As COP28 concludes, have we taken enough steps to combat the climate crisis?

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As COP28 concludes, have we taken enough steps to combat the climate crisis?
With the two-week-long COP28 summit finally under wraps, proceedings pretty much followed the same blueprint we've begun to expect from such premier climate conferences: some historic agreements, a thousand loopholes that businesses will weaponise to keep business going as usual, and a whole lot of disappointment, despite a handful of cautious victories.
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The Conference of Parties is the world's biggest climate summit, where around 200 countries — rich and poor, developed and developing — congregate to tackle perhaps the biggest elephant in everyone's backyards: how to keep planet-warming greenhouse emissions at bay.

So far, the world has already seared up to a toasty 1.1°C above 1880's pre-industrial levels, and continues to heat-up by roughly 0.15-0.2°C every decade since 1975. Even though we haven't breached the 1.5°C global barrier yet, most of the planet has begun to grapple with the early pangs of climate change-exacerbated extreme weather, worsened diseases, and a tremendous burden on human health.

Scientists warn that all hell will break loose if we breach the 1.5°C-by-2030 limit prescribed by the Paris Agreement, which we are most likely to blaze past in the next few years. With developed nations having contributed the lion's share of emissions towards fuelling our catastrophic warming, developing and poorer countries have been ardent in asking for a reparative fund to help them adapt to their climate woes.

This brings us to one of the key takeaways from this year's summit. Current COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber drove hard into the nail of a 'loss and damage' fund in the wee days of the conference. Fortunately, many developed nations seemed to agree much more whole-heartedly this time around, collectively pledging nearly $800 million towards the cause.

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However, a noticeable lack of clarity on the mechanisms dictating its utilisation and how the climate fund would be shelled out over time made experts cautious, noting that contributions to the fund still remain voluntary, and might not be sustainable in the long term. Studies have also estimated that the current number pooled is almost peanuts compared to the actual amount necessary to help all developing countries fully tackle climate change, which stands in the order of $400 billion a year, and continues to grow.

The other issue, which carried on into the very final hours of the last day of the conference, was the decision on fossil fuels. Some critics have dubbed the climate change problem 'the fossil fuel problem' due to the overarching and dominant manner in which the fuels contribute to the phenomenon.

A relevant agreement was finally passed at the end of the conference to call upon nations to move away from fossil fuels in a "just, orderly and equitable manner" by 2030, replace them with a tripling of renewables, cut down on methane emissions, and finally rid the world entirely of any addition carbon emission by 2050.

However, experts and many developing nations aren't pleased. The agreement does not mention the role of oil in the slightest, nor denounce oil or coal exploration efforts. Even before COP28 was underway, experts were mistrustful of the UAE's position as host, expecting them to dilute any pushback against oil and fossil fuels. And sure enough Al-Jaber, president of his country's state-led oil company, along with Saudi Arabia, rallied against a "phase-down" of fossil fuels. They argued that a complete boycott was not feasible or practical, and that we must look at the fuel as an ally against the climate crisis.

Many experts also worry that the blatant loopholes in the transition talks would allow companies to begin investing heavily in "transitional fuels" such as natural gas. Such fuels were being considered to bridge the gap from dirty fossils to clean renewables, but experts warn that not only will this not be economically viable, but the resultant methane emissions will make it far less climate-friendly than previously thought. With the need to cut GHG emissions by 43% by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement, we simply do not have the time or resources to consider gas as a temporary alternative to coal and oil.

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While this agreement was the first time there was a unified and concrete note of the point that the planet cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels indefinitely, and that a transition was inevitable, many lamented that there was no clear discussion on how to facilitate the same for developing nations. As Bangladeshi climate envoy Saber Hossain Chowdhury puts it, merely adapting to the worsening climate has turned out to be a life and death issue in these countries.

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With the two-week-long COP28 summit finally under wraps, proceedings pretty much followed the same blueprint we've begun to expect from such premier climate conferences: some historic agreements, a thousand loopholes that businesses will weaponise to keep business going as usual, and a whole lot of disappointment, despite a handful of cautious victories.