Think of COP28 as climate trade show meets Disneyland meets Davos. It’s a maze of exhibition halls recycled from the World Expo and extravagant corporate booths flaunting their “green” initiatives. Like Disneyland, at COP28 you can choose your own adventure – from hubs on energy transition and climate finance, to side events and roundtables in swanky hotel ballrooms, or serious negotiations in the sectioned-off blue zone. And like Davos, world business leaders and heads of state swooped in on private jets and yachts.
Maybe it was the offer of warm sun in December, but this year’s COP drew 100K attendees, almost double the size of COP21 in Paris. Attendees ran the gamut, from diplomats negotiating for their countries’ futures, to CEOs / CSOs showcasing climate progress on stage, activists pushing for more to be done, and a new showing of climate tech founders and investors driving climate solutions.
While the record-setting global public-private sector participation offered a signal of hope, the backdrop of oil refineries served a stark reminder of COP's dual nature as a symbol of climate progress and delay.
We wanted to see for ourselves what it was all about, and get a sense of what’s important right now. Following are our main takeaways, quotes, and some snapshots!
Climate tech is bigger than ever. Climate tech played its biggest role ever at COP this year. With daily events at two Technology and Innovation hubs and a whole village for Startups (especially Breakthrough Energy-backed ones), it was visible everywhere you go. Climate tech played a big part in the defining wave of COP28 – the move away from a diplomacy-only approach and towards action. But as Richard Manley from CPPIB put it on one panel, “...there’s indigestion in the supply chain of the green complex,” that needs to resolve for things to fully scale.
Everything everywhere all at once. All of climate all at once. At any point in the day this meant events on the global south, climate policy, ESG reporting, youth activism, and more. We went to a dinner where on the same floor of the hotel there were three dinners by separate organizations – one on climate finance, one on food security, and another on gender equality. There was something for everyone, but the challenge was filtering down to what was relevant to you.
The oil & gas COP. This was the COP of the climate and O&G juxtaposition. Yes, COP was held in a petrostate, yes there were rumors of oil & gas deal making on the sidelines. The greenwashing was unavoidable. But the oil refineries and gas flare right outside our hotel windows brought us right back. This juxtaposition brought controversy and greenwashing but also the potential to drive action with key voices in the room.
Pay to play. The green zone got a thick coat of private sector paint since the Paris signatories met. Corporates were shelling out big bucks for floor space, causing some to question whether all this extravagance could distract from COP’s emissions reductions goals. And we saw more corporates in the blue zone, too, which seems a bit 🤔, but CEOs' return (Larry Fink is a COP28 advisor after a dearth of corporate leaders at COP27) was mostly met with optimism.
The more the merrier. There were approximately 24k negotiators, 14k observers and 30 to 60k “others” at this year’s COP. This put COP’s population squarely between that of Burning Man and Coachella. Alongside the delegates, the conference was filled with students, academics, researchers, even families pushing babies in strollers. The sentiment has been that COP is only becoming more positively impactful as its attendees grow in numbers and diversity.
Optimism = pledges + people. COP28 gave us reasons for hope, and it’s not necessarily just the diplomacy itself. Signatories’ commitments don’t have the world on track for 1.5 degrees of warming. But the pledges exist, and that makes for a better world than 28 years ago when the world was staring down endless coal dependence. And more than a week in, COP28 news stories are still the biggest in the world right now simply because the world set aside this time to focus on climate. The act of gathering around the task at hand is revolutionary, and despite slow progress, COP is better than no COP.
To abate or not to abate, to phase down or phase out. Words matter. The US delegation began using the word “unabated” in conjunction with phasing out fossil fuels for the first time. The word implies oil and gas revenue-dependent countries can emit as long as there’s a plan for capture or removal. This has been a sticking point the whole COP, as it is still unclear whether CCUS is ready for wide scale deployment, especially at the 90-95% efficiencies required to be effective. But maybe the starkest battle line at COP has been drawn between the terms “phase down” and “phase out”. Using “phase down” in negotiations brings more fossil fuel advocates to the table but activists believe anything other than “phase out” will keep too much carbon pouring into the atmosphere.
The impassable impossible middle path. The UAE, COP’s host, forged a perilous middle path that delights neither end of the fossil fuel spectrum. Before COP began, OPEC and the IEA exchanged words over whether oil and gas producers should restrict supply in line with net zero goals. The UAE played both sides, at once unveiling a $30B climate investment fund while allegedly negotiating petro side deals. The tenor set so far could result in an unhappy compromise for all parties.
The tripling…will be hard. One of COP’s primary objectives is to 3X the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030 to 11,000 GW. This is much more of a challenge in economies without robust modern energy systems. Some see nuclear as the answer with 22 countries committing to triple their capacity by 2050, and even talk of the US exporting SMRs to developing countries like Ghana, although security concerns could interfere. Regardless of the strategy, for nuclear to contribute meaningful capacity by 2030, construction probably should have started yesterday.
Artificially inflated intelligence. AI was just as much the rage at COP as it is anywhere else. Discussions centered both around its demand for power and how it can accelerate solutions. For some, hopes are high that it can revolutionize the energy industry, but others see AI working mostly on the margins.
Quotes [that resonated]
“Momentum is built in moments. On Sunday from 10pm-1am I had 3 hours of the most electrifying climate conversations that I can remember. CEOs, investors, and leaders of major agencies seemed animated with a sense of purpose. This electric energy and quest for ambition has already influenced major decisions that will never be reported in official COP commitments.” - Dawn Lippert on LinkedIn
“What’s driving it is private sector activity - real people on the ground, doing real things. The energy transition is happening in a big way.” - Bill Spindle on the Energy Gang podcast
“Because CCUS is hard assets, you naturally have offtakers that are large companies, so you need to create infra-like project finance structures.” - Neil Brown, KKR, on a Bloomberg Business Summit panel
“What more can Chevron do? Everything.” - John Kerry, on a Bloomberg Green panel
Lots and lots of news
Nearly 120 countries agreed to a target to triple renewable power generation capacity to 11,000 GW and double energy efficiency within the decade.
Fifty oil and gas companies pledged to achieve near zero-methane emissions by 2030 and a fund for methane abatement projects in emerging markets.
Over 130 countries signed a declaration to include emissions from agriculture and farming in their national climate plans, with a coalition of 25+ leading food and agriculture organizations committing to regenerative agriculture.
Over 60 countries pledged to reduce emissions in the cooling sector to provide universal access to cooling.
COP28 mobilized over $57 billion within its first four days, setting a new precedent in the global climate agenda.
COP28 marked the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, including commitments from the UAE ($100M), Germany ($100M), UK (£40M for the Fund and £20M for other arrangements), Japan ($10M), and the US ($17.5M).
The World Bank committed to offering Climate-Resilient Debt Clauses (CRDCs) in existing loans which will allow for a pause in debt and interest payments for two years in the event of natural disasters.
The UK announced a pioneering climate resilient debt clause to be deployed in Senegal, the first of its kind in Africa.
On day 2 of COP28, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) revealed Alterra, a $30B climate fund for global climate solutions self-described as the world’s largest private investment vehicle for climate action.
Adani Green Energy, India's largest renewable power producer, announced plans to invest an additional $22 billion to quintuple its capacity by 2030.
Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners announced a $3 billion fund at COP aimed at financing green power projects in emerging markets.
The Rockefeller foundation and Bezos Earth Fund releaseda framework for the Energy Transition Accelerator designed to generate funding through the voluntary carbon market to help developing countries transition to cleaner sources of energy.
35 countries joined US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry’s nuclear fusion plan to focus on research and development, supply chain issues, regulation and safety.
27 countries launched the Buildings Breakthrough initiative to achieve near-zero emissions and resilient buildings by 2030.
30 shipping industry leaders signed a Joint Commitment to enable the use of renewable hydrogen-derived shipping fuel within this decade. [Read more about maritime decarbonization here].
27 countries signed the UAE Hydrogen Declaration of Intent endorsing a global hydrogen certification standard.