COP28 Outcomes: The key lessons for Zimbabwe and the Global South’s Quest for Climate Action and Justice

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Writes Sydney Chisi

As is the tradition, nations gathered again for the 28th time to salvage solutions towards sustainable climate action as the world continues to face extreme climate crises. A lot of expectations were high emanating from many previous COPs’ outstanding and inconclusive resolutions. Pre-COP28 debates and agendas both at national and global levels had to deal with, whether we are moving in the right direction and at the right pace with genuine inclusion of all stakeholders and citizens. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reports in the last three years, clearly indicated that if no immediate action is taken soon, then the globe will warm beyond the 1.5 degrees we are ambitiously trying to avert. Coincidentally, as the world gathered, 2023 was recorded as the hottest year ever, it had seen a lot of climate-induced disasters, especially in the global South. The world was clearly on the tipping point. The call for climate justice was louder as activists and indigenous people demanded inclusion whilst lobbyists funded by the private sector and corporations were championing climate action for profits. This polarized setup influenced the outcome of the COP28 outcomes.

Global Stock Take

COP28 was more important given that it was going to carry out a holistic evaluation of the journey travelled thus (five-year review) far in accordance with the implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as opportunities for the new season beyond this Global Stock Take (GST). It also was a moment of tracking the achievements or lack thereof by many countries amidst the lack of climate finance, just transitions, and increased vulnerability through loss and damage. It came out that the GST was way off track from the anticipated ambitions as countries were not meeting their targets even those that might be well financed. The Global North countries were not pushing NDCs as the question of fossil fuels phase-out became topical amidst the geopolitical conflicts that have impacted access to energy globally. The Global South also questioned the feasibility of any energy transition without the much-needed climate finance, hence taking the opportunity of COP28 to once again strike deals, especially for gas and carbon credits. The principle for Just Transitions must be fair, just, based on equality, and fast enough with clear timelines so as not to expose people to the negative effects of the policies that they are setting. Sadly, this did not happen as the GST did not meet the expected status.

Traditionally, the push for acknowledging historical climate obligations was put to the test, as some of the big emitters joined forces with global southern countries to push for a fossil fuel phase-out position. This was led by the United States of America (USA) as it advocated for the inclusion of “unabated fossil fuels” in the resolution text. This divided the global south countries (G77 and China) on whether to view the USA as a genuine ally or it was being diplomatically smart against its Middle East friends. The USA as one of the greatest emitters chose this route more for political rather than climate bargaining.

Eventually, the GST did not come out with any meaningful resolution nor global status on agreed principles on future climate action. As Zimbabwe goes into its new season of NDCs, it is important to decide on whether the variables towards emission reduction can be met without both climate finance from UNFCCC and within an energy-poor context. The new NDCs for Zimbabwe must therefore adopt the previous position that our NDCs must be wholly conditional on funding unless Zimbabwe is allowed to market its carbon credits using its Carbon Credit Framework as regulated by its laws to source for local climate action. Zimbabwe must voice up the need for Global North to meet its pledge commitments.

Carbon Trading

Zimbabwe launched its Carbon Credit Framework in May of 2023 and then the resultant SI 150/23 in the last quarter of the same year. This became the greatest opportunity for localized climate finance as the country uses its carbon sinks as a source of carbon credits under the voluntary mechanism.  Going into COP28, a lot of expectations awaited on how this market-based climate action was going to be adopted and work for many global southern countries. This, however, did not come out as expected. Some of the sticking points were on:

  • Carbon credits’ contribution towards NDCs. How do they contribute towards emission reduction or it is just a net offset?
  • The use of carbon offsetting technologies such as carbon capture and storage. In many countries this has been used to allow easy access to oil by pushing carbon into deep wells so as to push the oil up. So, whilst there is carbon removal, there is ironically potential for more emissions.
  • Carbon removals using biological means in agriculture and marine spaces.
  • However, the IPCC said that carbon capture is scientifically a weak climate action for carbon removals yet this market-based approach was quite topical.
  • There were disagreements on the pricing of Nature-based Solutions (NBS) as to who determines the prices based on what fundamentals.

It is therefore with such a background that the Certified Management Accountant CMA5 (which meets annually to oversee the implementation of the Paris Agreement and takes decisions to promote its effective implementation.)   failed to produce an outcome on Article 6.2 (bilateral trading) and 6.4 carbon markets). It however did produce a decision on Article 6.8 (non-market approaches). For Zimbabwe, it is becoming apparent that resolving the operationalization of Article 6 is key to unlocking the much-needed climate finance for building resilience in marginalized communities. Many negotiators at COP28 were not aware of the urgency of such climate action.

This therefore means that Zimbabwe has to strengthen its localized climate finance and ensure it can enhance its mitigation and adaptation capacity. The limited knowledge of carbon credits amongst the general stakeholders requires the need to build carbon trading literacy and ensure community benefits and inclusion. Investments through carbon trading must provide meaningful community benefits beyond cookstoves or water washers that have limited shelf life. The collapse of Article 6 negotiations means a slow uptake of carbon markets which will also affect Zimbabwe’s capacity to respond to the climate crisis at hand.

Loss and Damage

For strategic reasons, the COP28 Presidency licked off the conference by ensuring the adoption of the Loss and Damage Fund as proposed during the final moments of COP27. The nearly 800 million dollars pledged by some of the developed countries such as the United Arab Emirates, USA, UK, Japan, and Germany amongst others diverted attention from the real issue at hand such as the continued push to demand the disbursement of climate finance. Was this money anywhere near what the world required? Definitely not as it was just above 0.2% of the global requirements. Given such adoption of the Fund, the biggest challenge was who was going to host the fund.

Many of the Global South countries were not comfortable with the World Bank hosting the fund because of its relationship with the USA’s control over the Bank. However, the World Bank was tasked to manage the fund on an interim basis for the next four years. Questions were raised if the available money (pledged) was accessible, when and whether communities affected by climate change could access the funds. Equally worrying was the weak presence of African voices in the Loss and Damage Transition Committee. Also agreed was the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage which aims to support developing countries in averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage caused by climate change. Also agreed on was the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for loss and damage to support the countries that are vulnerable to extreme climate events and slow onset.

Given the vulnerability of Zimbabwe to the climate crisis, this is a great opportunity to make sure that it becomes part of those countries that must benefit. A vulnerability status must therefore be crafted and support the need for the funds. Attaching monetary value to loss and damage will assist in justifying the need. Zimbabwe must also begin to advocate on how to deal and include with nonphysical losses such as trauma, mental health and post-disaster management.

Fossil Fuel Phase-Out

Whilst COP26 resolved to adopt a fossil fuel phase-down approach, the COP28 delegates resolved to begin reducing global consumption of fossil fuels to avert the worst of climate change by adopting a phase-out stance. This sent a powerful message to investors which saw Saudi Arabia-led oil producer, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which controls nearly 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves, resisting the move and arguing that the climate crisis is not entirely caused by all forms of fossil fuels. The question that is key for Zimbabwe which relies on fossil fuels for 46% of its energy is to push for climate finance to fund the much-needed transition towards renewables.

Just Transition

The notion of just transition has been popularized and framed within the context of a labor perspective. COP28 indicated that sustainable climate action must view just transition across all sectors and not labor in the fossil fuel industries. The call from Global South was to ensure that COP28 must set a framework of just transition to be at the center of transitioning and transforming systems such as energy or food systems. The absence of the human rights approach to just transition was a clear indication that vulnerable countries like Zimbabwe will remain at the mercy of parasitic neo-liberal agenda driven by neocolonialist nations. Just transition therefore failed to bring a wider transformative agenda and focus with key values to support climate action at COP28. Sadly, no meaningful resolution was agreed upon with conversations on just transition approach such as just transition work program being pushed to 2024.

Cross-cutting Issues status outcome:

The continued changing of the Paris Agreement text remains one of the most worrying developments with each passing COP. The success or failure of COPs remains tied to the level of negotiations and consensus on the key text that determines the resolutions. Zimbabwe‘s presence in such negotiations is paramount to influencing the inclusion of text that resonates with its climate and political agenda. Key amongst some of the key negotiations were on the climate finance under the 100 billion dollars pledge for global south which did not change as nothing was realized. This in turn will affect Parties to respond to climate disasters. Climate and Gender had little victories as anticipated by the gender and feminist movement’s fight to ensure the engendering of the negotiated text. In many cases, the text did not recognize gender as an important constituent within climate action. However, gender and climate as a concept was adopted.

As climate conditions continue to swell, a lot of climate-induced illnesses are beginning to be discovered and affect many people. Climate and health were adopted by UNFCCC and the framework was a huge success as it was adopted as a key link to push for adaptation and resilience as climate crisis increases. Swift access to adaptation funds has been impacting different countries’ climate responsiveness. Even though at COP28 the adaptation fund was agreed on, the global goal of adaptation and adaptation committee report was not. This resulted in the postponement of all national adaptation plans. This was also made worse by the non-agreement on mitigation work programs and response measures.

Agriculture and food security suffered a cul-de-sac as agribusiness lobbyists thrived against many indigenous communities that advocated for agroecology as an alternative. The architecture of food systems will therefore continue to be affected as they are dominated by huge corporates in the value chain. These corporations not only affect the availability of food but also impact food and seed sovereignty. Zimbabwe having made remarkable steps through Pfumvudza/intwasa program will in the future have to self-finance and ensure food security amidst the current El Nino phenomenon.


Climate injustice that engulfs and impedes efforts for sustainable climate action remains at the centre of our efforts in emission reduction and negotiations at the COP platform. There is no doubt that Global North countries owe developing countries more than what is documented including climate debt. The success of loss and damage fund must be viewed as a diversion of real climate finance that is required. Money pledged is far below the amount of money made by these countries as they emit greenhouse gases. The loss and damage hence resulted in little focus on the disbursement of the 100 billion dollars a year to the Global South.

The absence of a human rights-based approach in most of the text at COP28 speaks volumes about how the global climate negotiations and actions have been captured by systems that are not people-centered. This was seen during just transition negotiations making the just transition framework unjust. The efforts to silence the engendering of climate text and the inclusion of terms such as ‘indigenous people” make COP an elite space where there are majors and minors with very weak inclusivity.

The failed agreement on article 6 and its sub-articles speaks volumes to how developed countries do not want Global South to be at the centre of climate mitigation. It is the Global South that is endowed with massive carbon sinks, yet they cannot determine the markets and prices. The more carbon trading remains controlled by those with money, but no resources, the more that efforts for carbon offsetting will remain a pipe dream for Africa and Zimbabwe in particular. Zimbabwe will find herself trading her carbon credits for a song under a weak voluntary mechanism. There has to be a stronger call for transparency, accountability, and natural resources governance.

The antagonism on the fossil fuel phase out whilst it is an achievement for a future net zero emission target by 2050, remains a pipe dream considering other geopolitical contexts that may reverse the desire to stop fossil fuels extraction and consumption. Facilitating the energy transition to renewables requires unconditional climate finance. Countries like Zimbabwe require a lot of money to transition to renewables hence money should move from Global North to South through a mechanism that is just. There is a need to identify the source of such money (capping fossil fuel extraction and taxing of multinationals in the Global North under a globally agreed licensing system) and how it can be disbursed. This new climate justice finance mechanism will allow developing countries to access funds (which is our money anyway) to build their adaptation, mitigation, and response to loss and damage without relying on UNFCCC.

Does COP view Global South as a key mitigation ally or just a recipient of adaptation (symptoms) funds? The swiftness of agreeing on most adaptation-related facilities means that Zimbabwe and other developing countries will rush to scramble for breadcrumbs. It’s high time that Zimbabwe enhances its climate science and scientists to shape local and global negotiations. We need to push for presence in the IPCC spaces and other mitigation platforms where most of the funds are directed towards.

COP28 was unique in many ways and proved that if local climate actions are weak, then relying on such platforms to save our nations might be a pipe dream. Zimbabwe must build its climate change architecture according to its laws and support its key developmental pillars under the National Development Strategy and Vision 2023. It must ensure that climate action complies with the presidential mantra of “leaving no person and no place behind”.

Sydney Chisi is the Executive Director of Reyna Trust And Senior Global Campaign Manager at Equal Right

Ps: This article was written in personal opinion and does not represent the position of institutions associated with the author