Progress and shortfalls at COP28:

Imperial College London researchers reflect

The final day of COP28 in the plenary room. A huge crowd watches the COP president give an address.
The COP president and other leaders stand on a stage clapping

After 13 days, running nearly 24 hours overtime, COP28 came to an end on Wednesday morning in Dubai.

The final days of the United Nations climate change summit were brutal.

Exhausted negotiators from nearly 200 countries struggled to find common ground on the text needed to address the most important and contentious issue – reducing global use of oil, gas and coal.

But after two drafts of the final text and negotiations that ran into the night, an agreement was reached – "transitioning away from fossil fuels."

Crucially, it is the first time a COP text has ever included the words ‘fossil fuels.'

COP28 also featured the conclusion of the first ever ‘global stocktake,’ a report card style assessment used to evaluate global progress on climate change over the last five years and recommend actions for the next five years.

To make sense of the result, Imperial researchers shared their thoughts on the progress and shortfalls of COP28.


Fossil fuels

The burning of oil, gas and coal is the primary cause of climate change, responsible for 80% of planet-heating emissions from human activities.

With global temperatures approaching dangerous levels, ahead of COP28, there were growing calls by scientists, civil society and a huge number of countries to ‘phase out’ fossil fuels.

At COP28, countries agreed to the “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

The final text at COP summits requires agreement from every country and at previous COPs, gas, oil and coal producing nations have driven efforts to remove or dilute the language on fossil fuels.

Sir Professor Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment describes the wording as “a good way to break the impasse that had been reached on phasing them out or down.”

Dr Emma Lawrance, Climate Cares Lead and Mental Health Lead at the Institute of Global Health Innovation says the text on fossil fuels is a long-awaited, but small step forward.

“The science is clear - anyone involved in extending humanity’s reliance on coal, oil and gas is jeopardising the health and prosperity of the vast majority of people alive now and for generations to come.

“It’s encouraging that the elephant in the room - fossil fuels - is finally being named. I hope history shows that COP28 accelerated the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era, towards a fairer, cleaner, healthier future that is better for us all.”

However, Professor Joeri Rogelj said that the wording on fossil fuels is vague and likely won’t drive the emissions reductions at the scale and pace needed to put the world on track to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goal.

“While the COP28 outcome is a step in the right direction, it is also a hesitant and insufficient step. It is far from clear that this will keep global warming within the safety limits set out by the Paris Agreement.”

Professor Joeri Rogelj speaks at an event at COP28. He is sitting on an arm chair next to a women and behind there is a blue screen.

Professor Joeri Rogelj speaking at COP28.

Professor Joeri Rogelj speaking at COP28.

Additionally, Dr Alaa Al Khourdajie, a Research Fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering, notes that critical definitions on ‘unabated’ (business as usual) fossil fuel use and ‘abated’ use, which involves capturing and storing the emissions, are missing.

He says this lack of clarity “can lead to the continuation of fossil fuel reliance under the guise of ‘abated’ usage.

“Such an approach is inconsistent with the scientific consensus on the urgency of drastically reducing fossil fuel consumption to limit global warming to 1.5°C.”

With every fraction of a degree of warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, climate change makes life on Earth more dangerous.

Perhaps no one is more cognizant of the human cost of climate change than Dr Friederike Otto.

Imperial College climate scientist Dr Fredi Otto speaks on a panel at COP28. She is sitting down next to climate scientist Joyce Kimutai with COP28 and United Nations branding in the background.

Dr Fredi Otto speaking at COP28.

Dr Fredi Otto speaking at COP28.

The Grantham Institute climate scientist leads World Weather Attribution, an international collaboration of scientists that study extreme weather events.

On day seven of COP28, World Weather Attribution published a study that found the November rainfall in East Africa that led to more than 300 deaths was made twice as intense by climate change.

The study was the 14th published by World Weather Attribution in 2023, painting a clear picture of intensifying extreme weather events in a warming world.

Dr Otto says the failure to phase out fossil fuels at COP28 is a loss for every country on Earth.

“With every vague verb, every empty promise in the final text, millions more people will enter the frontline of climate change, and many will die.

“At 1.2°C of warming, we’re already seeing devastating climate impacts that disrupt economies, destroy livelihoods, and claim lives.

“Climate change is driving instability. Nearly every country wants stability, but until fossil fuels are phased out, the world will continue to become a more dangerous, more expensive and more uncertain place to live.

“A world without fossil fuels will be a healthier, safer and fairer world. We need to phase out fossil fuels.”


Loss and Damage

Negotiations at COP27 last year in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, ran two days over time as countries reached an agreement to establish the loss and damage fund to deliver finance to developing nations being hit by more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

While developing countries have contributed the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they are the worst affected by climate change, mostly because they are poorer and less resilient.  

On the second day of COP28, an agreement was reached on the operationalisation of the fund, which included the location of the fund and how it would be financed.   

Few, mostly developed countries began announcing their individual contributions to the fund, headlined by Germany and the UAE, who each promised $100 million.

Imperial College researcher Joyce Kimutai speaks at an event at COP28. She is sitting on a panel with a researcher on either side of her and COP28 branding in the background.

Dr Joyce Kimutai speaking at COP28.

Dr Joyce Kimutai speaking at COP28.

However, despite contributions totalling $700 million by the end of COP28, Dr Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist at the Grantham Institute points out that they aren’t nearly enough.

“Climate loss and damage has been estimated to be $4 trillion per year. The finance promised at COP28 is just 0.0001% of that.

“This pittance for developed nations will hardly make a difference for developing nations who are being battered by climate-related disaster after disaster.

“Prior to making commitments, it'd be essential to establish a tentative annual fund size and set a specific target.”


Renewable energy

The increasing cost effectiveness of renewable energy is a reason many people are hopeful about global efforts to tackle climate change.

Solar and wind energy are becoming cheaper and more accessible, helping to lower demand for fossil fuel energy.

As hoped for, COP28 agreed on a tripling of global capacity of renewable energy.

Professor Peter Childs, Co-Director of the Energy Futures Lab, says governments have a key role to play in cutting red tape that is slowing the roll out of renewable energy.

“This COP needed to signal a pragmatic roadmap for the end of the fossil fuel era.

“We now need to see affordable and inclusive plans to make that vision a reality.

“If the pledge is to have any credibility, national governments need to act quickly to remove the regulatory and planning barriers to sustainability and address the supply chain issues that are currently hampering renewable energy developments around the world.”

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber speaks on stage at COP28 infront of a huge crowd.



Imperial College researcher Emma Lawrance speaking at an event at COP28. She is standing infront of a lectern with a green backdrop

Dr Emma Lawrance speaking at COP28.

Dr Emma Lawrance speaking at COP28.

For the first time ever, COP28 featured a day dedicated to health issues.

From extreme heat to air pollution to the increasing spread of disease, climate change is serving up a huge range of health-related challenges.

Dr Emma Lawrance, Climate Cares Lead and Mental Health Lead at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, says the health day at COP28 was an encouraging sign.

“Until the world moves away from burning coal, oil and gas - in a fast, fair, funded manner - the impacts on human health will continue to multiply.

“It is encouraging that physical and mental health has featured so strongly at COP28, including with the first health day. It is critical that health is the ultimate measure for progress on the climate crisis and a just transition.

“However, unless developed countries lead the way in delivering emission cuts and the fair funding structures other countries need to act, the cost of inaction will be lives, and quality of life.”



In total, the COP28 presidency claims to have mobilised around $80 billion in new climate finance pledges and commitments, including its own $30 billion Alterra Fund and the US’s $3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund.

Mr Michael Wilkins, Executive Director and Professor of Practice at the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at Imperial College Business School, is cautiously optimistic about these developments.

“While impressive, it’s worth remembering that only 50% of climate finance pledges made between 2013-2020 have been implemented.

“Promises without action are meaningless.”

Imperial College researcher Mr Michael Wilkins stands at a lectern at COP28 with a green backdrop and a United Arab Emirates and United Nations flags

Mr Mike Wilkins at COP28.

Mr Mike Wilkins at COP28.

Global temperatures will continue to increase until emissions are reduced to net zero – an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere.

Warming temperatures will continue to increase climate impacts, underscoring why it is so important countries take steps to become more resilient.

But Mr Wilkins also says COP28 has once again failed to meaningfully address the shortfall in finance for adaptation.

“There is an adaptation financing gap of $600 billion required annually to 2050, which is 10–18 times greater than current flows.

“Adaptation finance remains the poor cousin at COP once again.”



Nature has a critical role to play in our fight against climate change.

As well as absorbing huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, nature can help communities and countries adapt to climate change.

For example, restoring coastal mangroves can lessen the impacts of storm surge and green spaces in cities can provide important cooling spaces during heatwaves.

The COP28 agreement calls for ending deforestation and forest degradation by 2030.

Dr Bonnie Waring, Senior Lecturer in Ecosystems Ecology, welcomes the recognition of nature’s importance in the fight to tackle climate change, but says countries need to follow through.

“It is encouraging that this COP has formally acknowledged that the climate crisis cannot be solved without halting and reversing the degradation of our natural ecosystems.

“We are experiencing the sixth mass extinction in Earth's history, which shares common drivers with climate change, and will compound its consequences.

“Given the magnitude of the problem, however, we need statements like this to be translated into tangible, immediate, and enforceable action.”



Professor David Nabarro speaking at on a large stage at COP28 with a yellow backdrop that includes a live video of him presenting.

Professor David Nabarro speaking at COP28.

Professor David Nabarro speaking at COP28.

Long-awaited progress was made on food and agriculture at COP28.

During the opening days of COP28, a declaration for sustainable agriculture was launched and signed by more than 130 countries.

The summit also hosted the first ever day dedicated to raising awareness of food, agriculture and climate change.

Notably, however, like fossil fuels, COP28 was the first time food systems had been included in the final text of a COP summit.  

Professor David Nabarro, Co-Director of Global Health at Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation and Strategic Director of 4SD, says the progress has been a long time coming and a recognition of the immense challenges associated with food and climate change.

Food systems are a huge contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions and a major cause of biodiversity loss.  

In many regions of the world, extreme weather events fuelled by climate change is both increasing the risk of food insecurity and threatening the livelihoods of farmers.

However, for Professor Nabarro, there is opportunity too.

“Food systems can be transformed so they produce healthy and nutritious foods sustainably, enable all people to have access to the nutrition they need, contribute to the resilient livelihoods of farmers and food workers, absorb carbon dioxide, nurture biodiversity, and contribute to equitable rural livelihoods.” 

Professor Nabarro says the progress made on food at COP28 are small, but significant steps toward a healthier and more resilient future.


The legacy of COP28

COP28 will be remembered as being the first COP summit to achieve a resolution on the future of fossil fuels.

Of course, ‘transitioning away from’ is much weaker language than countries, climate scientists and NGOs had hoped for.

But like every COP, agreement was needed from every nation.

Remarkably, it took an oil producing nation as the host of COP28 to make it happen.

Cynics will point to the fact that fossil fuels are a dying industry and the United Arab Emirates hosted COP28 to tactfully dilute the final agreement on fossil fuels.

However, the real test of COP28 will be whether emissions fall quickly enough before 2030 to keep the 1.5°C target alive.

Dr Caterina Brandmayr, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, says it’s now essential that countries turn the commitments set out at COP28 into real-world action.

“After decades of negotiations that repeatedly failed to address the major driver of climate change, COP28 marks an important inflection point in global efforts to move away from fossil fuels.  

 “There remain loopholes and the final agreement falls short on ambition, but the direction of travel is clear.

 “Countries must now follow through to bring about real-world action, strengthening national plans to cut emissions and boost resilience, and scaling up finance to enable a rapid transition, including by ensuring developing countries have the resources to deliver.” 

 COP29 will be hosted next year in Azerbaijan.