Lessons for Zimbabwe and the Global South from COP28. The Quest for Climate Action and Justice.

OPINION By Sydney Chisi 

As per tradition, nations gathered again for the COP28 in Dubai in December to salvage solutions towards sustainable climate action as the world continues to face an extreme climate crisis.

Expectations were high, emanating from many previous Conference of Parties (COPs) outstanding and inconclusive resolutions. The pre-COP28 debate and agenda, both at the national and global levels, had to deal with whether we were 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 have indicated that the globe will warm beyond 1.5 degrees if no immediate action is taken soon.

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 at a tipping point. The call for climate justice was louder as activists and indigenous people demanded inclusion, while lobbyists funded by the private sector and corporations were championing climate action for profits. This polarised set-up influenced the outcomes of the COP28.

Global Stock Take

COP28 was more important given that it was a review and a holistic evaluation of the past five years in accordance with the implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as opportunities for the new season beyond this Global Stock Take (GST).

It was also a moment of tracking the achievements, or lack thereof, of 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, including the well-funded, were not meeting their targets. The countries in the Global North were not pushing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as the question of the phasing out of fossil fuels 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 time lines 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 south countries to push for a fossil fuel phaseout.

This was led by the United States of America (USA), which advocated for the inclusion of “unabated fossil fuels” in the resolution text. This divided the global south countries (G77 + China) on whether to view the USA as a genuine ally or whether it was being diplomatically smart against its Middle East friends. The USA, as one of the greatest emitters, chose this route more for political gain than a climate bargain.

Eventually, the GST did not come out with any meaningful resolution or global status on agreed principles for future climate action.

As Zimbabwe goes into its new season of NDCs, it is important to make a decision on whether the variables towards emission reduction can be met without both climate finance from the UNFCCC and within an energy-poor context.

The new NDCs for Zimbabwe must therefore adopt the previous position that is wholly conditional on funding, unless Zimbabwe is allowed to market its carbon credits using its Carbon Credit Framework as regulated by its own laws. Zimbabwe must voice the need for the Global North to meet its pledge commitments.

Carbon Trading

Zimbabwe launched its Carbon Credit Framework in May 2023 and then the resultant SI 150/23 in the last quarter of the same year.

This became the greatest opportunity for localised 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 how this market-based climate action was going to be adopted and work for many global south countries. This, however, did not come out as expected.

Some of the sticking points were:

  • Carbon credits’ contribution towards NDCs. How do they contribute towards emission reduction, or is it 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, while there is carbon removal, there is ironically potential for more emissions.
  • Carbon removal using biological means in agriculture and marine spaces.
  • However, the IPCC said that carbon capture is scientifically a weak climate action for carbon removal, 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 (CMA) failed to produce an outcome on Article 6.2 on bilateral trading and Article 6.4 on carbon markets.

However, it did produce a decision on Article 6.8 on 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 marginalised communities.

Many negotiators at COP28 were not aware of the urgency of such climate action.

This therefore means that Zimbabwe has to strengthen its localised 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 cooking stoves 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 kicked off the conference by ensuring the adoption of the Loss and Damage Fund as proposed during the final moments of COP27.

The near 800 million dollars pledged by some of the developed countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, the U.S.A., the UK, Japan, and Germany, among others, diverted attention to the real issues 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 the adoption of the fund, the biggest challenge was who was going to host it.

Many of the countries in the Global South were not comfortable with the World Bank hosting the fund because of its relationship with the USA.

However, the World Bank was tasked with managing the fund on an interim basis for the next four years.

Questions were raised about whether the available money (pledged) was accessible and 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, minimising, and addressing loss and damage caused by climate change.

Also agreed upon 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 to 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 for how to deal with and include non-physical losses such as trauma, mental health, and post-disaster management.

Fossil Fuel Phase-Out

While 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, Organisation of the Petrolium Exporting Countries (OPEC), which controls nearly 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves, resist the move, 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 popularised and framed within the context of a labour perspective. COP28 indicated that sustainable climate action must focus on just transition across all sectors and not labour in the fossil fuel industries.

The call from the Global South was to ensure that COP28 must set a framework for just transition to be at the centre of transitioning and transforming systems such as energy or food systems.

The absence of a human rights approach to just transition was a clear indication that vulnerable countries like Zimbabwe will remain at the mercy of parasitic neoliberal agendas 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 the just transition approach, such as the just transition work programme 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 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 climate finance under the $100 billion pledge for the global south, which did not change as nothing was realised.

This, in turn, will affect parties ability to respond to climate disasters. Climate and gender had little success, as anticipated by the gender and feminist movements’ fight to ensure the engendering of the negotiated text. In many cases, the text did not recognise gender as an important constituent of climate action. However, gender and climate as a concept were 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 frameworks were adopted by the UNFCCC, and this is a key link to push for adaptation and resilience as the climate crisis increases.

Swift access to the adaptation fund has been impacting different countries’ climate responsiveness. Even though at COP28 the adaptation fund was agreed on, the global goal on adaptation and the adaptation committee report were not.

This resulted in the postponement of all national adaptation plans. This was also made worse by the non-agreement on the mitigation work programme and response measures.

Agriculture and food security suffered a cul de sac as agrobusiness 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 corporations 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 the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme, 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 countries in the Global North owe developing countries more than what is documented, including climate debt.

The success of the loss and damage fund must be viewed as a diversion from the real climate finance that is required. Funds pledged are 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 about how developed countries do not want the 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 under the control of the elite with no resources, the more efforts to offset carbon 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 resource governance.

The antagonism on fossil fuel phase-out is an achievement for the future net zero emission target by 2050, but it remains a pipe dream considering other geopolitical contexts that may reverse the desire to stop fossil fuel 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 the global north to the south through a mechanism that is just.

There is a need to identify the source of such money (caping fossil fuel extraction and taxing multinationals in the Global North under a globally agreed licencing system) and how it can be disbursed.

This new climate justice finance mechanism will allow developing countries to access funds (which are our money anyway) to build their adaptation, mitigation, and response to loss and damage without relying on the UNFCCC.

Does the COP view the Global South as key mitigation allies or just recipients of adaptation (symptom) 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 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.

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 (NDS) and Vision 2030. 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 of Equal Right

PS: The opinions captured in this article are of the author in his personal capacity and do not represent the position of institutions associated with him.

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