SouthSouthNorth (SSN) reflects on COP28

Between 30 November and 12 December 2023, SouthSouthNorth (SSN) attended the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This write-up summarises what we observed during COP28, primarily from my perspective as a youth attending COP for the first time. 


COP28 outcomes

The primary outcomes during COP28 were the decision on the mechanics to operationalise the Loss and Damage Fund, Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and Global Stocktake (GST). SSN Director Shehnaaz Moosa’s reflections on these outcomes are highlighted in our CDKN programme’s blog post.


The conference got off to a promising start when all parties agreed to operationalise the Loss and Damage Fund and its funding arrangements on the first day of COP28. By the end of the conference, developed countries had pledged an initial down payment of USD 7 million to the fund, covering about 0.2% of the annual amount required by developing countries (estimated at USD 400 billion annually).


The first GST was concluded at COP28 and noted that “Parties are not yet collectively on track towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals”. The GST makes specific reference to the findings of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While acknowledging the work that has been done in research, mitigation and adaptation, the GST text highlights the Parties’ shortcomings to date and what is required to ensure that we keep the 1.5°C target within reach. 


A GGA framework was established at COP28, but many are disappointed by the latest text. While the framework notes that “the adaptation finance gap is widening” and urges “developed country Parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025”, there is no clear indication of an accountability structure for developed countries to deliver on their commitments. On this, the Standing Committee on Finance released its report on the doubling of adaptation finance at its side event. However, the 2023 UNEP Adaptation Gap report noted the chasm between the current provision of adaptation finance and what is needed. 


COP28 ended with a strong demand, particularly from Small Island Developing States (SIDS), who face dire consequences of climate change, to explicitly commit to phasing out fossil fuels. Although this was not wholly achieved, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell tried to end the conference on a hopeful note by stating, “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end.”


Climate finance and investments 

COP28 strongly focused on climate finance and investments as a mobiliser for climate action. This was extensively referenced and discussed in the negotiation space, Blue Zone, and external events on the sidelines of COP28. 


In keeping with this, SSN and the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) supported the Climate Emergency Collaboration Group (CECG) in hosting an event during COP28 that brought together philanthropies and practitioners to discuss how to effectively advance adaptation action with urgency and ambition while foregrounding equity and diverse contextual realities across regions. Snapshots of the event can be seen on Twitter, with a full event write-up coming in the early new year. 


A key takeaway from this discussion was that philanthropies must collaborate to ensure funding efforts complement each other and reach all areas of need. In many instances, climate change will have cross-cutting impacts on philanthropic investments in various development priorities. In this respect, the philanthropic community’s ability to build resilience into their portfolios is a critical consideration in order to safeguard development gains already achieved. Philanthropies should build trust with communities to enable open communications, sharing of ideas, and effective development and implementation of long-term and appropriate solutions. This requires decision-making processes to be transparent and inclusive, as well as an acknowledgement that this requires dedicated time and resources. Furthermore, more can be achieved by investing in communities over the long term, focusing on their needs and well-being as key outcome areas instead of investing in a once-off project whose success is quantified by the number of products installed.  


Other SSN engagements at COP28 also highlighted the importance of microgranting as a means of getting much-needed resources to the ground. There are instances where communities devise locally appropriate solutions to climate challenges but struggle to get funding for small projects, since investment firms and climate funds are often set up with a minimum funding amount, while local projects cannot always absorb such large funds. Microgrants are one of the mechanisms that can help bridge this gap. Read more on what the ARA, hosted by SSN, says about the importance of microgrants in locally-led adaptation. 


Underrepresented groups 

COP28 still had limited involvement of women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples in decision-making spaces. These groups are given opportunities to engage through dedicated constituencies, but their involvement is limited, and their inputs are seen as suggestions and often not taken seriously in the decision-making spaces. Yet, these are the people most affected by climate change impacts and with critical motivations to address climate change. 


The Voices for Just Climate Action (VCA) alliance hosted very impactful events that provided a space for Indigenous Peoples and Youth to share their experiences and thoughts. The messages from VCA’s official UNFCCC side-event are available in this write-up, where speakers discussed the challenges and opportunities to democratise decision-making spaces like COP (a highly recommended read).


This year saw increased participation from Indigenous Peoples due to the accessibility of Dubai during COP28. We experienced this first-hand when we tried to attend the COP28 Indigenous Peoples Dialogue on 5 December and were turned away when the room had reached its capacity of 100 people. 


It was clear that Indigenous attendees had to make a big effort to attend COP28, with some travelling for 10 days to get to Dubai. But they did this in order to participate, overcoming various barriers and challenges, because they had to; because they experience the effects of climate change and persecution for protecting their land on a daily basis, and cannot afford to remain silent or give up. Seeing this juxtaposed against country Parties’ lack of barriers to attend and detachment from climate change impacts makes one wonder why those who have lower stakes in the matter have the most say.  


There seems to be a great divide between the experiences of people affected by climate change, resulting in their drive and determination, and decision-makers who are less vulnerable, perhaps accounting for their delayed and weak commitments throughout the COP processes.


General reflections 

Even though COP has provided a dedicated space for climate change discussions for more than 28 years, there still seems to be a lot of dissonance within our climate change community. For example: during COP, there was much discussion about and advocacy for tree planting to restore biodiversity and act as carbon sinks, without always acknowledging the potential for maladaptation resulting from monoculture or if the wrong trees are planted in the wrong areas. Funders and governments still focus almost exclusively on metrics, while there is a clarion call from communities and practitioners to listen to stories and be open to engaging with more qualitative information. Funder requirements also do not always align with local needs, as the bureaucratic processes and strict requirements impede progress and exclude access to those who need it most. 


There is also a case of decision-makers simply not listening to local needs. During COP28, AI solutions were proposed for climate action in developing countries, whereas developing countries have identified many of the solutions needed, but not the finances to implement them. If the finances are directed towards implementing the solutions we already have, rather than repeating the question of what new solutions can be conjured up or hoping for some silver bullet, we can make some real progress. 


Looking forward to 2024/5 

Echoing the sentiments of the YOUNGO representative during the People’s Plenary on 11 December: We are not continuing the fight because we have hope, but rather because we cannot afford to give up. 


SSN’s work and programming will continue to become increasingly focused on where we can add value to the ecosystem of actors working to deliver meaningful climate action. The current decade presents a meaningful time gap within which decisive action will make all the difference. 


During 2024, we will all need to work throughout the year to improve on the COP28 outcomes and to weave the implications into SSN’s strategic plan. Moreover, in pursuit of our Theory of Change,  SSN will continue to engage in global decision-making spaces to contribute reflections of what it means for local needs to be reflected. as we build up to COP29 and COP30.