“I didn’t expect much from COP28,” admits Jose Maria Ortiz, Palladium co-CEO. “But I’m happy to say that I think I was wrong.” The annual climate conference, this year held in Dubai, came under fire in the months leading up to it thanks in part to the choice to include a wider range of private sector organisations, including those from the oil and gas sector.
Much to the surprise of many around the globe, including Ortiz, COP28 proved to be largely successful, with the official launch of the Loss and Damage Fund and global commitments to transition away from fossil fuels, though not going as far as phasing them out entirely. “Regardless of what the public thinks of Dubai and fossil fuels, the push to achieve tangible agreements was amazing,” says Ortiz. “Even though the Loss and Damage fund is still underfunded, the fact that it’s launched is a huge milestone and it’s yet another important tool we have in our toolkit in the fight against climate change.”
The Loss and Damage Fund, which was brought to the table last year at COP27, was launched this year to provide financial support to developing nations which suffer the most severe impacts of climate change. “I was excited to see more progress on the loss and damage agenda,” says Henrietta Asiedu, a member of Palladium’s Partnerships for Forests team in attendance at COP28. “Parties agreed to the operationalising of the fund with commitments currently totalling US$700 million.” But she notes that it’s just the beginning.
“Going forward, we next need to catalyse technical assistance to developing countries, because it’s the smallholders and local communities that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and who will need the most help and support.”
The fact that the conversation at COP this year shifted to focusing on land use was also critical for Ortiz. “Everyone is realising that to fight climate change, the land use sector needs the same focus and transformation that the energy sector once had, and food systems and smallholder farmers are at the centre of that shift.”
The reality, he says, is that if there isn’t a dramatic transformation of the land sector, it will be very difficult to meet net zero targets. “This momentum feels very similar to the first phases of the energy transition. I’m hopeful because if capitalism has taught us anything, it’s that when we commit to solve one problem and we put money behind it, imagination and knowledge grow exponentially.”
Early on in the conference, 134 world leaders endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, for which leaders mobilised more than US$2.5 billion to begin addressing agriculture-related climate issues. The declaration was accompanied by the announcement of several other initiatives, including a US$200 million partnership between the UAE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for agriculture-related research.
These are among the larger economic commitments to transforming land use, which encompasses agriculture and food value chains, and energy being put behind finding the solutions to make that transformation, says Ortiz. “I expect we’ll see an explosion of solutions in the next few years that will allow the transition of land use towards a positive nature model that benefits local communities.”
But neither the Loss and Damage Fund nor the focus on land use will be possible without proper climate finance. For Raymond Sakyi, another Partnerships for Forests attendee, this was a critical focus throughout the whole of COP28, though it didn’t quite meet the mark. “More collaboration is needed to support smallholders to access climate finance. By providing flexibility to the due diligence processes to help smallholders meet the financial requirements, we can strengthen their resilience in the face of climate change.”
And while it’s easy to focus on the areas where COP28 may have fallen short, Ortiz points out that there’s still a lot to be hopeful about. “An oil producing state led a COP with the strongest global commitment yet to phase out fossil fuels. That’s something to celebrate.”
“You can’t just walk away from a commitment like that, instead you can only walk forward. It’s an important milestone and paves the way for an even stronger outcome at the next COP.”
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