonization charter to speed up climate action in the industry. Their pledge to carbon-neutral processes by 2030 could lead to a 15% reduction in emissions from oil and gas operations.
Similarly, key players in the buildings and construction sector are working together to ensure that national and international policies drive the sector’s commitments and future evolution. Such alliances between the public and private sector help shape an organized transition, maintaining pressure year after year and raising the bar for further commitments.
Global and local influence
As a global company, Schneider Electric was actively involved in many discussions and roundtables to raise awareness of technology and solutions. Getting relevant corporate leaders and industry groups around the table is a powerful way to secure changes to how they operate.
For example, on the sidelines of COP28, Schneider’s Catalyze program welcomed Google, ASM and HP in their efforts to access large-scale renewable energy projects by aggregating their energy purchasing plans and therefore help decarbonize semi-conductor supply chains. Programs like these facilitate the energy transition by encouraging collaboration among like-minded partners.
But it’s our local partnerships that set us apart and help build influence in the region. We also held our own exclusive event marking COP28’s energy day where 120 local business leaders learned about our sustainability research and the positive impact that decarbonization will have on the Middle East’s economic development.
Here, we also renewed our commitment to the Solar Impulse Foundation and its efforts to promote clean solutions as both environmentally positive and economically viable.
Outcomes and progress
Reaching a global consensus will most likely be remembered as the main outcome of COP28, even though there is still so much more still to do.
We must also focus on deploying the tangible and practical solutions that are available today to make real progress on decarbonization. Electrification and digitization have the potential to transform both industries and energy infrastructure.
But equally important is how we, as corporations, should implement sector-specific change, facilitate public sector alliances and foster community-based educational and entrepreneurial initiatives to bring everyone along and accelerate the transition.