COP28: Big win for Africa as Sultan Al Jaber ensures developed countries are accountable on adaptation

The logo of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 is pictured at Expo City in Dubai on December 12, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

In Dubai, UAE

COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber's final text sets a long-term goal for climate resilience and for the first time prioritises key issues raised by the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on water, food, health, ecosystems, infrastructure, poverty and culture.

After more than 24 hours of stalemate on the final day of the world's largest climate meeting, which saw the COP28 negotiations go into overtime, the AGN had expressed disappointment and frustration on Tuesday morning.

"Let me reiterate, as we have said before, that adaptation is a key issue for Africa and an outcome on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) was our key demand.

We will not agree on anything here unless Africa's top priorities are met, which for us is a GGA framework. If we are serious about saving lives, livelihoods and protecting ecosystems, then the GGA framework must have ambitious, time-bound targets with clear means to support implementation," said Collins Nzovu, Minister of Green Economy and Environment of Zambia and Chair of the AGN.

According to a senior official in the COP28 presidency, who attended a high-level briefing on Wednesday morning and is privy to all the ongoing negotiations but is not allowed to speak on behalf of the presidency, there are three outstanding elements of the final text for Africa.

"We are waiting for the final text to be made official, but I can give you three key things in it.

For the GGA, which the AGN talked about yesterday, the text has set a long-term goal for climate resilience with thematic priorities for the first time, key thematic priorities that make it much clearer what we are trying to target and focus on in terms of water, food, health, ecosystems, infrastructure, poverty and culture," he revealed.

"The GGA text also establishes an annual ministerial dialogue on the issue and calls for an annual report from developed countries on the delivery of the doubling of adaptation finance, people will be held accountable."

The text also emphasises "the importance of the collective well-being of all people, the protection of livelihoods and economies, and the conservation and regeneration of nature for present and future generations".

Another hot potato for the COP28 president is the total phase-out of fossil fuels.

"The text includes an unprecedented reference to a transition away from ALL fossil fuels, enabling the world to reach net zero by 2050.

 Remember this is significantly the first time fossil fuel language has been included at this level, previously it referred specifically to coal, but now we see a transition away from fossil fuels to reach net-zero by 2050," he revealed to the Nation.

Thirdly, the final text takes significant steps forward and steps towards the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

" It encourages Parties to come forward with ambitious economy-wide emission reduction targets. Key here historically, NDCs to be across the economy with focus on developed countries, the only developing country that had economy word NDCs was Brazil, now they are encouraging it across all countries," the senior official said.

According to the COP28 Presidency during the briefing, this borders on the momentum of the financial architecture reform agenda, which for the first time recognises the role of critical rating agencies.

"This is important for Africa and calls for an increase in concessional and on-the-ground finance, because we have seen that finance has become a key focus for Africa on the ground, and we have seen significant commitments on loss and damage (L&D), for example, and this is really a fantastic development in terms of the latest text."

The senior official goes on to reveal that the text also includes a new specific target to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030.

"Again, finance is key for Africa to be able to achieve this, but this is significant and progressive language that is in the text.

When we go to adaptation, we know it's significant for Africa that a key focus, here we see it goes beyond the doubling of adaptation finance as agreed at COP26 by recognising the need to significantly scale up finance beyond the doubling to meet urgent and evolving needs," he said.

On Tuesday, African experts had pointed out the gaps in an earlier second version of the text, which Ambassador Majid Al Suwaidi , COP28 Director General, said was only meant to be a talking point so they knew where parties' red lines were.

"The latest one is much weaker than the previous one. It doesn't set clear targets for adaptation, nor does it address the huge adaptation gap between what is needed and what is currently available (in the GCC). It simply repeats the commitment to double adaptation finance from COP26 in Glasgow.

As we've seen in the UN's Adaptation Gap report, doubling adaptation finance would still leave adaptation needs five to ten times greater than available finance. Setting such a low target before the long-term finance goal is decided next year would effectively marginalise adaptation," said Mohammed Adow, founder and director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based think-tank that mobilises climate action in Africa and hopes to shift climate and energy policies to zero carbon. 

"We need to break the deadlock on adaptation finance to clear the way for the decision the world expects and needs from this meeting to set a date for the phase-out of fossil fuels."