Promising initiatives were announced at COP28, but these are only scratching the surface of the opportunity, writes Kieron Boyle
I've always rather liked the phrase a 'fair cop'. For those less familiar with British colloquialisms, it's an excellent way of saying you've been caught fair and square.
The COP28 climate summit was pitched with great aspirations: it would make meaningful progress against climate change and do so equitably.
This, of course, had its sceptics — people reasonably questioning whether these conferences achieve anything, if public commitments ever materialise, and whether this is a global theatre that does little more than maintain the status quo.
So, which is it? Was this a 'fair' COP? Or should we be saying 'fair cop', and that the conference didn't go nearly far enough?
It looks like a bit of both. After days of negotiations, countries agreed to transition away from all fossil fuels to reach net zero emissions globally by 2050 and triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030.
That the final wording referred to a transition "in a just, orderly, and equitable manner" and that these agreements were reached in a fossil fuel-producing country is meaningful.
Just as important, but less visible from outside of the summit, was the presence of the global finance community, which practically provides the capital needed to achieve those aspirations. The consensus from this group was quite clear: the money needed to transform our economy and make it fit for the 21st century is there; now is the time to act.
All in all, a positive and potentially historic result. But at the same time, an enormous amount could be stronger.
"If we want real progress, we need to see more capital not only pledged but deployed, more explicit targeting of social considerations in the transition, and more equal partnerships with local actors"
First, despite headline statements, much more capital actually needs to flow. We are currently achieving less than 20% of the $4 trillion needed in climate finance each year – and even less than that in emerging markets.
Developed countries need to follow up on their promise jointly to mobilise $100 billion in climate finance — a tiny fraction of the overall total, but that continues not to be met.
Second, we need more creative partnerships. Collaboration between financial market actors, governments, and civil society is crucial.
This means better and more targeted risk sharing between the public and private sectors — for example, through blended finance strategies and the deployment of catalytic impact capital.
Promising initiatives were announced at COP28, but these are only scratching the surface of the opportunity.
Third, people must be at the heart of the transition to a low-carbon economy. Unless climate finance simultaneously supports economic and social development, we won't mobilise the global cooperation needed to make net zero a reality. That means fairness between the Global North and Global South in the hard questions of who pays for transition and adaptation, and balancing social and community outcomes alongside environmental ones. We've written before on how a just transition is the only one that will work.
The coming months will show how the world will move from pledges to action. One of the slogans of this year's UN climate conference was "unite, act, deliver."
This means that if we want real progress, we need to see more capital not only pledged but deployed, more explicit targeting of social considerations in the transition, and more equal partnerships with local actors. That would be the fair COP we could all be happy with.
Kieron Boyle is the CEO of the Impact Investing Institute, an independent non-profit set up to connect capital to impact. The Institute acts as a bridge between new economic ideas and mainstream capital markets. In November 2023, it published a guide on using catalytic capital for a global transition.
This is part of a series of monthly columns Boyle writes for Environmental Finance.
See the others here: