Climate change and COP28

What needs to happen?

The Earth from space.

Fast-tracking the energy transition

The Paris Agreement necessitates an urgent phasing out of fossil fuels alongside a system-wide transition to renewable energy.

Bird's-eye view of water. Bird's-eye view of water.
Dr Shivika Mittal, from Imperial's Grantham Institute.

Dr Shivika Mittal

Dr Shivika Mittal

Policy

Dr Shivika Mittal is a Lead Modeller in the Grantham Institute’s Mitigation team – a group of interdisciplinary researchers informing policies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Her work shows that current policies are insufficient for achieving the Paris Agreement.

“Even if we implement all our pledges, we’re still going to overshoot the 1.5°C target. That's without taking climate impact into account. We'll miss it by even further if we do," she says.

Graph showing the projected mitigation pathways and how current policies are insufficient to achieve current targets.

Projected mitigation pathways which do not take the ongoing impacts of climate change into account.

Projected mitigation pathways which do not take the ongoing impacts of climate change into account.

“There’s a big gap between what countries are saying and the policies they’re implementing.”
Dr Shivika Mittal

The impacts of climate change and our pathways for mitigating it are currently considered separately. Dr Mittal is figuring out how we can combine the two, so that countries can get a clearer sense of why it is important to act immediately.

“These are not separate worlds. Climate impact and mitigation exist in the same world, and one affects the other, she says.

Dr Mittal also highlights that: “There’s a big gap between what countries are saying and the policies they’re implementing. Even in the UK, we talk about net zero, but the government is relaxing its policy.” According to her, this mismatch is a major issue which needs to be addressed at COP28.

“There needs to be a monitoring mechanism which checks whether government targets align with the policies they’re implementing to achieve those targets,” she adds.

“Once you start overshooting 1.5°C, you fall into this vicious cycle where delaying mitigation only makes stopping climate change more and more difficult,” Dr Mittal warns.

Mitigating climate change and transitioning from fossil fuels requires significant investment in upgrading existing energy infrastructure to allow renewables to enter the market.

However, every country has a limited budget for achieving this.

As we delay climate action further, we make the impacts of climate change worse.

This demands more money to be spent on adaptation, aid, rebuilding efforts following extreme events, or re-escaping the poverty cycle after falling back into it.

This in turn drains the money set aside for mitigation, delaying action even further.

“Delaying action by 10 or 20 years isn’t going to help us achieve 1.5°C – we need strong policies now. We cannot go back if we cross a tipping point, so early action is vital in this COP.”
Dr Shivika Mittal

The 1.5°C target was strategically selected to help us evade the worst of climate change. Although current policies are insufficient for achieving this goal, Dr Mittal emphasises how critical it is that we continue doing our best regardless.

“Every 0.1°C we save takes us to a better place than if we did nothing. Each 0.1°C means we’re saving a thousand lives. Or a whole country. This is well worth our time and effort. So, we need to look at it from that angle and not think that overshooting means there's no point,” she says.

“These are thresholds from a scientific point of view. From a human perspective, we all know a 1°C world is significantly better than the 1.2°C world we’re living in today. Maybe we’re not in a better situation, but at least it's still liveable for future generations.”

Infographic showing first stage of the vicious cycle: delaying climate action.
Infographic showing the second stage of the vicious cycle: worse climate impact.
Infographic showing the third stage of the vicious cycle: increasing climate costs.
Infographic showing the final stage which completes the vicious cycle: emptied climate action budget.

Innovation

Fast-tracking the energy transition also requires technology. Alyssa Gilbert is the Director of Innovation at the Grantham Institute and leads Undaunted Imperial’s hub for climate change innovation.

“We cannot entirely rely on innovating our way out of climate change. Innovation is only a part of the solution,” she says. “Having said that, there is a role innovation can play at the implementation stage."

Alyssa Gilbert, from Imperial's Grantham Institute.

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa Gilbert

“We already have at least 50% of the technical solutions we need to stop climate change – we just need to implement them now.”
Alyssa Gilbert

According to Ms Gilbert, this necessitates innovative policies that can help roll out existing solutions, particularly relating to energy efficiency, renewable power and renewable power infrastructure, alongside innovative business models and pricing structures to distribute and adapt these technologies to diverse audiences and contexts.

Undaunted addresses exactly these challenges by bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and policymakers, fostering the scale-up of climate solutions, and developing the ecosystem and marketplace needed for climate startups to thrive.

“We do also need some brand-new innovations,” she adds. “Particularly around areas where we don't have solutions like alternative materials, mechanisms for recycling critical rare earth metals, and battery technologies that don't rely on lithium.

“However, we shouldn't wait for those, because we already have plenty that still needs to be implemented. Relying on innovation alone but ignoring the pathway to scale isn't the solution – we should do both.”

Aerial view of a luscious green forest.
The London skyline during sunset.
Infographic showing $803 billion of global climate finance flows per year on average between 2019-2020.
Infographic showing that this climate finance figure is relatively small compared to other types of cash flows in the financial system.
Infographic showing other financial flows in 2019-2020, including $1.34 trillion for fossil fuels and their subsidies, and $1.89 trillion for environmentally harmful subsidies.
Infographic showing that $100 billion in global climate finance has been pledged per year from developed countries to developing countries under the Paris Agreement.
Infographic saying that this $100 billion is only a fraction of what is needed for developing countries to achieve their climate goals.
Infographic showing that around $6 trillion of climate finance is actually needed for developing countries to achieve half of their existing targets.
The London skyline during sunset.

Fixing climate finance

Climate finance refers to funding used for activities that aim to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Mitigation and Adaptation

“When we talk about climate finance in relation to international events like COP, it really comes down to how much financial support wealthier countries will give to enable the less wealthy parts of the world to take action on climate change,” explains Ms Gilbert.

In her view, a major reason why climate finance needs ‘fixing’ is because commitments to provide these funds are either too low, unreliable, or delayed. In addition, not everyone likes the existing mechanisms and institutions used for distributing this money.

The obligation to provide financial support is enshrined in the Paris Agreement, which promised to mobilise US$100 billion per year for developing countries by 2020 – a figure determined through political negotiations and only partly based on scientific evidence of developing countries’ needs, which in fact run in the trillions.

This commitment, which has not been met, is set to be replaced by a new goal rooted in science-based assessments of the demonstrated needs and priorities of developing nations.

Loss and Damage

Climate finance also includes discussions around compensating the countries most affected by climate change. However, this funding is predominantly delivered as loans rather than grants, exacerbating debt pressures and inequities across regions further.

“One thing I know for sure is that the financial architecture needs reforming,” says Dr Joyce Kimutai, a Research Associate with the Grantham Institute and a member of the World Weather Attribution team - which studies extreme events as they happen to understand the extent to which climate change has caused them.

Dr Joyce Kimutai, from Imperial's Grantham Institute.
“The funding that [vulnerable countries] should be getting should be in the form of grants and not loans, so that they can continue to develop their economies, sustainably.”
Dr Joyce Kimutai

“For developing countries, any climate finance that comes to them is in the form of high-interest loans,” she explains. “They’re already having to dig deeper into their pockets to respond to extreme events, then on top, they must also ask for more loans that will likely escalate their debt burden.

“Reforming the ways in which developing and vulnerable nations can acquire credit is crucial. The funding that they should be getting should be in the form of grants and not loans, so that they can continue to develop their economies, sustainably.”

Ms Gilbert adds: “There's a clear need for funding, but no one's really decided - who's giving how much?, when are they going to do it?, can they be relied upon to do it?, and how is it being transferred in a way that everybody's happy? These issues remain contentious and difficult.”

Private finance

While public finance from developed to developing countries will be the main source of climate finance funds, this alone will be insufficient to meet the needs and priorities of developing countries. Private finance has to be mobilised as well.

“The capital investment needed to achieve 1.5°C is huge, so private finance is very important,” Dr Mittal says. “Only thing is, we need to figure out how to minimise the risks attached to investing in developing countries.”

She suggests having policies which protect private investors from credit risks, political instabilities, and currency fluctuations, while also having ways of monitoring, auditing and reporting the efficacy of investments, so funders can be certain that their investment is working.

“The capital investment needed to achieve 1.5°C is huge, so private finance is very important. Only thing is, we need to figure out how to minimise the risks attached to investing in developing countries.”
Dr Shivika Mittal

Technology can pose risks too. “The World Bank and other NGOs have implemented several solar plants which failed because the local population wasn’t equipped to operate the technology,” Dr Mittal warns.

Ms Gilbert adds: “Offering credible and well-supported upskilling programmes to create the necessary workforce that can deliver the larger-scale implementation of the solutions we already have is crucial.”

By removing such risks, developing countries can attract more private investment.

Close up of green fern leaves.

Focussing on people, nature, lives and livelihoods

As well as being fast, the energy transition must be fair.

Historical responsibility for climate change

Twenty-three rich, developed countries that account for just 12% of the global population are responsible for half of all historical carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry.

However, the worst impacts of climate change are felt disproportionately by developing nations that had little to do with causing it.

A map showing the areas of the world which will be most affected by severe weather events.

The areas that will experience multiple severe climate-related impacts at 4°C global warming, such as the Sahel region of Africa, Tropical South America, Southeast Asia and Southern Africa.

The areas that will experience multiple severe climate-related impacts at 4°C global warming, such as the Sahel region of Africa, Tropical South America, Southeast Asia and Southern Africa.

Projected global impacts of climate change

Map showing the areas of greatest concern for experiencing drought at 4°C global warming relative to pre-industrial levels.

Northern Africa, Tropical South America and parts of western Australia, the USA and southern Europe are likely to be among the worst affected areas for drought.

Northern Africa, Tropical South America and parts of western Australia, the USA and southern Europe are likely to be among the worst affected areas for drought.

Drought

Map showing the areas of greatest concern for experiencing food insecurities at 4°C global warming.

Large parts of Africa, South America and the Middle East are likely to be badly affected by food insecurity due to climate change.

Large parts of Africa, South America and the Middle East are likely to be badly affected by food insecurity due to climate change.

Food insecurity

Map showing the areas of greatest concern for experiencing extreme heat at 4°C global warming.

Extreme heat is expected to impact large parts of Africa, Central America, Oceania, South America, and South Asia.

Extreme heat is expected to impact large parts of Africa, Central America, Oceania, South America, and South Asia.

Extreme heat

Map showing the areas of greatest concern for experiencing river flooding at 4°C global warming.

Flooding is expected to impact large parts of Africa, East Asia, the Middle East, South America, and South Asia.

Flooding is expected to impact large parts of Africa, East Asia, the Middle East, South America, and South Asia.

River flooding

Map showing the areas of greatest concern for experiencing wild fires at 4°C global warming.

Large parts of Africa, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America, and South Asia are expected to be affected by wildfires due to climate change.

Large parts of Africa, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America, and South Asia are expected to be affected by wildfires due to climate change.

Wildfire

Dr Ivana Popovic, from Imperial's Grantham Institute.

Dr Ivana Popovic

Dr Ivana Popovic

Just Transition

A net zero transition will bring many societal benefits, such as environmental protection, improved health, and economic growth. However, climate policies can also result in social injustices. For instance, communities that are dependent on carbon-intensive activities or fossil fuel production for their livelihoods will lose a substantial portion of their incomes.

Dr Ivana Popovic is a Research Associate at Imperial’s Centre for Climate Finance and Investment. Her work focusses on the importance of ensuring a just transition.

“A green transition will create more jobs than it would take. Nevertheless, these new jobs might not necessarily emerge in the same locations as the old ones, potentially leading to involuntary migrations,” she says.

Low-income groups and communities may also lack the resources to adjust to the negative impacts that a green transition could bring.

“A just transition is about considering social injustices alongside environmental concerns by including all social actors into decision-making processes and understanding the full scope of a green transition – environmental, economic and social.”
Dr Ivana Popovic

The observed fairness of a net zero transition significantly influences public support for it, so ignoring just transition considerations could lead to climate action either failing or being delayed. This could also create economic and financial risks.

However, Dr Popovic notes that: “Just transition considerations are not to be used as an excuse or justification for climate inaction. We can’t keep delaying climate action because it also creates certain social injustices.

“The goal is to address urgent environmental issues while simultaneously acknowledging the existence of these adverse socioeconomic impacts and seeking solutions for them in a way that benefits everyone.”

Phasing down vs phasing out

A just transition looks at the impact that net zero will have on communities to identify where additional, proactive policy support may be required to minimise any negative impacts.

“If we close a coal mine, let’s invest at the same time in the green economy of that particular community to help them overcome their difficulties in an environmentally sustainable way,” Dr Popovic says.

Similarly, Dr Mittal argues that phasing out fossil fuels is necessary for achieving net zero or 1.5°C, but she says: We shouldn’t put all the burden on developing nations. Countries with historical responsibility for climate change must pay to help others to phase out.

“Climate change is not our only problem. Developing countries also face several other challenges like poverty. So, we need a just transition that tackles all these issues simultaneously, otherwise we could end up creating a set of new problems.”

Dr Kimutai adds: “We have to transform every bit of our lives, behaviours, food systems, infrastructure, and so on. Every part of every system needs to become sustainable.

“The problem is we're taking too long to transition by allowing ourselves to phase down,” she says. “For us to limit warming to 1.5°C, we need a deep, rapid and sustained cutting of emissions.”

Aerial photo of waves crashing against a beach.

Biodiversity

Dr Caroline Howe is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Social Science at Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy, teaching its longest-running MSc programme Environmental Technology. Her interdisciplinary research explores the shared relationship between people and nature, and how this influences policies around sustainable development and environmental conservation.

Dr Caroline Howe, from Imperial's Centre for Environmental Policy.

Dr Caroline Howe

Dr Caroline Howe

Biodiversity is currently declining at an unprecedented rate, with human activity pushing one million species of plants and animals towards extinction – the largest loss of life since the dinosaurs. Extinction is now a real possibility for many seemingly resilient species including giraffes, oak trees, parrots, cacti and even seaweed.

This biodiversity loss threatens all life on Earth; over 80% of our food comes from plants and roughly three billion people worldwide depend on fish for their protein. Likewise, 80% of rural populations in developing countries rely on traditional plant‐based medicines for basic healthcare.

Despite this, “biodiversity is often considered the poor cousin of climate change there's a lot more money invested in climate,” highlights Dr Howe. She adds that: “We cannot tackle one and ignore the other. If we lose biodiversity, we will fail on climate.

“Climate change is typically more visible to us than biodiversity loss because billions of people live in urbanised societies today, where they are removed from the fact that biodiversity is essential. It is therefore vital that we recreate our bond with nature.”

“We cannot tackle one and ignore the other. If we lose biodiversity, we will fail on climate.”
Dr Caroline Howe

Environmental education and improved access to green spaces can help with this. There are also international goals - such as the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 30 by 30, which aims to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030, and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Dr Howe acknowledges that these are goals that people can get behind. “I'm happy that at the international scale we can come to some agreement,” she says. However, for her, “The question is, how will it be implemented?”

She says: “Technically, there's a lot of land and sea that you could protect quite easily as it's got nothing left since we've destroyed it already - so, you're not necessarily achieving anything.

“The most biodiverse areas are also areas with the highest levels of poverty and communities that rely heavily on land for natural resources. Such interventions should therefore be implemented carefully by considering that sometimes the best people to look after those areas are the people that have always lived there and know how to use it.

“So, the 30 by 30 [framework] requires very careful consideration of where that 30% is and who may be influenced by, or affected by protecting that 30%.”

A black panther and a spotted panther staring into the distance.
A black panther and a spotted panther staring into the distance.
A black panther and a spotted panther staring into the distance.

Nature-based solutions

Biodiversity and climate change are inextricably linked; destroying nature is a major driver of climate change, while climate change is among the leading causes of nature loss.

Yet, they are often considered separately by most actors, including policymakers, financial institutions, and even the scientific community.

Dr Popovic, who also works on nature-related finance and investments, argues that this shouldn't be the case. She is among the growing voices calling for an integrated approach to nature and climate.

“Nature lags behind climate in some sense because, besides the scientific community, our understanding of climate change surpasses our knowledge of nature loss,” she says.

Biodiversity sequesters carbon pollution, cleans our air and water, protects us from the impacts of climate change, pollinates our crops and boosts our wellbeing. Yet, the significant potential of nature-based solutions is undervalued, untapped and under-resourced.

Financial flows to protect and enrich biodiversity are still on the margins of global finance, with estimates pointing to a large funding gap.

We’re still searching for ways to understand nature and invest in it to generate financial profit, alongside the evident environmental benefits,” Dr Popovic says.

“Nature-based solutions can provide sustainable ways of adapting to climate change – especially for the most vulnerable communities.”
Dr Joyce Kimutai

Nature-based solutions can also be a cost-effective way to mitigate climate change.

“Policymakers should figure out which solutions work best and carry the least risk. We shouldn’t over-rely on technology that’s still unavailable – nature-based solutions are proven to work and don’t require as much capital,” Dr Mittal says.

Dr Kimuati agrees that, “Nature-based solutions can provide sustainable ways of adapting to climate change – especially for the most vulnerable communities.”

At the same time, she adds that: “As populations grow, we shouldn't put too much burden on land to be our solution to the climate crisis on top of all the ecosystem services it provides us.

“We have to cut our emissions at the same time and not think that we've found a solution in nature, so let's continue business as usual.”

A pine forest with fog rising up in the background.

Full inclusivity

Aerial photo of a lake in the middle of a forest resembling the Earth's continents.