IEMA’s deputy CEO reflects on announcements and controversy at COP28

7th December 2023


With the first week of COP28 drawing to a close, IEMA’s deputy CEO, Martin Baxter, reflects on some of the key announcements made so far, addresses the controversy surrounding the climate summit, and highlights what to look out for in the second week.

The operationalisation of the loss and damage fund for countries most vulnerable to climate change was announced within the first 48 hours of COP28. How surprised were you by that?

The majority of people were surprised to get that agreement right at the beginning of Cop. That's very unusual, and it was very welcome. Clearly, the amount of money that goes into that pot will be crucial. The $725m pledged so far will not be enough, not by a long way, so there's going to have to be a huge amount more raised over time in order for the fund to be meaningful. But you have to get these mechanisms in place first, and they've got money going in, so that's great, and overall we are really positive on that.

More than 130 prime ministers and presidents have signed up to the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, committing to incorporate food and land use into their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and adaption plans by 2025. What are your thoughts on that?

Again, that was really welcome, and countries committing to take actions on food and agriculture in their NDCs is really important. However, the latest text being negotiated on the Global Stocktake fails to mention agriculture and food systems. On the one hand, you have countries saying they are committed to developing this into their NDCs, and that's great, but the Global Stocktake cannot deliver its mandate and build a resilient, equitable future for all without considering food systems as a solution for both mitigation and adaptation, which is a significant omission.

On Finance Day, the UK, France, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and African Development Bank all announced new commitments to expand climate-resilient debt clauses in their lending to allow countries breathing space when they are hit by climate catastrophes. How important is that?

While this is welcome, the big question is whether China will also offer climate-resilient debt clauses. Many developing countries have infrastructure projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative which have significant debt repayments. If they don't get those clauses from China, then these commitments will be less impactful.

This Cop has been particularly controversial, with almost four times more fossil fuel lobbyists attending than last year, and the COP28 president reportedly saying there is “no science” behind the demand to phase out fossil fuels. How big of a setback is that?

The crucial question is what the final cover text and Global Stocktake will say, because the language is very important. Will it be a 'phase out' or 'phase down' of fossil fuels? Will it be about 'abated' or 'unabated' emissions, and what does that mean in practice? I think abated emissions will inevitabky involve carbon capture and storage, but it’s not clear it will happen at the scale needed and therefore the priority must be on ramping up the deployment of renewable energy. Overall, our focus will be on the conclusions of the summit.

This all comes against a backdrop of several new alarming reports being published, with global fossil fuel emissions likely to hit a record high this year. What are your thoughts on that?

The real way to stop drilling for more oil is to stop buying it. We have alternative energy sources, and transitioning to those will stop the world investing in fossil fuels for transport, heat and power generation. We now have very effective net-zero technologies that can be deployed at scale and that are cost effective. Oil and gas companies are making commitments to drive down emissions across their operations, such as eliminating flaring and cutting methane emissions, for which they need to be held to account.

Air conditioning is going to become increasingly important in a warming world, and 60 countries have signed up to the Global Cooling Pledge to reduce their cooling-related emissions by at least 68% by 2050. How important is that?

If you reduce your emissions by 68% by 2050, you would still have 32% left, which isn’t net zero. Emissions from cooling are going to be really important to address, and it strikes me that the technologies will be available to generate electricity from renewable resources by 2050, so a 62% reduction seems to be potentially insufficient and not very ambitious.

What are you hoping to see at COP28 in week two?

Again, the big one is the Global Stocktake. This first week has involved a lot of work by officials to get over as many grievances as possible, before handing over to ministers for the political negotiations, which will go on in the second half of the second week. There are some significant concerns around carbon markets and the rules being developed under articles 6.2 and 6.4 of the Paris Agreement, which doesn't seem to be going particularly well, so it will be interesting to see whether it's possible to get agreements. I know that business and industry groups are very concerned about the lack of progress, because the sooner you can get those mechanisms working – whether bilateral linking of carbon markets or wider collaborative efforts – the sooner we can accelerate emissions reductions using private sector finance.

IEMA CEO Sarah Mukherjee MBE and yourself have been speaking to various stakeholders at COP28 about the institute’s campaign to get recognition of green skills on the final cover text. How has the reaction been to that?

There's been a lot of support, and people very much recognise the issue. Sarah and I spoke to a group of young people a couple of days ago who were One Young World ambassadors, people from Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Liberia and Nigeria, Chile, Brazil, from all over the world. We discussed the importance of opportunities for green jobs and skills for young people, so that they can be part of the solution to the challenges we face, and to a person, everybody has been supportive about that. We have also spoken to people in business and industry, and it really resonates, but the question is whether it resonates to the extent that we actually get it on the cover text. If not COP28….we’ll continue to promote for COP29!

Are you optimistic that this is going to be a relatively successful Cop?

It's very hard to say until the summit concludes, but overall, so far, there's been some positives, and we are really keen for that to continue. From an IEMA perspective, we want to see more urgency from governments and more focus on translating ambition into action. We need to step up the pace.

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