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Taking Stock of Global Climate Governance

Jan 02, 2024
  • Tang Xinhua

    Associate Researcher, Tsinghua University’s Institute of International Relations


The COP28 climate summit Expo City, Dubai, on Dec 7, 2023. (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

On Dec. 13, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded with the UAE Consensus. COP28 represents a pivotal moment in international climate governance after the Paris Agreement and marked the completion of the first Global Stocktake, which provided fresh insights for nations to set their new nationally determined contribution targets for carbon emissions by 2025.

Significant achievements of the conference included the adoption of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with climate change, the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation and the launch of the work program on just transition pathways. The Global Stocktake at COP28 serves as both a comprehensive review of actions taken since the Paris Agreement and, crucially, the commencement of a new phase in global climate governance. In the new phase, addressing the challenges arising from gaps in emissions reductions, funding and capacity identified after the Stocktake is essential.

It is crucial to consider how to steadfastly adhere to the Paris Agreement’s governance model, which advocates a bottom-up framework in setting NDCs, without deviating from this basic structure. Further, it’s important to explore ways to enhance climate action while better embodying principles of fairness and justice. Determining how to maintain the role of the United Nations multilateral governance platform as the primary stage in global climate governance is also critical. These considerations will significantly shape the direction of climate governance. 

Consistency and stability 

The first Global Stocktake reveals that fulfilling current NDCs will result in only a 2 percent decrease in emissions by 2030 from 2019 levels, projecting a potential global temperature increase of 4 C. This deviation from the Paris Agreement goals is significant. To achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, it is imperative to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030, cut them by 60 percent by 2035 and attain net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

The draft decision on the outcome of the first Global Stocktake suggests that in their subsequent NDCs, parties should come forward in the next round with ambitious, economy-wide emission reduction targets. This entails aligning new NDCs with the 1.5 C target and maintaining consistency with long-term strategies for low greenhouse gas emissions.

The Paris Agreement’s success was underpinned by its bottom-up governance framework. Imposing a uniform temperature control target on all parties would mean returning to the top-down governance approach of the Kyoto Protocol.

To prevent repeating the past mistakes in climate governance, future pathways must adhere to Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement, reflecting principles of fairness, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Developed countries should set their NDCs to meet the 1.5 C target, while developing countries should aim for the 2 C target based on their national circumstances and capabilities, ensuring that the Paris Agreement’s governance framework remains stable and equitable. 

Funding and responsibility 

The extent and pace of climate change and related risks largely hinge on immediate mitigation and adaptation actions. Financial support from developed to developing countries is a crucial factor. The first Global Stocktake indicates that the adaptation funding needs for developing countries by 2030 is an estimated $215 billion to $387 billion annually. The pledge by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 has been insufficient.

Under the UAE Consensus reached recently, parties will establish a new financial target at COP29 beyond the $100 billion climate fund, known as the new collective quantified goal (NCQG). The future NCQG must tackle critical issues such as the size, quality, sources and transparency of funds. However, developed countries are gradually obscuring the responsibility boundaries defined by the “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle, with attempts to include some developing countries as financial contributors to the NCQG.

COP28 formally established the Loss and Damage Fund, aimed primarily at reducing the severe economic and non-economic losses and damages that climate change inflicts on developing countries. Article 88 of the draft decision -/CMA.5 on the outcome of the first Global Stocktake urges developed countries to continue to provide support. But some developed countries have suggested expanding the scope of this fund to encompass some financially capable developing countries. They have even proposed renegotiating the Paris Agreement in terms of the fund’s operational mechanisms and response strategies.

A central focus of the upcoming COP29 and COP30 will be formulating the New Collective Quantified Goal and outlining a strategy for the Loss and Damage Fund. Staying true to the foundational principles of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement is crucial, as this directly impacts the historical responsibility and the notion of climate justice associated with the growing “climate debt.”

Concerning the achievement of emission reduction goals and financial commitments, climate responsibility and climate debt will pose significant governance challenges in the future. Post-COP28 Global Stocktake, principles such as “common but differentiated responsibilities” and the “bottom-up” framework of the Paris Agreement risk being weakened by dilution. This is particularly evident as some developed countries use smaller multilateral mechanisms such as the Net Zero Governments Initiative, carbon border tax, Climate Club, Energy Transition Partnership and Mineral Security Partnership to influence new rules in climate governance.

These developments threaten to substantially undermine the UN’s multilateral governance platform, potentially leading to the hollowing out, fragmentation and inefficiency of the Paris Agreement’s implementation. Following the first Global Stocktake at COP28, the path of global climate governance is set to encounter an intensified debate over ideology, justice and responsibility, amid an accelerating evolution of the global climate governance order resulting from power dynamics.

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