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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

COP28 Perspective: The Global Stocktake and best available science


4 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Jim Skea, IPCC Chair Photo: J Skea
Jim Skea CBE FRSE FEI HonFSE, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Photo: J Skea

Jim Skea CBE FRSE FEI HonFSE, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), expresses his views in a personal capacity on the progress of the Paris Agreement.

One of the defining features of the Paris Agreement is a ‘ratchet mechanism’ – a five-yearly review of global progress towards the Agreement’s temperature, adaptation and finance goals known as the ‘Global Stocktake’. Without singling out any individual country, this is intended to encourage a stepping up of ambition as expressed in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).


The Technical Dialogue phase of the stocktake, relying heavily on underlying science, including recent IPCC reports, concluded earlier in 2023. The first Global Stocktake itself will conclude with a political output at COP28 in Dubai.


More action needed
So, what did the report of the Technical Dialogue conclude? The first overarching conclusion is that the Paris Agreement has signalled the urgency of responding to the climate crisis and, more optimistically, has driven near-universal climate action, including goal setting.


However, governments still need to support system transformations that mainstream low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions development. While these transformations open up many opportunities, focusing on inclusion and equity can increase ambition and support rapid, but potentially disruptive, changes.


Reflecting the Paris Agreement goals, the Technical Dialogue report focuses on climate change mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation including, specifically, finance. For the energy sector, the mitigation findings are critical. But it is also important to see mitigation in the context of all three interlocking Paris goals. If the principles of inclusion and equity are to be followed, progress on any one of the goals depends on progress on them all.


The mitigation findings draw heavily on the IPCC Seventh Cycle Synthesis Report, approved in March 2023. To quote: ‘Global emissions are not in line with modelled global mitigation pathways consistent with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement, and there is a rapidly narrowing window to raise ambition and implement existing commitments in order to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’.


More ambition in action and support is needed in implementing domestic mitigation measures and setting more ambitious targets in order to reduce global GHG emissions by 43% by 2030 and further by 60% by 2035 compared with 2019 levels and reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 globally. This would need system transformations across all sectors, including scaling up renewable energy while phasing out all unabated fossil fuels, reducing non-CO2 emissions, such as methane from fossil fuel systems, and implementing both supply- and demand-side measures.


The Technical Dialogue report also flags the importance of economic diversification and ‘just transitions’ to support more robust and equitable mitigation outcomes, tailored to specific contexts and circumstances.


The language of the Technical Dialogue report is measured, but is quite explicit about two gaps. The ‘emissions gap’ measures the divergence between NDCs and what would be required to meet the long-term temperature goal in the Paris Agreement, while the ‘implementation gap’ measures how much current policies and actions fall short of reaching stated targets and pledges. In both respects, there is much to be done to bridge action and aspiration.


A political issue
The Technical Dialogue was the first step in the Global Stocktake. We have now entered the political phase, and it remains to be seen what conclusions will be reached at COP28.


However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has already published a synthesis of government views. Some of the strongest consensus is on the role of science. The best available science needs to be recognised, and the IPCC is called out in multiple places. There are calls for the IPCC to address specific topics, including tipping points in the climate system; pathways on reduction of unabated coal use by 75% from 2019 levels by 2030; socio-economic costs, conditions, needs and implications of the Paris long-term temperature goal; and the global goal on adaptation.


These are all possible invitations or requests, and they may not all appear in the final stocktake output. Indeed, the IPCC would struggle to undertake all of these tasks given current procedures and ways of working. But they do illustrate the importance attached to the scientific underpinnings for climate action.


We have now entered the political phase, and it remains to be seen what conclusions will be reached at COP28.


Given the persistent reference to the ‘best available science’, the IPCC has been set a challenge for its Seventh Cycle, which began in July this year. IPCC member governments decided that the cycle would last between five to seven years, covering the second Global Stocktake in 2028 and, potentially, the target date of 2030 for the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.


There have been two clear signals coming from the UNFCCC and governments. IPCC reports should reflect the 2020s as being the ‘decade of action’, and some IPCC products should be available to inform the second Global Stocktake. Decisions about the shape of the coming cycle will be made in early 2024.


But whatever decisions are made, the challenge for the IPCC to provide the best available science in a timely and policy relevant manner is clear.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.