Climate Change and Conflict By Volker Boege  |  03 January, 2024

COP28 – Massive Disappointments, Slight Glimmers of Hope

Image: rarrarorro/

At the closing plenary of COP28, Anne Rasmussen from Samoa, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS), expressed her disappointment about the conference’s outcome in no uncertain terms: “We have made an incremental advancement over business as usual when what we really needed is an exponential step change in our actions”. And she added: “It is not enough for us to reference the science and then make agreements that ignore what the science is telling us we need to do”. She won a standing ovation from delegates for her words.

These same delegates, however, had just before adopted a final conference document that fell far short of the aspirations of AOSIS and others: the conference called for a ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels, while Anne Rasmussen’s Samoa and 129 other countries (out of 198) earlier had demanded a ‘phase-out’ of fossil fuels. The ‘transition away’ formula was presented as a compromise, given strong opposition against ‘phase-out’ by petrostates like Saudi-Arabia. This formula was adopted by the closing plenary while the 39 member states of AOSIS were not in the room as they were still discussing their position with regard to the final conference document.

Pacific Island Countries (PICs) which had been strong supporters of the ‘phase-out’ position, were disappointed with this end of COP28. By comparison, the beginning of the conference had looked promising: on the first day agreement on the establishment of a new Loss and Damage Fund was reached, and several main greenhouse gas emitting countries pledged contributions to the fund – the conference host United Arab Emirates pledged 100m USD, Germany also 100m USD. This was seen as a good start, and the expectation was that during the conference other main emitters/rich nations would come forward with more pledges.

However, these expectations were not met: a meagre 700m USD was pledged - a “drop in the ocean” compared to the 400b USD actually needed (the US just pledged 17.5m USD, and Japan 10m USD – a pittance). Other countries, like Australia, supported the creation of the fund, but pledged no money at all (Australia said it will contribute 100m AUD to the Pacific Resilience Facility and 50m AUD to the Green Climate Fund).  

Moreover, it is not clear how the fund will work, whether there will be continuous funding streams (a defined replenishment cycle), what the funding priorities will be and whether the money will actually reach the most affected communities. Doubts in this regard are warranted, given that the fund will be administered by the World Bank, for a fee of 24% (!). PICs and other developing countries had been strongly opposed to the World Bank’s involvement, questioning the World Bank’s environmental credentials and its (lack of) transparency. They had demanded an independent fund.

While the outcomes of COP28 with regard to financing for loss and damage and to the need for phasing out of fossil fuels are disappointing from the perspective of PICs and other developing countries at the frontlines of climate change, COP28 also had some bright spots. Admittedly, those bright spots were minor in comparison to the massive shortcomings, but they are worth noting.

Mention has to be made of the ‘COP 28 Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace’. For the first time, COP28 dealt with ‘peace’ as a separate issue, and 3 December 2023 was the conference’s ‘Relief, Recovery and Peace Day’. Not only were various aspects of the linkages between climate change, conflict, security and peace discussed on that day in several conference fora and side events, but a Declaration was endorsed by 74 governments and a number of international organisations and INGOs, which committed signatories to a number of “objectives in the context of climate change in situations of fragility, conflict, or severe humanitarian needs”. Among those objectives are “enhanced financial support for climate adaptation and resilience”, in particular by substantially scaling up “financial resources for climate adaptation and resilience building in such situations”, “strengthening the technical and institutional capacity of national governments and local actors”, prioritising “local ownership” and “working with affected communities and both local government and non-government partners”. Other objectives address the improvement of “good practice and programming”, e.g. by incorporating “conflict-sensitive approaches” into climate adaptation projects and “enhancing granular and integrated, gender-responsive risk and vulnerability mapping”. Finally, signatories commit to strengthening “coordination, collaboration, and partnership”.

These objectives are derived from the assessment that “many of the people, communities, and countries threatened or affected by fragility or conflict, or facing severe humanitarian needs, are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and are among the least resourced to cope with and adapt to associated shocks and stressors”. In other words: there is significant overlap between states and societies that are both conflict-affected and particularly severely affected by climate change.

The Declaration clearly identifies the links between climate change and fragility and conflict, stresses the importance of conflict-sensitivity in climate policies, and focuses on the needs of fragile and conflict-affected countries which so far do not have sufficient access to funding for adaptation and resilience building. It is also interesting to note that the Declaration pays special attention to “granular and integrated” risk assessments, the need for multi-level and multi-dimensional approaches, with a focus on the local level, and the importance of local actors for conflict-sensitive climate adaptation and climate-sensitive peacebuilding. In fact, in the Pacific region local non-state actors, such as traditional authorities (chiefs, elders …), the churches and community-based civil society organisations play a significant role in both climate adaptation and conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

The most important point, however, is the fact that this Declaration was presented at all and endorsed in the context of a COP. This firmly establishes the climate-conflict/peace nexus as an issue that has to be dealt with at the highest international level in the future.

On the downside, it has to be noted that the Declaration is nothing more than a voluntary “non-binding call to action outside the formal UNFCCC negotiations”, that many states did not sign on (e.g. Australia), that commitments and planned activities remain pretty vague – and that there are no new finance measures to fund activities. The Declaration should thus be seen as a first step and as an indication of political will—at least in some quarters of the international community—to pay more attention to the climate/conflict/peace nexus. No more, no less.  So, “even if the Declaration does not provide the level of ambition or nuance that peacebuilders may desire, it is a step in the right direction”.

A gaping loophole in the Declaration, however, is its total silence on the destructive climate impacts of militaries and wars. There is no mention of GHG emissions caused by the military forces all over the world, no mention of the emissions caused by wars, no attention whatsoever to how the military and war are massively contributing to the climate emergency, no commitments of governments to reduce the emissions of their militaries and military activities. In fact, no country is obliged to report the emissions from its military activities, and reports that are available show an increase in military emissions. The first year of the war in Ukraine “produced emissions comparable to a country the size of Belgium over the same time period”. Not forgetting also that the US military is the world’s largest emitter of fossil fuels (the US Department of Defence was present at COP28 with its own delegation).

In order to be really legitimate and trustworthy, future discussions and commitments regarding the climate/conflict/peace nexus in the COP context will also have to address those links between the climate emergency, militaries, militarisation, and war.

Related articles in the COP28 series:

COP, peace and the Pacific Islands (3-minute read)

PCC at COP28: Advocating for phasing out fossil fuels, funding for loss and damage, and peace (3-minute read)

A loss and damage fund in the Pacific? (3-minute read)

Between a rock and a hard place (3-minute read)

This is not climate justice: The Australia–Tuvalu Falepili Union (3-minute read)

COP and the unaccounted loss and damage for Pacific Youth (3-minute read)

A new Pacific Diplomacy for COP28 (3-minute read)

Building Peace Amidst Climate Challenges: Insights from Conciliation Resources (3-minute read)


Volker Boege is Senior Research Fellow at Toda Peace Institute.