A Different Perspective on What Happened at COP-28

A few days ago, I posted at this blog my personal take on what happened at COP-28 in Dubai (and what didn’t happen).  Feedback from readers indicates that some people found my assessment helpful and realistic, but it’s conceivable that some found it insufficiently enthusiastic.  So, today, I’m pleased to offer some potential balance.  It comes from my most recent podcast interview, which was with Amy Harder, the founding Executive Editor of Cipher News, who expresses her pleasant surprise with the outcome from the recent 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 28) in Dubai during a special post-COP episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.”   The podcast is produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here.

Amy Harder notes, “I think the results [of the COP], although not perfect, and certainly not as strong as some delegates had wanted, it’s certainly stronger than I had anticipated. I think this line in the… agreement about transitioning away from fossil fuels, this will be cited in every protest, and probably lawsuits in the coming years, decades, and centuries. And that’s a big deal. Even if it wasn’t a phase out or phase down, it still was stronger than I had thought was possible.”

Harder recognizes that it will be challenging to wean the world off fossil fuels, considering that aggregate energy consumption has continued to rise over the past three decades.

“We call it the energy transition, but we actually have only added clean energy on top of oil, natural gas, and coal. We actually haven’t even begun the process of displacing fossil fuels with clean energy. That’s because of growing energy demand, and a lot of other factors that we can get into. But those two goals – tripling [the production of] renewable energy, and [enhanced] energy efficiency… those can happen even while we continue being dependent upon fossil fuels.”

Harder also expresses surprise at the ease with which negotiators reached agreement on the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, which is intended to help support developing countries suffering severe impacts from climate change.

“I think it was interesting and very strategically smart on behalf of the UAE government to come out of the gate on basically the first day of COP in Dubai with an agreement on loss and damage,” she says. “That was really set to be a controversial point that was really taken off the table relatively quickly in a positive way.”

Harder and I agree that the number of private companies and entrepreneurs at the COP continues to grow every year as they become more and more aware of the need to build awareness around clean energy technologies.

“We need… two to three different ledgers of climate action, and one is over time reducing fossil fuels, but two, commercializing the technologies that will replace them. And that’s what we saw in Dubai, and that’s really significant,” she remarks. “We can expect to see climate entrepreneurs attending COPs much more in the future now, and I think that’s significant, and we will only see that more as the Dubai consensus percolates into our society.”

She and I also agree that the lack of agreement at the COP on carbon markets (Article 6 of the Paris Agreement) was a significant disappointment.

“It really comes at a pivotal time for this industry, which has been facing… a lot of questions about the efficacy of carbon offsets and the markets themselves,” she says. “Hopefully at the next COP, with the Global Stocktake and the statement about fossil fuels in not only the review mirror but in motion… negotiators can really focus and get more resolution on the carbon markets question because it really is an essential part of managing carbon effectively in the decades and centuries to come.”

My conversation with Amy Harder is the 14th and final episode of 2023 in the Environmental Insights series.  Click here if you wish to subscribe to the Cipher News weekly newsletter.  

Finally, I hope you will listen to this 56th episode of the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.  You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunesPocket CastsSpotify, and Stitcher.