COP28, which just concluded in Dubai, was the twelfth Conference of the Parties I’ve attended—and one that, somewhat unexpectedly, left me feeling more hopeful about climate progress. That’s because the COP made real headway on three key areas that can play a central role in driving climate action forward:
- In the negotiations themselves, the Global Stocktake sent clear signals for priority near-term actions to help close the gap between where global emissions are—and where they must be to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement;
- Outside the formal talks, business leadership on climate action was apparent—and manifested in countless solutions-focused discussions about concrete pathways to accelerate the net-zero transition and invest in resilience and adaptation;
- And developments in the voluntary carbon market, which has gone through a recent crisis of confidence, highlighted the path forward to enhance integrity, rebuild confidence, and deliver capital at scale.
First, the outcome of the Global Stocktake. The COP decision included clear calls for near-term collective climate action, among them tripling renewable energy production by 2030, transitioning away from fossil fuels, and accelerating reductions in methane emissions. Crucially, the outcome linked those high-level signals to the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that countries must submit in advance of COP30 and set out a workplan going forward. Also notable was that the stocktake decision underscored the importance of adaptation—a key note of inclusion for vulnerable countries already dealing with the impacts of climate change.
Like every COP outcome, its impact will depend on the decisions and actions taken in capitals and boardrooms around the world. The power of the UN process derives in large part from its ability to shape norms, set expectations, and catalyze collective action. The fact that nearly 200 countries agreed to the text sends a clear signal to governments, companies and investors – and creates the basis for NGOs and civil society to hold countries to account for their commitment. C2ES has been preparing for the stocktake for more than two years, convening negotiators, collaborating with a range of partners to develop and disseminate ideas and proposals, and working behind the scenes, and it was gratifying to see so much of our work reflected in the outcome.
Second, business leadership. COP has long been two events in one: the climate talks themselves, and the side events and convenings that constitute what a senior U.S. official wittily dubbed the “greater metropolitan COP.” Much has been made of the increase in the quantity of people attending, which was estimated at 100,000 people (of whom only ten percent or so are directly involved in the negotiations). I was more struck by the quality of participation. Companies from across the economy showed up in force, many at the CSO or CEO level. They came not only to showcase climate commitments but—more importantly—to participate in constructive and candid dialogues about challenges, opportunities, and new areas of exploration that were as solutions-focused as they were collaborative.
C2ES was at the center of many of these discussions; I facilitated ten panels and closed-door roundtables (and participated in half a dozen more) where members of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council and other companies discussed the steps they are taking—and investments they are making—to cut emissions in their operations and supply chains, develop and deploy new climate technologies, and build climate resilience. These discussions also made clear just how vital the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act have been in catalyzing climate and clean energy investment in the United States.
Finally, a word on carbon markets. While the formal negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement failed to make progress, there was a palpable sense that the voluntary carbon market—which companies draw on to cut emissions both inside and outside of their value chains, as part of their corporate climate strategies—is on the upswing. The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market, which C2ES supports as a founding member of the Executive Secretariat, participated in nearly 60 events throughout the COP, putting integrity front and center in discussions about the future of the market. The Energy Transition Accelerator, the partnership between the Bezos Earth Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, and U.S. State Department intended to speed the just clean energy transition in developing countries, demonstrated how an innovative sectoral-scale carbon crediting approach could help mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars in new climate finance. That twin focus on integrity and innovation is injecting new life, and hope, into the global discussion about carbon markets.
I left COP buoyed by optimism. Solution sets are rapidly multiplying. Investment in those solutions is being thoughtfully and aggressively pursued by both public and private actors. C2ES’s influence were seen throughout all corners of the conference, and C2ES’s diplomatic leadership, intellectual capital, and convening authority are propelling the global dialogue forward.