The conclusion of the Global Stocktake at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates this December will evaluate how much progress the international Paris Agreement on climate change has made in the fight against the climate crisis and what more is needed to accelerate climate action forward. But its findings will be no mystery: the world is way off track, and the most vulnerable countries are already disproportionately feeling the consequences.

In late 2022 in South Sudan, four years of extreme flooding left two-thirds of the country underwater, leading to more than 1 million people now facing severe food insecurity. In March 2023, Cyclone Freddy brought massive rains to Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar, devastating crop lands, overburdening health centers and affecting the lives of more than 2 million people. Around the same time in the South Pacific, Vanuatu was hit by two cyclones within three days, affecting 80% of the nation’s population. Most recently, Cyclone Mocha battered coastal communities in Myanmar and Bangladesh, marking one of the worst storms in 15 years, killing hundreds.

There will be no true progress on climate action until climate justice and equity become central to international climate negotiations. The good news is we already know what countries need to do to limit the most dangerous climate impacts on communities everywhere. Negotiators meeting in Bonn in early June for the intersessional negotiations have a crucial opportunity to set the stage for COP28.

The Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025) consortium, a group of think tanks from vulnerable developing countries working to drive greater climate ambition that will lead to fair and just outcomes for communities on the front lines of climate impacts, has a new Call to Action outlining four ways the world needs to deliver greater climate action by COP28. Here are ACT2025’s demands:

4 things vulnerable countries need from COP28

1) Advance Ambition to Limit Warming to 1.5 Degrees C.

Since pre-industrial times, global average temperatures have already risen 1.1 degrees C (2 degrees F), and current national commitments for cutting emissions have the world on track for an average warming of 2.8 degrees C (5 degrees F), far beyond the Paris Agreement’s threshold of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). As the escalating extreme weather and volatile temperatures we’re already experiencing at 1.1 degrees C of warming demonstrate, even limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, or any other fraction of a degree, will not protect many vulnerable countries from devastating impacts.

Yet for too long, major economies and industries have ignored the scientific warnings, neglected their climate promises, and avoided answering calls for more ambitious action and support. The G-7 recently said that Russia’s war on Ukraine justified more overseas fossil fuel financing on a temporary basis, despite previously pledging to end all new financing. In 2022, the fossil fuel industry raked in record-breaking profits in the middle of a global energy crisis, and global subsidies rose to over $1 trillion for the first time — more than double the previous year. 

To shift course, COP28 must do several things to make a 1.5-degree future possible. It must spur specific actions that respond to the Global Stocktake findings and springboard greater ambition across all elements of climate action — mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and means of implementation — while centering equity and fairness considerations in all these efforts. For example, the global community could set renewable energy targets and encourage ambitious and detailed climate commitments, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C.

This is particularly critical for G-7 and G-20 economies, which represent the world’s highest greenhouse gas emitters. G-20 nations — industrial and emerging-market nations which only represent approximately 10% of all countries — are responsible for approximately 75% of global emissions. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable nations often contribute the least amount of emissions yet feel the harshest impacts of climate change. Globally, the revised nationally determined contributions should collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 relative to 2019 emissions levels.

In addition, at COP28, countries must commit to equitably phasing out all fossil fuels, including oil, gas and coal. This entails setting a global target for equitably scaling up renewable power capacity to at least triple 2022 levels by 2030, representing an average of 90% of new generation capacity each year. Countries must also ensure adequate financing to support a just transition that will minimize harm to communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry. Through the Just Transitions Work Programme established at COP27, nations can inform NDCs and help advance equitable, people-centered solutions. This includes careful consideration of the social, economic and environmental consequences of shifting to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, as well as the barriers, such as the cost of capital, energy poverty, energy access, mineral extraction and the need for economic diversification to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are not left behind.

2) Drive Climate Adaptation that Puts People First.

Nearly half of the global population lives in climate-vulnerable hotspots around the world, and this number is expected to grow as Earth continues to warm. Research shows that adaptation measures such as early-warning systems, climate risk management and agroforestry can significantly reduce climate risks, yet largely due to a huge shortfall in finance for adaptation, these global efforts remain incremental, reactive and piecemeal.

In addition to boosting mitigation efforts, all countries need to speed up and scale up their adaptation investments. For example, adaptation measures must urgently address the droughts, famines and hunger that currently affect more than 800 million people globally. However, such efforts must also minimize unintended impacts (maladaptation), which can inadvertently increase vulnerability, particularly of those already on the frontlines.

In Bangladesh, some coastal communities are trying to adapt to saltwater intrusion by converting rice fields into shrimp aquaculture ponds. Unfortunately, this has favored large landowners and resulted in the displacement of many workers who lost their jobs, since shrimp aquaculture is not as labor intensive as rice farms.

Ahead of COP28, more political commitment is needed on the Global Goal of Adaptation (GGA), which was established under the Paris Agreement but so far has seen limited progress. The framework on the GGA must enable action, be holistic and ambitious, prioritize transformative adaptation to address the root causes of climate vulnerability, and emphasize climate justice and locally led adaption.

The outcomes from the Global Stocktake must also strive to achieve robust and equitable outcomes on adaptation — including technical support and technology transfer — that improve global resilience, build adaptive capacity, reduce the vulnerability of people and nature to climate change, address adaptation financing and implementation gaps, and support the most vulnerable countries and communities.

3) Build New Institutions to Address Loss and Damage.

We are in the era of loss and damage, a term used in UN climate negotiations that refers to the consequences of climate change beyond what countries can adapt to. Developing countries, who contribute and have contributed the least amount to carbon emissions, often are impacted the most, without proper resources to protect themselves or recover from these severe events.  

Following the establishment at COP25 of the Santiago Network for loss and damage  — which aims to provide developing countries with technical assistance — and the establishment  at COP27 of a dedicated fund and broader funding arrangements to address loss and damage, the road to COP28 will be critical to advancing financial support for developing countries impacted by severe damage from climate change. Such signals show solidarity and rebuild trust, both between developed and developing countries as well as in the negotiation process itself. Failure to agree on the elements for operationalization of the fund at COP28 is unacceptable and would be a disservice to all the countries and communities on the frontline.

The resulting agreement at COP28 must ensure new, additional, predictable, accessible, adequate and rapid finance to respond to loss and damage, fully operationalize the Santiago Network through the selection of its host and Advisory Board members, and clearly indicate how the Santiago Network fits in with a dedicated fund and broader funding arrangements (This could include establishing the Santiago Network as the technical arm of the fund to support needs assessments.)

New financial commitments that build on existing climate and development finance and do not take away from adaptation funding are also necessary.

Lastly, in recognition of the need for additional data on loss and damage, COP28 must urge the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce a special report on losses and damages under various warming scenarios, including economic and social costs, to provide a synthesized evidence base that can inform future decisions on loss and damage. This report should be due no later than COP30.

4) Deliver Adequate Finance to Respond to the Needs of the Climate Crisis.

Achieving the social and economic transition to a 1.5-degree-C world requires the urgent mobilization of trillions of dollars. Studies estimate the cost  to be between $1.5 trillion and $5.9 trillion annually through 2030.

Despite this seemingly intimidating estimate, the IPCC also states that there is already sufficient global capital and liquidity to cover these costs, but that these finances are currently misallocated and misdirected. For instance, the Standing Committee on Finance estimated that from 2019 to 2020, $892 billion was spent globally on fossil fuel investments and $450 billion on fossil fuel subsidies. In comparison, in 2020, a total of $83.3 billion in climate finance was mobilized from developed to developing countries, with only about one-third of that going toward adaptation actions.

Vulnerable countries are facing immense financial burdens, particularly to adapt to a changing world. Adaptation needs alone are estimated to reach up to $300 billion annually by 2030 and $565 billion annually by 2050 — and will grow with every additional degree of warming. Similarly, loss and damage needs are estimated to be up to $580 billion annually by 2030, and $1.7 trillion annually by 2050. These additional financial burdens add to vulnerable countries’ already high debt levels and make it harder for them to secure other funding for development and otherwise improve the lives of their citizens.

Developed countries have already failed to meet the $100 billion annual collective commitment, that was set to start in 2020, to support developing countries. Developed countries must address this deficit and agree at COP28 to a minimum commitment of $120 billion per year now through 2025, with more ambitious climate finance goals after. Ultimately, in recognition of the fact that developing nations need $1.5 trillion-$5.9 trillion to fight the climate crisis, countries must agree to achieve the mobilization of trillions — rather than billions — in climate finance.

Such a recognition must also inform the new climate finance goal to be agreed in 2024. This goal must target finance for adaptation, mitigation and loss and damage; include a timeframe of 10 years (i.e. 2025 to 2035); and reaffirm the central role of public and grant-based finance, in particular for adaption and loss and damage.

Lastly, thanks to the leadership of advocates like Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the conversation for reforms of the international financial system has become a mainstream topic. COP28 must call for ambitious reforms by international financial institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.). Special attention should be given to scaling up public finance, in particular concessional finance, addressing the inequities in access to finance and reducing barriers to access.

Immediate Action Will Save Lives

There is clearly a lot to do in a short time if countries are to finally get the world on track to prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change and protect the most vulnerable communities and populations. But while it may seem daunting, the cost of inaction will be much greater than the cost of action: The Global Commission on Adaptation estimates that investing $1.8 trillion between 2020 and 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits

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The path to COP28 is paved with critical moments that will set the conference up for success. Starting in May 2023, the G-7 will meet in Hiroshima, Japan to prepare a communique that will be a crucial signal on the ambition of these wealthy and high-emitting nations. Similar signals must come out of the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in September of this year. Other critical summits include the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact in June, which will be essential for reforms of the international financial system, and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit in September, which should include commitments to unprecedented levels of climate action and a pledging session for loss and damage funding to maintain the momentum coming out of COP27 on finance for addressing loss and damage.

The sooner countries step up their climate commitments (and follow through with action), the easier those commitments will be to achieve and the more lives they will save. A safer, more equitable future is possible — but we have to start now.