This year’s UN Climate Change Conference, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28), will see the culmination of the first Global Stocktake (GST) with the convening of CMA 5, the fifth Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA). The GST is an assessment of global action on climate change, in particular the progress of Parties to the Paris Agreement as against their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs). The GST also identifies gaps in ambition as well as pathways for further progress, thereby forming a key component in the ratcheting of NDCs to bring global projected emissions pathways closer to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, next to occur by 2025.

Broadly, the whole process comprising the GST consists of three components:

  1. information collection and preparation, which occurred between CMA 3 (Nov 2021) and SB 58, the 58th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) (June 2023);
  2. the technical assessment, which occurred between SB 56 (June 2022) and SB 58 (June 2023), commencing with collating the information to be assessed, including identifying known gaps, then shifting to identifying how to bridge such gaps and implement climate action, before concluding with a focus on next steps for progressing Paris Agreement-aligned climate action; and
  3. the consideration of outputs, which will occur at CMA 5 as part of COP28. This final stage will provide the forum for political consideration of the implications of the technical assessment findings, in order to gauge progress against NDCs, identify gaps and agree next steps.

Following the first GST and apart from communicating their ratcheted NDCs by 2025, Parties will submit their first biennial transparency report (intended to provide information on Parties’ progress on greenhouse gas emissions and climate action) in 2024, with updated communications on each Parties’ progress on adaptation progress to occur in the background.

Outcomes of technical report for the first Global Stocktake

The focus of CMA 5 at COP28 will be on the outcomes contained in the ‘Synthesis report by the co-facilitators on the technical dialogue‘, published at the end of the technical assessment in September 2023. The outcomes covered four thematic areas, being the context for climate action, mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support, with the following broad conclusions drawn:

  • Global action: The adoption of the Paris Agreement has galvanised global action on climate, with increasing ambition via NDCs lowering projected global warming pathways. Promisingly, this has also translated into early action across mitigation, adaptation and provision of support for implementing climate action measures. However, global emissions still remain well-above required levels, with emissions intensive activities across Party and non-Party stakeholders alike increasing. Meanwhile, more work on adaptation in particular is required, with efforts to date primarily planning-focused and broad scale change still to occur. Ultimately, in order to achieve the Paris Agreement target, support from Party and non-Party stakeholders, as well as international cooperation, will be required.
  • Enabling conditions and barriers: To further advance global action on climate change, enabling conditions for such action need to be strengthened (such as through providing political commitment and international cooperation) as well as focusing on overcoming key barriers to climate action within national boundaries. Any implementation of climate ambition must necessarily be inclusive (by ensuring non-Party stakeholders are considered and involved in the implementation of climate action) in order to achieve the Paris Agreement target. Not least, any implementation must be clearly and transparently communicated, in order to lend credence to these activities as well as provide guidance to other Parties seeking to increase their climate ambition and benefit from innovative action.
  • Systems change: Ultimately, whole of systems-change is required in order to deliver on the scale of climate action needed (as well as to adequately adapt to the changing climate). This change is both a challenge and a great opportunity for societies and economies alike. Central to this is the transformation of energy systems to sources of clean energy. The equity of any climate action is fundamental, as climate change will affect everyone differently, and so implementation of climate action must be tailored to the specific national and local contexts. Not least, a whole-of-society approach is also required, in order to ensure that all sectors of the economy are aligned in achieving the Paris Agreement target, with all sectors of society included in the development and implementation of climate action. As part of this, diversification of economies will be key to managing transformational risk as well as climate change risk.
  • Gaps in achieving target: There are two key gaps to achieving the Paris Agreement target, being:
    • emissions gaps: collectively, NDC commitments are not sufficient to meet the target; and
    • implementation gaps: extant policies and actions fall short of reaching the target and, indeed, NDCs.

Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Global peaking of emissions is yet to occur, although peaking has occurred in developed countries. It is acknowledged that this will necessarily occur later for developing countries. Further NDC commitments will need to address the emissions gap, with implementation to follow. In general, unabated fossil fuels must be phased out (coal rapidly, with gas and oil to follow more slowly, and noting that subsidies must be withdrawn), concomitant with the scaling of clean energy and widespread electrification, protection of forests and other carbon sinks, and limited use of carbon capture and storage for near-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The latter technology still has significant barriers to overcome (such as geophysical, technological and societal).

  • Implementation: Implementation of national mitigation measures and agreeing to more ambitious climate targets is required to meet the Paris Agreement target. There are some mitigation options that are already more cost-effective than their high-emissions counterparts, with other options available at low cost, in particular solar and wind energy, energy efficiency improvements and stopping the destruction of ecological carbon sinks. However significant challenges remain in order to fully embrace these opportunities, particularly to implement them rapidly and at scale. Again, a focus on enabling conditions can help. Further, there is a recognition that implementation must be done responsibly, in order to ensure an equitable and just transition, and that the focus on equitable action should increase as NDCs are ratcheted upwards.

Key areas to focus implementation include reducing industrial emissions, which will require demand management, energy efficiency gains and implementation of technological changes. Planning and development of cities also needs to be considered, with compact designs to reduce waste and encourage more sustainable modes of travel within urban centres. Transportation should focus on the shift to electrification as well as shifting transport modes (eg to cycling and public transport), along with rapidly reducing emissions from shipping, aviation and freight.

  • Ambition: Overall, more ambition to meet the Paris Agreement target is needed. The Paris Agreement includes the ratchet mechanism for NDCs, which NDCs must represent Parties’ highest possible ambition. As mentioned, Parties’ next NDCs will be informed by the first GST, by providing information on how Parties can increase their NDC commitments. The GST has identified a number of good practice measures, along with opportunities, barriers and challenges in implementation and thereby raising of ambition. Further, in raising ambition Parties should focus on also achieving sustainable development outcomes in order to deepen greenhouse gas emissions reductions as well as provide additional benefits to societies (for instance, by improving health outcomes through better air quality). 
  • Adaptation: More adaptation is needed more quickly in order to keep pace with the increasing impacts of climate change, with those impacts already eroding previous gains made in climate action. Increased action is also needed on loss and damage, as biodiversity and certain communities are already suffering from climate change. Adaptation will therefore need to be context-specific. One of the key barriers to this ambition is the difficulty with systematically monitoring progress towards it. Adaptation will also require a re-thinking of traditional approaches, such as in respect of infrastructure, which has rarely been designed and planned with climate risks at its heart. Further, the costs and barriers to adaptation are only increasing.

Overall, adaptation approaches are fragmented, uneven across sectors and societies, and occurring incrementally. Climate change adaptation is an iterative process, with consideration of climate risk becoming more mainstream, but implementation and monitoring of action based on those considerations still lacking. Focus needs to be on providing actionable climate information to policy-makers to inform adaptation planning and implementation, as well as disseminating climate information to local users, particularly in respect of action on loss and damage. Ultimately, adaptation changes should open up opportunities for further systemic changes in response to climate change.

  • Climate finance: In order to adapt and in order to reach the Paris Agreement target more generally, substantial re-direction of financial flows is required to ensure finance is going to those sectors, communities and nations most in need. Such finance needs to be re-directed urgently. International public finance is considered central to enabling climate mitigation and adaptation. Financial support from developed countries to developing countries will still play a major role, with the emphasis in developing countries on building climate mitigation and adaptation capacity. Further, financial systems need to be transformed to enable most cost-effective action in order to achieve actual outcomes. In that regard, capital markets and public finance generally will each have their role to play.

Gaps identified under the first Global Stocktake

The first GST also identified the following two information gaps, being the need to consider:

  • emissions scenarios that lead to global warming temporarily exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, before dipping back below that level. A better understanding of this could inform the scale of greenhouse gas emissions removals, potential loss and damage impacts, and help identify key adaptation focus areas; and
  • a consideration of what climate impacts will be reversible and irreversible, as well as a better understanding of how to avoid and respond to key tipping points.

Elements to guide consideration of the first Global Stocktake at COP28

Both Party and non-Party stakeholders were invited to submit their views on the elements arising from the first GST for the consideration of outputs at CMA 5. Submissions were received from 24 Parties, representing 180 Parties and 44 non-Parties, and a report was prepared setting out their views on the elements. The report highlighted the following:

  • emphasis on the linkages between the global response to climate change and other significant global issues (such as human rights, support for developing countries and biodiversity crises) and the need for outcomes to be based upon the best available science as well as be equitable, taking into consideration the different stages at, and contexts in which, countries and communities find themselves;
  • a consideration of key elements in relation to backward-looking information (being a review of collective progress, gaps, challenges and barriers) and forward-looking opportunities and messages for further progress in respect of mitigation, adaptation, finance flows, means of implementation and support, technology transfer, capacity building, and loss and damage;
  • enhancing international cooperation for climate action, amongst both Party and non-Party stakeholders in line with the Paris Agreement, including through:
    • cooperative initiatives and partnerships, including in thematic climate action areas;
    • engagement of non-Party stakeholders and recognition of the importance of multilateralism;
    • cooperation in the use of Article 6 instruments; and
    • facilitation of synergies across intergovernmental processes and greater cooperation between COP Presidencies;
  • guidance concerning NDCs and the implementation of other existing processes or workstreams; and
  • follow-up work, including by Parties, UNFCCC bodies and other stakeholders.

Expected outcomes of the first Global Stocktake at COP28

Nearly all Parties identified the desired GST outcomes to include:

  • a CMA 5 decision providing for a robust follow-up mechanism, to ensure scrutiny of the first GST and urging Parties to incorporate insights from the GST into their NDCs. Indeed, an intersessional workshop in mid-October has considered the elements for the outputs of the GST and already begun considering a draft decision;
  • a supplementary declaration to the CMA 5 decision to provide political signals to stakeholders (including non-State and non-Party stakeholders) to contribute towards climate change ambition; and
  • a technical annex reflecting opportunities, challenges, lessons and good practices that are compatible with the findings of the technical assessment.

The exact outcome of CMA 5 and the first GST remains to be seen, but any outcome can be expected to set a precedent for approaches for GST reviews in years to come.