15 December 2023

The 28th annual global climate summit (UNFCCC COP28) concluded this week in Dubai after some tense final moments. COP28 brought together more governments and civil society representatives than ever before. At a critical moment when the world took stock of its progress to tackle climate change, we know more action is urgently needed -  but did governments respond to this call? 

Why is COP28 Important?  

The achievement of global climate and nature goals will only be possible with wide scale action and cooperation at all levels, from local to global. The outcomes of processes such as COP28 are a key part of that puzzle, and while it can sometimes feel like global agreements take seemingly small steps forward in the face of global challenges, these multilateral meetings are critically important because the signals and decisions they take permeate down into national level and business decisions.  

The world was watching throughout COP28 to see if the summit could deliver both climate ambition and bolder action.  

Speaker event at COP28, showing stage and audience watching
Rainforest in Borneo - aerial view
© Shutterstock

What are the key outcomes of COP28?

Leaders on the world stage have, for the first time, reached a major milestone through collectively agreeing to transition away from the use of fossil fuels. This is a moment for celebration, however, in the effort to reach a consensus the outcome does fall short of committing to the “phase out” of fossil fuels, instead only “phasing down”. While we had hoped for higher ambition, this is the first time in the UNFCCC’s history that the term “fossil fuels” is included in a decision text, and it does mark a step change in committing to a just energy transition.

As a second reason for optimism, nature has also made vital steps forward have also been made for nature to be truly recognised as a core part of climate action. On COP28's Nature Day, Nature was put at the centre of events, announcements, speeches and panels galore. Of particular significance was the joint statement on nature, climate, and people signed by 18 countries. This was the first time a coordinated international effort has recognised the core interlinkages and interdependencies between action on nature and climate. If put into practice, the commitments could be a significant opportunity to make practical progress on synergies for example, through scaling finance for shared solutions, and by delivering national planning in a more joined-up way.

These positive commitments now need to be underpinned by the resources required to achieve them alongside urgent and concrete national actions.  

Our role at COP28

Our engagement with the UNFCCC is focused on bridging biodiversity and climate solutions by advocating for nature’s integral role in mitigation, adaptation, and building resilience.  

Our team on the ground at COP28 and across the organisation have been working hard ensure the crucial role of nature in climate action is central to strategies and delivery on both a local and a global scale; so that nature is put at the heart of decision making.  We will continue to be at the forefront of this conversation.  

panel event discussion
ZSL CEO Matthew Gould speaking at COP28 event

To raise the profile and foster debate on these issues we also co-led events with The Natural History Museum and The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew that explored how we can bring climate and biodiversity action together, ensure science and indigenous knowledge is always at the core, and how high integrity Nature-based Solutions can be implemented equitably. We were pleased to also partner with Youth for Nature on a discussion bringing together different voices and perspectives on shared solutions.  

The Need for Climate Action

We had two key focuses in the negotiations. The first was ensuring that nature was central to the Global Stock Take (GST) response. The GST aims to assess and respond to collective progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement – an international treaty to keep average global temperature increase below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  

COP28 was the first stock-take of this kind, and an opportunity for ‘global reset and course correct’ through assessing progress, gaps, and signals of what is needed to get us on track to achieve this vital goal. The main political outcome, the development of the final text proved difficult for negotiators to reach an agreement, especially in language relating to fossil fuels. Within the UNFCCC “consensus is king” meaning if even one country disagrees, the text does not pass – consequently, compromise and trade-offs must sit at the heart of any successful negotiation. We wanted to see strong outcomes for nature within the GST, and we are pleased that the final agreement included:

  • Emphasis on the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature for climate ambition
  • A commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and degradation by 2030  
  • Support for the landmark agreement for nature recovery that was signed this time last year under the Convention on Biological Diversity (the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework) which includes the target to protect 30% of nature by 2030. 
Mangrove rehabilitation Philippines
panel event discussion climate action and global biodiversity framework at cop28

Our second key focus during negotiations was the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) which seeks to establish a global framework for how countries can adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change. The GGA outcomes at COP28 were the culmination of two years of work to develop a global framework. The GGA agreed text is something of a mixed bag – although it includes commitments to further work it is also lacking in detail and metrics – raising questions of how implementation can take place. Over the past year, we have worked to ensure that biodiversity and ecosystems are central to the GGA as a key tool for adaptation action. Although securing space for a specific target on nature is a definite win, we were sorry to see a lack of measurable aims to strive for that will help hold countries accountable for taking action.  


We know that global climate goals can only be realistically achieved by meeting global commitments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, alongside urgent action to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. The outcomes of COP28 provide both optimism and disappointment for these ambitions. We are pleased to see an ever-increasing recognition of the important role of nature, but this must be matched by dedicated resources to support action, and an urgent and just transition away from fossil fuels. To quote the COP28 Presidency - “We are what we do, not what we say”.


Climate change and human activity have pushed our precious planet to its limit, causing the devastating loss of so many habitats and species. From lab to field, hands on and behind the scenes, we’re leading the future of conservation, shaping agendas and influencing change to support better life, health and living for people and wildlife.