Was COP28 a success? 3 important climate wins you may not have heard about
International negotiations are always imperfect, but this year’s U.N. climate conference, COP28, which wrapped up on Dec. 13, did produce some important climate action.
Here are three wins you might not have heard about.
Methane got much-needed attention
The headlines after COP28 have mostly focused on the new global agreement to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030, while moving away from burning planet-warming fossil fuels.
And that’s all good news.
But some of the most tangible climate progress you may not know about involved methane.
While carbon dioxide causes long-term warming, it’s not the only problematic gas. When methane gets into the atmosphere, it has an outsized warming effect on the planet.
In fact, methane is responsible for more than a quarter of current warming because it’s 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it’s emitted.
So, it marked a major win when more than 50 major oil and gas companies signed a pledge to slash their methane pollution to nearly zero by 2030. Methane is the main component of natural gas.
Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp called the move, which covers 40% of global oil production, “monumental.” To ensure companies act, EDF and allies, including the International Energy Agency and the U.N. Environment Programme, have launched a partnership to track and report these companies' progress using satellites, including from EDF-subsidiary, MethaneSAT, along with other data.
And that wasn’t the only action on methane.
Agriculture — particularly livestock — is another large source of the planet–warming gas. The dairy industry, for example, is responsible for nearly 10% of global methane emissions. To tackle these emissions, six of the largest dairy companies — Bel Group, Danone, General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Lactalis USA and Nestlé — announced an alliance that will track and cut methane emissions from the industry.
Plus, the U.S. EPA announced its strongest-ever methane rules for the oil and gas industry, setting an example for other nations.
We’re a step closer to saving the rainforests
To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, scientists say we have to stop and reverse tropical deforestation. So it's good news that the final COP28 agreement included a goal of halting and reversing deforestation by 2030.
In addition, both Costa Rica and Ghana will protect their forests as a part of a $60 million agreement made with the LEAF Coalition, an organization that — put simply — seeks to make trees worth more alive than dead by rewarding countries that keep their forests intact. The coalition is a public-private partnership that has mobilized more than $1.5 billion to protect the world’s rainforests.
Still, building an economy around preserving forests is difficult. “It typically requires familiarity with remote sensing, carbon accounting and complex regulation,” says M. Sanjayan, the chief executive officer of Conservation International. There are also pitfalls to avoid like “leakage,” which is when more trees are cut down in another area, nullifying the gains of having the protected area.
So EDF, along with Conservation International, Climate Law and Policy, Wildlife Conservation Society and Winrock International, announced a new partnership at COP28 that provides the leaders of forested countries with experts to help them navigate the complexities of carbon market programs that pay for the conservation of tropical forests.
“We now have the tools and partnerships in place to show what high-integrity tropical forest carbon credits look like in practice, at scale, across tens of millions of hectares of the world’s most biodiverse landscapes,” says Mark Moroge, head of natural climate solutions at EDF, which partners with governments and other nonprofits to end global deforestation.
“I’ve been working on national forest conservation programs since 2011,” Moroge says. “This is truly a unique moment. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work and trust, we will see big results for forests, people and nature.”
COP28 included the largest delegation of young leaders ever
As controversy swirled around the fact that COP28 had a record number of oil lobbyists, there was another “larger than ever” delegation you may not have heard about: young people.
While youth are already leading climate activism around the world, they have so far had little input when it comes to policy making.
But this year marked the first International Youth Climate Delegate Program, which sponsored an official delegation of 100 young people, including from least-developed countries as well as small islands, Indigenous and other minority groups, to attend COP and participate in negotiations. COP28 also included a Youth Climate Champion, a new position tasked with bridging the gap between officials and young climate activists.
“I was blown away seeing young people from every corner of the globe come to Dubai to protect this planet and the people on it,” says Nick Haas who attended COP28 on behalf of Defend Our Future, an EDF program that trains college students to be climate activists.
Haas also helped deliver the 2023 Global Youth Statement, a list of policy demands and proposals from young people across 150 countries. In addition, COP28 leaders set goals to increase youth participation at future climate negotiations for the first time.
Many country delegations also included more young leaders than previous years. “This was the most youth-friendly COP ever in terms of the number of young people they gave badges to,” Haas says.
“Connecting with young people from all over the world and seeing our collective strength has been inspiring,” says Morgan Brown, a regional organizer with Defend Our Future. “It gives me the energy to keep fighting.”
Hope for a warming planet
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