20.12.2023

Opening the mixed bag from COP28: An Asian perspective

Did COP28 succeed in driving globally enforced actions? Take a deep-dive into key outcomes of COP28, focusing on the roles, perspectives, and commitments of Asian nations.

Governments worldwide convened at COP28 in Dubai to discuss the urgent need for Climate Action. Despite the unconventional choice of hosting COP in an oil-producing country, the pivotal question remained: did the event succeed in driving globally enforced actions? This article aims to dissect the key outcomes of COP28, focusing on the roles, perspectives, and commitments of Asian nations.

Key Topics and Outcomes of COP28

As usual, there was a lot on the agenda for negotiators at COP 28. Besides the major aspects of mitigation and adaptation, means of implementation and support (aka finance), and the operationalisation of the Loss &Damages fund, as well as the Global Stock-Take were set to hit center-stage in Dubai. While the Global Stock-Take is a task that was set up in the Paris Agreement as a mechanism of accountability, as every country had to report on their progress and current state of emissions. Furthermore, the Just Transition work program and the goals set by the COP-presidency needed to be addressed, while civil society actors were advocating for a clear decision to close the fossil fuel era for good.

Notably, COP28 opened with a historic move as Germany and the host country pledged $100 million each to the future L&D fund, fast-tracking a decision that would typically be announced later in the conference. This bold move injected energy into negotiations, but caution prevailed as draft texts faced delays and weak language.

Finally, a compromise agreement was reached after the usual extension of negotiations. It reflected a delicate balance between developed and developing nations, addressing greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring that countries contribute proportionally based on their historic responsibility for the climate crisis. While the conference did not fully agree on a 'phase-out' of fossil fuels, a decision was made to "transition away" from fossil fuels, emphasising a just, orderly, and equitable manner to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Noteworthy was the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund, which received nearly US$800 million pledges, demonstrating a commitment to supporting countries recovering from climate disasters. The initiative of the hosting country also highlighted the urgency of tripling the global installed capacity of renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030.

While the decisions and pledges on a macro-level give a first indication of the outcomes of this year's COP, a deep-dive into the position, perspectives and commitments of Asian countries offer more nuanced insights, showing specific priorities, hurdles and opportunities.

The Asian Super-Powers: India and China

During COP 28, India maintained its stance as a developing country and resisted forced cuts in energy-related emissions. This standpoint at least partly stems from India’s energy mix: Coal-fired power constitutes 80% of India's electricity supply. The country aims for 50% of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, despite challenges in meeting growing energy demands. Against this backdrop, India opposes setting specific timelines for phasing down coal. With surging domestic power demand, it also plans to add another 17 gigawatts of coal capacity over the next 16 months after producing a record amount of electricity from coal in October to make up for a shortfall in hydropower generation following lower-than-normal monsoon rains.

Still, in the end, India, represented by Environmental Minister Bhupender Yadav, welcomed the outcomes of COP28 but underscored developed nations' insufficient efforts to meet their mitigation and financial commitments.

On the other hand, if not yet like developed countries, China’s emission profile is beginning to look far less like other developing countries. Dynamic and swift pledges underpin China’s trajectory of climate policies. Yet, despite its leadership in clean technology deployment, China refrained from signing the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge at COP28, citing concerns about accountability and a preference for the UNFCCC decision-making platform.

China’s COP28 position also confirms that there is no new mandate on its domestic coal development. The final decision “calls on” parties to contribute to global efforts in “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power”. It did not address permitting new fossil fuel power generation capacity. Another provision sensitive to China is related to global peaking before 2025. The decision fell short of requesting the global community to peak soon. Instead, it only “recognizes” the projection for global emissions to “peak between 2020 and at the latest before 2025 in global modeled pathways” to limit warming to 1.5 °C without overshoot, and “notes that this does not imply peaking in all countries within this time frame.” Overall, early peaking and reducing the reliance on coal remain sensitive issues that China guards against. These issues would require significant efforts at the domestic level and international climate talks for further progress.

Voices from South-East Asia: Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam

Thailand

At Cop 26 in Glasglow, Thailand declared its revised climate action ambitions, saying it aimed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero emissions by 2065 to align with the 1.5C goal under the Paris Agreement. To be able to do so, it has raised the Nationally Determined Contribution or NDC from 20% to 40% by 2030. These targets have already been applied to guide the national policies, including in the 20-Year National Strategy and the 13th National Economic and Social Development Plan, according to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. At COP28, the Prime Minister reaffirmed the nation's commitments and called for multi-dimensional support, emphasizing technology access, financial assistance, and capacity building. With a focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and phasing out coal-generated power, Thailand has made strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the energy and transportation sectors.

The Philippines

For the Philippines, COP28 holds poignant significance, occurring just weeks after commemorating the 10th anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda, a catastrophic event that profoundly influenced the country's climate ambitions. Given its status as one of the world's most disaster-prone nations, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. strategically prioritized climate, energy, and food security. The aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda has significantly shaped the country's climate-issue stance.

President Marcos Jr. emphasized key priorities at COP28, including establishing the Loss and Damage (L&D) fund framework, expediting the energy transition, and bolstering climate finance. Notably, the Philippines showcased its commitment by offering to host the critical Loss and Damage Board, signaling a proactive role in global climate governance. In tandem with these initiatives, the Philippines joined the global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, aligning with their robust plans for renewables in South East Asia. According to a report by CEED, the Philippines, alongside Vietnam, emerges as a regional leader, with planned wind and solar capacity contributing significantly to the envisioned 328 GW of renewable energy capacity in South East Asia, marking a substantial stride toward sustainable and resilient energy systems.

Vietnam

Vietnams delegation to COP, led by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, played an active role in COP28, sharing its vulnerability to climate change and contributing to global efforts. As a highly vulnerable country to climate change, Vietnam also ranks second in South East Asia regarding GHG emissions. However, the commitment to net zero until 2050 and the recently introduced national guidelines showcases its ambitious commitment to achieving this goal (e.g., the Power Development Plan). One of the significant outcomes for Vietnam, therefore, was the publication of the Resource Mobilization Plan, which serves as an implementation guideline for the JET-P and the significant funds of 15,5 Billion Dollars.

Additionally, Vietnam emphasised climate change response based on equity and justice and called for global solidarity and concrete actions at COP28. Representatives of the country called for equal climate change response efforts and reduced GHG emissions, a stance often taken by highly affected countries. It joined the Coal Transition Accelerator, which aims to share expertise, design new policies, including through best practices and lessons learned and unlock new sources of public and private financing to facilitate just transitions from coal to clean energy.

Closing the mixed bag

So, while COP28 received mixed reviews regarding outcomes and commitments, it served again as a platform of international exchange, showcasing different perspectives from developing and developed countries. With the operationalisation of the L&D fund, a big step for global trust and cooperation was reached as demanded also by Asian countries, while on the other hand, the lack of adaption measures and funds was highlighted by those in need. Within Asian countries such as China, India, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, different characteristics of climate challenges came onto the table. For all of these countries, the phase-down and following the phase-out of fossil fuels entails a huge task.

Franziska Schmidtke heads the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's regional climate project in Asia, based in Vietnam. She was previously a consultant at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's Thuringia regional office. She accompanied the Asian delegation to COP28 in Dubai.

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