COP28 is the biggest accountability moment for climate action in history.

At COP28, the UN will conclude its first-ever “Global Stocktake,” assessing the world’s collective progress toward addressing the climate crisis. The Global Stocktake synthesis report released in September 2023 already reveals that the world is far off track from its goal of holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) to avoid some of the most disastrous impacts of climate change. The most important issue to watch at COP28 is how leaders from countries, companies, cities and financial institutions respond to the Global Stocktake.

Will it be a moment for mere reflection? Or for decisive action?

The Global Stocktake at COP28

When 193 countries signed on to the Paris Agreement in 2015, they committed to three goals: 1) reduce emissions enough to hold global temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F)” above pre-industrial levels, and ideally 1.5 degrees C; 2) build communities’ resilience to the impacts of climate change; and 3) align the world’s financial flows with low-carbon, climate-resilient development.

They also agreed to assess their progress toward these goals every five years (beginning in 2023) and strengthen their action in response, a process known as the “Global Stocktake.” The first Global Stocktake will conclude at COP28 in Dubai.

From November 30-December 12, 2023, countries’ climate negotiators and others will discuss the results of the GlobaI Stocktake and identify what’s needed next. For COP28 to be a success, leaders from countries, companies and cities should address action gaps with new emissions-reduction plans, climate finance commitments, renewable energy targets and more.

A Rapid Response Plan to the Global Stocktake

A strong response to the Global Stocktake can be the catalyst for countries to transition to a better economy — one that lifts people out of poverty, provides good jobs, fights the growing hunger crisis, and ensures communities can withstand floods and droughts, all while protecting nature and sharply reducing emissions. While countries should respond to the Global Stocktake with climate solutions across the board, WRI believes it is critical that they take action in three key areas: fossil fuels, food and land use, and resilience.

1) Rapidly and equitably shift away from fossil fuels.

Research shows that the world needs to reduce emissions 43% below 2019 levels by 2030 to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change. Current national climate plans will only achieve an 8% reduction at best. Meanwhile, subsidies for fossil fuels — the largest driver of climate change — rose to a record $7 trillion in 2022.

At COP28, governments should signal their intent to move away from fossil fuels and usher in an era of affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all.

Specifically, national leaders should commit to at least triple renewable energy capacity to 1,500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, move investments from dirty to renewable energy, and at least double energy efficiency. Countries should also commit to double the share of fossil fuel-free land transport by 2030 by increasing the share of electric vehicles in global car sales and shifting more trips to public transit, walking and bicycling. These targets are in line with the level of emissions reductions needed to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C.

And importantly, leaders must put measures in place to ensure this low-carbon transition leaves no one behind — especially workers and communities reliant on the fossil fuel industry.

2) Transform food and land use systems and protect and restore forests.

Our food systems are failing us. More than 700 million people face hunger today. Climate-driven droughts and floods threaten farmers’ crops and livelihoods. And agriculture itself is fueling climate change by destroying forests and other vital ecosystems.

At COP28, leaders should put forward plans that transform the ways the world produces and consumes food.

National leaders should invest in improving food security while building resilience to the escalating impacts of climate change. They must heed the science by reducing agricultural emissions 25% below 2020 levels by 2030, while also accelerating efforts to halve food waste by 2030 and shift to healthier, lower-carbon diets. Espousing these and other plans in a Food Systems Declaration, expected to emerge by the end of COP28, will help cement governments’ commitments to a sustainable food future.

Furthermore, leaders should demonstrate progress on existing commitments such as the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, where more than 140 world leaders pledged to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by the end of the decade. Despite ambitious targets, data shows trends are heading in the wrong direction.

3) Advance action on adaptation and loss and damage.

The impacts of climate change are increasingly clear, with those least responsible for creating the problem feeling the worst of its effects. Drought in East Africa is pushing millions to the brink of famine. Forest fires are spewing dangerous air pollution and destroying homes and lives. More and more people are dying from extreme heat.

Yet action to help communities build resilience to climate shocks — and the finance to make it happen — continue to lag. Developing countries will need $340 billion annually by 2030 to adapt to the impacts of climate change, but received only $29 billion in international adaptation finance in 2020. Grappling with “losses and damage” — the impacts of climate change so severe they cannot be adapted to, such as destruction of homes, heritage sites and even lives — will require an estimated $894 billion annually by 2030.

At COP28, wealthy nations must provide the finance necessary to make adaptation possible in the countries that need it most, while helping them recover from unavoidable losses and damage.

Countries must operationalize the Loss & Damage Fund agreed to at COP27 in 2022. Developed countries should show real progress toward their commitment to climate-vulnerable nations to double finance for adaptation by 2025, including making finance more accessible and channeling more resources and decision-making power to local communities. And countries must adopt an actionable plan for the Global Goal on Adaptation, including agreeing on an ambitious set of targets to build resilience around the world.

Putting Cities at the Center of Climate Action

For too long, UN climate summits have focused exclusively on climate action at the national level. That’s a major oversight. Urban areas account for roughly 70% of the world’s CO2 emissions, and many are particularly exposed to the impacts of climate change. The science shows that all cities must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. And while some are already making considerable progress, they could go even further by better aligning with national governments through joint climate goals, investment and planning.

Research shows that while urban emissions can be cut 90% by 2050 through existing technologies and policy options, cities alone can achieve only 28% of that potential. Local governments need partnership with national governments and international climate initiatives to fully decarbonize.

At COP28, national, regional and local governments must scale up partnerships to make faster progress on their climate goals and help people in cities meet their basic needs.

Specifically, the UN should expand the role of mayors and other subnational actors at COPs. We’ll see some progress on that front at COP28 with the first Local Climate Action Summit, second Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change, the mayoral delegation to the World Climate Action Summit, and the Transport-Energy Ministerial, but these kinds of events cannot be one-offs. National governments should also better include urban areas in their climate plans. This means strengthening city-focused targets in their NDCs and National Adaptation Plans — such as by expanding public transit or making buildings more energy-efficient — and ensuring that subnational actors can easily access climate finance. And finally, we’ll be watching for new commitments from both cities and national governments to transform critical shared systems, like transport, buildings and land use.

Following Through on Past Pledges

In addition to setting out bold, new plans, countries, companies, cities and others should come to COP28 prepared to demonstrate progress on past pledges. Specifically, we’ll be looking for action on issues like:

  • Cooperative initiatives: The world has seen several high-profile international climate initiatives emerge in recent years, such as the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership and the Global Methane Pledge, where more than 100 countries promised to reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane. Leaders should demonstrate progress on these cooperative initiatives at COP28.
  • National climate plans: Countries committed to increase the ambition of their national climate plans (known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs) every five years. Stronger emissions-reductions targets are much-needed by 2030.
  • Financial pledges: Developed nations pledged to provide developing nations with $100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020, but have yet to make good on this promise. Wealthy nations should demonstrate at COP28 that they are making up the shortfall while offering higher-quality finance, such as grants instead of loans.
  • A new climate finance goal: The Paris Agreement calls for a new global climate finance goal to be set next year at COP29. Climate negotiators must lay the groundwork for such a goal at COP28 to make next year’s deadline realistic.

COP28: The Biggest Moment in History for Climate Action Accountability

The Global Stocktake was created to help keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach. COP28 is the first test of whether decision-makers will stay true to its vision.

National leaders — as well as those from companies, cities and more — must not only demonstrate progress on past pledges, but announce new plans that are ambitious enough to rein in escalating climate impacts and protect people and nature.

WRI’s experts will be watching to see if decision-makers at COP28 can achieve the necessary outcomes. Check this Resource Hub regularly for ongoing news, commentary and analysis. And for a deeper dive into what needs to happen at COP28, read our article Benchmarks for Success at COP28