The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 28, concluded this week with significant commitments by the international community to address the climate change challenges. The headline from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat* is “COP28 Agreement Signals “Beginning of the End” of the Fossil Fuel Era.”
According to the agreements made at this COP, everyone, including governments, companies, institutions, and individuals (from all countries), should seriously go home and plan how to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels. And this needs to happen “for real” in a fast, just, and equitable way. Despite the skepticism, and feelings that “it is not enough,” that may emerge and with good reasons, we should acknowledge the historic achievement on the agreement to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems. Clearly, this “way without return” of undergoing an energy transition greatly depends on new technologies and financing, as well as economic interests and power.
In any case, it seems that indeed there is a collective understanding that “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future,” as stated in the Earth Charter’s Preamble. However, not all have a shared understanding that this cannot be done without materializing the principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities,” a principle within the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that acknowledges the different capabilities and differing responsibilities of individual countries in addressing climate change. And in the Earth Charter, we find this principle articulated as “with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good.” (principle 2b).
Turning conscience into action to address climate change means all of us (as individuals, institutions, countries and global community) need to look at:
- The energy we consume.
- The waste we generate.
- The food we eat, the way we build our houses, and anything we consume.
- The knowledge and power we have through our decisions to mitigate the impact.
- Our capacity to adapt and help others.
COP28 marked the conclusion of the first Global Stocktake, a comprehensive assessment of the progress made in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Hence, it was key to come up with a clear plan of action, including measures that need to be put in place to bridge the gaps in progress. So, governments adopted a decision on “the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement, which recognizes the need for deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with 1.5°C pathways. It encourages parties to come forward in their next nationally determined contributions with ambitious, economy-wide emission reduction targets, covering all GHGs, sectors and categories and aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C” (IISD/ENB). According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, highlights of this agreement include:
- Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030;
- accelerating efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power;
- accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems;
- transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly, and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.
Furthermore, the Climate Change COP became a platform not only of intergovernmental negotiations, but also of non-state actor’s advocacy, networking, partnership building and showcasing important efforts going on around the world— “outside the government spheres.” From young activists to scientists, faith groups and various organizations including UN agencies. We celebrate that!
We are also particularly happy with the ‘The Declaration for Education and Climate Change’ (click here to find it), spearheaded by the UNESCO Greening Education Partnership global initiative, which reaffirms the importance of enhancing “climate change education to support transitions to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies and societies (which has already been agreed upon in Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement).
The Declaration seeks to further global efforts to build climate-smart education systems through the four pillars of action of the Greening Education Partnership (Greening schools, Greening curriculum, Greening teacher training and education system’s capacities, and Greening communities), and involves pledges to:
- emphasize the role of education in supporting all learners to develop adequate knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to adapt to new climate realities and develop innovative solutions for a sustainable future.
- develop comprehensive education sector strategies to build climate-smart and resilient education systems.
As can be seen throughout the history of the environmental movement, even reaching global consensus on the message that we need to move away from the burning of fossil fuels has been extremely difficult, and now more than ever, it’s time to turn this conscience into action. We hope that the global community will count on the necessary political will, financing, collaboration, and education necessary to make these positive changes happen in a timely manner.
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* The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. The annual Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP) is a global climate summit.
“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life” (The Earth Charter).