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Image of the United Nations flag waving in front of the flags of member countries during 2023's COP28

Each year, the United Nations coordinates an international Climate Change Conference called the Conference of Parties (COP). The 28th COP conference concluded on December 12, 2023 after two weeks of discussion among 70,000 delegates about how the world can unite to combat climate change and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

The catalyst for change and the source of discussion topics comes from initiatives and goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, which was signed by 196 Parties during COP21 in 2015. The Agreement is a legally binding international treaty to address climate change. The overarching goal of this treaty is to strengthen the global response to climate change by limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels through individual country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An Overview of COP28

Most of the details of the Paris Agreement have been negotiated and agreed upon in the past several years, so the purpose of COP28 is to discuss and celebrate the implementation of emission-reducing initiatives while ramping up ambition and action. Major discussions during COP28 focused on tracking progress and the creation of large-scale financing to support developing countries in the pursuit of clean energy. 

COP28 held the first ever Global Stocktake – a process for countries and stakeholders to collectively see where they are making progress and where they are lacking in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the results of the stocktake showed that the world is not yet on track to achieve net zero goals. As such, the remaining discussions during COP28 focused on what initiatives can be implemented to realign progress with the Paris Agreement.

The Top 5 Initiatives of COP28

1. Triple global renewable power capacity

2. Double the rate of energy efficiency improvements

3. Commitments by the fossil fuel industry to align with the Paris Agreement

4. Establish a large-scale financing mechanism to triple clean energy investment

5. Commit to measures the ensure the orderly decline of fossil fuels

1. Triple Global Renewable Power Capacity

One of the main topics discussed during COP28 is the need to drastically increase renewable energy production globally. Currently, the global renewable energy capacity sits at 2.3TW, primarily consisting of solar and wind technologies. Current proposed renewable projects project that 4.6TW of renewable energy will be developed worldwide by 2030, costing an estimated $4.7 trillion.  In order to meet the 1.5 °C goals aligned in the Paris Agreement, renewable energy efforts must triple to at least 11TW

This need spurred the introduction of the Global Renewable Energy Pledge during COP28, and 130 countries have signed, dedicating themselves to this ambitious goal by 2030. In order to achieve this, participants in the pledge must collectively increase the global renewable energy capacity by 6.9 TW by 2030, delivering about a third of the emissions reductions needed this decade to align with the Paris Agreement’s goals.

2. Double the Rate of Energy Efficiency Improvements

In addition to increasing renewable energy, COP28 highlighted the importance of doubling energy efficiency improvements. Energy efficiency measures are crucial in the global pursuit of net zero emissions. This achievement takes more than just participating in energy saving practices and technology. Doubling these efforts will take strategic policy and industry changes. Meeting this goal relies on the compliance and participation of the energy sector in renewable adoption, increasing efficiency measures, and implementing carbon capture and storage technology. 

After demonstrating the importance of doubling energy efficiency efforts by 2030, COP28 continued this discussion by introducing the Energy Efficiency Pledge. Signed by 130 countries, the Energy Efficiency Pledge agrees to double global energy efficiency improvement rates from the current rate of 2% annually to more than 4% annually by 2030. Political policies will be the driving force to meet this goal, requiring all industries and sectors to abide by specific conservation practices. Furthermore, advancements in renewable energy technology will support this transition by providing a more diverse energy portfolio, creating stronger grid resilience for energy intensive industries. Doubling global energy efficiency efforts by 2030 is ambitious but achievable, so long as countries can guarantee the participation of energy production companies. 

3. Commitments By the Fossil Fuel Industry to Align with the Paris Agreement

In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, radical adoption of efficiency practices and a commitment to reducing use of coal and oil is absolutely paramount for the energy industry. To align with the ambitious goals discussed during COP28, profound changes in the energy industry must take place. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Producers must choose between contributing to a deepening climate crisis or becoming part of the solution by embracing the shift to clean energy.”

Currently, the fossil fuel industry provides more than half of the global energy supply, employing 12 million workers worldwide. According to the IEA, the production, transport, and processing of oil and gas within the energy industry results in nearly 15% of global energy-related emissions. Reducing the reliance on fossil fuels is critical. Presently, oil and gas companies account for a mere 1% of clean energy investments — 60% of which comes from only four companies. This presents a profound opportunity for improvement and participation.

In order to meet the goal of 1.5 °C, energy producers will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 and embrace opportunities in the clean energy industry. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCS) plays an important role in reducing emissions for this sector, but it isn’t a singular solution. COP28 called on the fossil fuel industry to make even greater commitments to decarbonize their industry and invest in renewable energy solutions. Energy producers that align their practices with the Paris Agreement will need to put 50% of their capital expenditures towards clean energy investments by 2030, on top of efforts to reduce emissions from their own operations, in order to remain relevant and viable in the changing energy landscape. 

4. Establish Large-Scale Financing Mechanisms to Triple Clean Energy Investment

Financing the energy transition has been a major point of discussion during COP28. In order to triple renewable energy and double efficiency efforts, it’s necessary to create an international financing mechanism. Beyond the investment into new technologies and developments, it’s crucial to create financial support for developing countries as well as funding for loss and damages. The first step to creating a comprehensive financial plan to support the worldwide energy transition, is to track global progress towards net zero goals. 

The result of the COP28 Global Stocktake illustrated that the world is not quite meeting the milestones it should have by 2023. These results hold wealthy countries accountable and identify developing countries that need additional support. Countries participating in the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Pledges must pair their commitment with financing plans to support it. Furthermore, wealthier countries are typically the biggest culprits for greenhouse gas emissions, so their commitment to supporting developing countries, as well as providing funds for loss and damages, is necessary for worldwide participation in the energy transition. Without commitments to channel more financing, especially for developing countries, the world is likely to fall short in meeting these goals. 

5. Commit to Measures that Ensure an Orderly Decline of Fossil Fuels

Similar to the commitments made by the fossil fuel industry, additional methods for scaling down fossil fuel demand were discussed with more focus on how political policy can further encourage this reduction. The biggest policy change recommendation is a commitment that no new coal-fired power plants will be created in participating countries. 

Beyond banning the construction of new coal-fired power plants, COP28 has called for a formal plan to reduce reliance and phase out fossil fuels among major consuming countries. These additional discussions among political officials will further emphasize the importance of tripling renewable energy sources and further diversifying the global energy mix — including carbon neutral technologies such as nuclear energy and hydrogen fuel. 

Reducing fossil fuel emissions means reducing fossil fuel demand – there is no way around this. Political policy provides the framework for this transition. Actionable goals include reducing fossil fuel demand by 25% in 2030 and further reducing it by 80% in 2050. Each participating country will need to create robust energy conservation policies and incentives to ensure all industries comply with these standards and goals.

The United States’ Role in the Energy Transition

How will the United States implement these initiatives domestically? The United States’ current trajectory towards net zero emissions relies heavily on bipartisan infrastructure laws and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. These policies aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 41% by 2030 based on a 2005 baseline, effectively doubling the efforts of the previous presidency. 

Discussions at COP28 have encouraged a more robust approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel dependence. On December 8, 2023 the Department of Energy released Clean Energy Achievements of COP28 which details the partnerships and initiatives the United States will be focusing on as a result of the conference. 

The United States will put a greater emphasis on supporting clean energy implementation in developing countries. Specifically, the U.S. has partnered with Chile to repurpose 400 MW of retired coal plants as well as a partnership with Ukraine to deploy renewable energy systems and storage facilities. Moving forward, the U.S. will be supporting economic development and clean energy implementation in Mauritania, Africa. The Mauritania partnership supports the creation of a “green” steel industry using renewable energy technology, fostering both economic growth and a renewable energy infrastructure.

Domestically, the United States will be putting a considerable focus on energy technology. The United States has committed to tripling nuclear energy capacity by 2050 – a strategy to reduce fossil fuel dependency. Furthermore, officials announced a focus on energy storage advancements, developments in fusion energy technology, and decarbonizing the United States’ railway system. Additional domestic initiatives include facilitating clean hydrogen markets, advancing carbon capture and storage (CCS)  technologies, and improving the country’s energy resilience by bolstering renewable energy infrastructure. If the Biden-Harris administration is able to follow through on these commitments, the United States will be in a strong position to achieve COP28’s goals.

A Sustainable Future is on the Horizon

COP28’s initiatives seem very ambitious, but the positive news is that all of the measures we need to take to keep 1.5 °C within reach are based on known technologies, policies, and practices. Most of them are cost-effective methods that provide savings and improved reliability for households and businesses across the United States. With 130 countries agreeing to the initiatives outlined in COP28, there is a renewed sense of hope and momentum for reducing the effects of climate change by 2030.

The rest of the world will be looking to major economic leaders, like the United States, to set an example for implementing policies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the demand for fossil fuels. COP28’s initiatives are ambitious but achievable, so long as world leaders deliver on their commitments. 

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