Joanna Foster 5 minute read

COP28: It’s far from perfect. But it’s the best we’ve got

Even amid the controversy, an imperfect global climate conference is still better than no international climate cooperation at all.


It’s that time of year again. This week in Dubai, representatives from nearly 200 countries are coming together to attempt to coordinate global action on climate change. On the agenda? Nothing less than the future of our planet. 

A large group of world leaders standing in front of a sign that says "Unite. Act. Deliver." at COP28
COP28 began Nov. 30 in Dubai. (Getty)

This year’s meeting, known as COP28, began Nov. 30. The culmination of a year of climate negotiations, it will be the 28th year that world leaders have met to try to save the planet from becoming uninhabitable. 

The challenge is huge. Despite nearly three decades of these U.N. climate conferences, greenhouse gasses have continued to build and the world has continued to warm. 

Billion dollar climate disasters are ever more frequent. The first ever report card on climate progress — the Global Stocktake — showed exactly how far behind we are in our climate ambitions. 

When you compare the perceived glacial pace of international climate negotiations with the speed at which actual glaciers are melting, it’s easy to understand why so many people around the world have become disillusioned. 

In addition, as Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Many environmentalists are understandably skeptical about a climate gathering that will be led by the chief executive of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company.”

But the truth is that despite COPs’ mixed record of success, they are still the only existing global forum for critical discussions on the biggest challenge facing humanity — climate change. 

In short, if we didn’t have a COP, we’d have to invent one.

So as COP28 kicks off, let’s step away from the maddening minutia of negotiations, and the beleaguered bureaucratic process to remind ourselves of the big picture. 

Here are the three big climate wins we wouldn’t have without COP. 

1. Global agreement to limit warming 

Thanks to the 2015 Paris Agreement reached at COP21, the world now has a goal to limit global warming. To avoid the worst impact of climate change, scientists calculated that the world must  reach net zero by 2050

A table of world leaders signing the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement was signed at COP21 in 2015. (Getty)

Although the Paris Agreement has no actual authority over corporations, no company would now claim to be sustainable without having a net-zero commitment and climate pollution reduction targets that are “Paris aligned.”

“Before Paris, the planet was heading towards much higher temperature increases and even greater levels of climate disruption,” says Pedro Martins Barata, Environmental Defense Fund’s associate vice president for carbon markets and private sector decarbonization. “And while we still have a long way to go, the latest round of national climate pledges have held out the hope that we can still create a safer future.”

2. COP is the only forum where all countries have an equal voice 

COP is the only space where all countries, regardless of their income, size or vulnerability, can negotiate equally to push for solutions.

Many world flags flying next to each other
Almost 200 countries are attending COP28. (Getty)

“Whether you represent Norway or Tuvalu, you have an equal voice at COP and power over outcomes,” says Juan Pablo Hoffmaister, EDF’s associate vice president for global climate cooperation. “Agreement can only come by consensus. This is what gives COP decisions unique legitimacy and global authority.”

This is especially crucial because the effects of climate change are not distributed equally. Overwhelmingly, it is the poorest, most vulnerable, least developed and small island countries that face the most devastating impacts from a warming world, despite having contributed the least to the crisis. In Paris, it was these countries that demanded the most ambitious targets possible. 

And last year, these nations secured another major achievement with the establishment of the “loss and damage” fund, which will provide critical financial support to countries most vulnerable and impacted by climate change. The fund represents a major breakthrough for equity and fairness, and progress on the details of the deal are already being made.

3. Climate cooperation innovation 

International carbon markets were first set up under the U.N.’s 1997 Kyoto protocol on climate change and later revamped under the Paris Agreement. 

Al Gore speaking at the Kyoto protocol conference meeting in 1997
The 1997 Kyoto protocol saw the introduction of carbon markets. (Britannica)

“The carbon market is a tool, among many tools, that can incentivize deeper emissions reductions, at a lower cost," says Mandy Rambharos, EDF’s vice president for global climate cooperation. “They create a strong financial incentive for countries to cut emissions faster and provide an innovative new revenue stream to fund decarbonization efforts.” 

But, she adds, they have to be done right, with high standards of integrity and transparency. Emission reductions achieved through carbon markets must be independently verified and the system must ensure that there is no “double counting” where both a buyer and seller claim the same reduction. 

EDF research found that, if done right, this international emissions trading could almost double global emissions reductions between 2020 and 2035. It could also cut the financial cost of meeting climate pledges by 59%-79%.

The world must act together

Climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. Greenhouse gasses don’t respect national borders, and the extreme floods, fires and droughts promised by a warming world will devastate and destroy without regard for any one nation’s good intentions. 

COPs are the only process we have for getting the whole world to act collectively to save the only planet we have. Without the COP process, we simply wouldn’t have the international momentum we have today. And while we still have a long way to go, having a global process to address climate change gives us a fighting chance. COPs can feel slow, bureaucratic and  incremental — but we need them now, more than ever. 

Hope for a warming planet

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