What can we expect from COP28?


The 28th United Nations Climate Conference (COP28) will soon be underway in Dubai, as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We interviewed Annelies De Coninck (The Shift) and Joerdi Roels (QUESS) for a look ahead at what we can expect.

We are now halfway to the 2030 targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. In every way, we're confronted with the challenges of climate change: hot, largely dry summers, with highly concentrated rainfall that results in flooding. The latter is one of the effects we feel all too well here in Belgium. If we do not manage to keep global warming below the 1.5°C target, this vicious circle will only accelerate. The projections from the 2015 climate summit went as high as 3.5°C. We asked our experts what they think COP28 will have in store.

What do you expect from COP28?

Annelies: Over the past few months and days, it's become clear that we're not on track to meet the commitments made at the climate summit in Paris eight years ago. Instead of a maximum of 1.5°C warming, the latest reports from the Global Stock Take (GST) show that, with the current measures in place, we'll end up with at least a 2.5°C increase. That's a serious problem because every 0.1°C makes the effects of climate change exponentially worse. I see this COP as the moment of truth to say a final goodbye to a global economy driven primarily by fossil fuels. Phasing them out is one of the main goals of the COP negotiators for the European Union and a large number of companies have also launched campaigns to convince the various countries. Within the Belgian Alliance for Climate Action, we also see several companies actively supporting this campaign. The scale at which we need to accelerate renewable energy and other climate-neutral technologies is enormous if we want to be in with a chance of meeting the Paris goals.

Joerdi: I don't have a crystal ball, but I do expect it to be a wake-up call. The interim results of the GST are hopefully going to open some eyes and either accelerate action or scale it up. From a purely technology standpoint, there are plenty of opportunities, such as carbon capture and going all in on green hydrogen. But now we need to start implementing those technologies and set the right targets.

Do we actually need to be making these efforts at a global level? Can't each country can set its own rules?

Annelies: Yes and no. The purpose of COP is to set common goals that each country can then figure out how to achieve on a practical level. It's a global problem – we're in this together. Sure, it's a cliché, but there's no alternative. We have to look for solutions in which everyone participates. Of course, certain rules need to be nuanced at the national level, but the ultimate goals must be defined on a larger scale. Given the unprecedented pace at which we need to transform our global economy, everyone has to do their part. Over the past eight years, a lot of good measures have already been put in place and new technologies rolled out. In Belgium, we're seeing the curve of CO2 emissions fall, but that curve is staying relatively flat. Our emissions are also falling less quickly than most of our neighbours. That means we need more, and especially faster, actions and measures to be implemented.  

Joerdi: It's also a question of setting priorities. If we look back over the past three years, we've had a global pandemic and had to completely adapt our ways of working from one day to the next. There are also a number of geopolitical conflicts whose impact we shouldn't underestimate. And just look at what a microchip shortage did to the automotive market.

To what extent should we expect practical guidelines?

Joerdi: Each country will have to determine that for themselves; a lot depends on the national and regional legislative framework. That said, we can take a lead on this – although Belgium is primarily a country of small and medium-sized enterprises, every organisation can do their bit. Just think about the electrification of car fleets.

Annelies: We see more and more companies incorporating long-term climate impact into their operations. These are companies that are investing now because they see the long-term competitive advantage of doing so. Investors and boards of directors are also increasingly asking companies to take responsibility in this area and to include both the long-term risks and opportunities that climate change brings to business operations.

Want to get started with the Net Zero Guidelines yourself? You can find the guideline IWA42:2022 for free in NBN's e-shop. So your organisation can also contribute to global efforts to reduce global warming to 1.5°C.

So Net Zero by 2050 is achievable?

Annelies: Let me put it this way: the technology is largely there. Wind power, solar power, heat pumps – there are plenty of opportunities. However, the production and installation of these green energy sources will have to step up a notch if we really want to see a change. The costs associated with these technologies will continue to decrease, which should speed up implementation. In terms of costs, the National Bank of Belgium has calculated that the transition to a climate-neutral economy is macro-economically feasible for Belgium.

Joerdi: It's also a matter of making choices, and shifting our thinking to the long term. Before we jump on a solution, we need to at least identify the consequences. The downside is that those consequences can only be measured effectively after implementation, and regulations always lag behind. Above all, we need to have the courage to take a preventative approach – prevention is still better than cure.

Should we consider the guidelines an end goal or an absolute minimum?

Annelies: As a country, we should have the ambition to consider this as a minimum target. Also, we can't lose sight of reality – for some manufacturing companies, it's very difficult to reduce CO2 emissions quickly. While investments are being made in new solutions for these rather exceptional situations, for the vast majority of companies, it's mainly a matter of accelerating the implementation of what already exists.

Joerdi: In the world of standards, we also see this increasing focus on climate; in most management system standards (e.g. ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001), the harmonised structure was revised and endorsed in September 2023. These standards now explicitly include aspects related to the climate. More specifically, it's about identifying the impact of climate change on an organisation, and that stakeholders may have certain expectations and even requirements regarding climate change.

Finally, should we expect a shift from sustainability to liability?

Annelies: The establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP27 is a good example of this. The fund provides the countries most affected by climate change with financial support so they can take measures to mitigate that impact. It also gives them the means to do their part.

Joerdi: It's mainly the G20 countries that have the greatest impact on emissions. For example, Africa has contributed less to greenhouse gas emissions, but they experience a much greater impact from climate change. Of course, providing 'compensation' is not a long-term solution – this global issue has to be addressed at the source, and for that, COP28 offers a good basis in the form of a consultative platform.

Thank you for your interest!
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