IFMSA Advocates for Climate Action: A Recap of our Impactful Presence at UNFCCC COP28

Introduction to the 28th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP28) at the UNFCCC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the UN body tasked with overseeing the global response to the challenge of climate change. Comprising 197 member parties, it is the foundational treaty underlying key agreements such as the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The primary objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that prevent adverse human interference with climate systems, fostering ecosystems’ natural adaptation and facilitating sustainable development

As per the UNFCCC, the Conference of the Parties (COP) holds the highest authority in decision-making within the Convention. Represented by all member states, the COP conducts reviews of Convention implementation, considers legal instruments, and makes decisions crucial for promoting effective implementation. This includes addressing institutional and administrative aspects. Moreover, the COP serves as a mechanism to assess the impact of parties’ measures in relation to their nationally determined contributions, national communications, and emission inventories.

 

COP28 took place in Dubai, UAE, spanning from November 30th to December 12th of this year and was attended by 9 delegates from the International Federation of Medical Schools’ Associations (IFMSA).

Relevance of COP28 to the IFMSA

Climate change is a  critical threat to global health. Its far-reaching consequences extend from direct impacts (including but not limited to  injury and mortality due to extreme weather events, heat related illness, respiratory illnesses, zoonoses), to more indirect effects, including impacts on our health systems along with water and food supply. These outcomes, in a ripple effect, not only precipitate conflicts and climate migration but also contribute to severe  implications on mental health. Recognizing the gravity of this health crisis, the IFMSA commits itself to raising their voices and play an active role in climate action through  multiple initiatives, such as by attending COP28.

Confronting climate change is a key advocacy priority for IFMSA who is involved in many initiatives and activities in this space, from educational pursuits and capacity-building ventures to impactful advocacy campaigns. In addition to this, IFMSA ensures that our unified voice resonates at the highest levels of decision-making on climate change, with a particular focus on COP28.

“Our stance at COP28 was clear: health must take centre stage in the climate discourse. Through our participation, we strongly advocated to promote health-centred perspectives in climate action and represented the youth voice in all our engagements.”
Delegation: 
  • Salman Khan, IFMSA Liaison Officer for Public Health Issues [Head of Delegation]
  • Arwa Abdelnaser Mostafa (IFMSA Egypt)
  • Beth Elinor Stinchcombe (SfGH UK)
  • Farah Waseem (IFMSA Pakistan)
  • Hillary Dana Hanna (CFMS Canada)
  • Jasmin Beatrice Somers (AMSA Australia)
  • Mennatullah Tarek Zayan (IFMSA Egypt)
  • Meriem Benazzouz (IFMSA Morocco)
  • Muhammed Thashreef Karimb Valappil (MSAI India)
  • Sophie Anna Charlotte Gepp (bvmd Germany)

Key IFMSA Achievements

Health Day and Protest

 

The COP28 UAE Presidency, in collaboration with WHO, the Wellcome Trust and partners hosted the first ever UN Climate Conference Health Day and unveiled the ‘COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health’ to place health at the heart of climate action and accelerate the development of climate-resilient, sustainable, and equitable health systems.This declaration was endorsed by 123 countries and was a world first in governments acknowledging the growing health impacts of climate change on communities and countries and the large benefits to peoples’ health from stronger climate action. Also for the first time, at COP28, Health Ministers were in attendance alongside other

This very important day led to many achievements for the IFMSA, with many speaking and advocacy opportunities including participating in a Climate and Health Protest. During this protest, members of the IFMSA demanded an end to fossil fuels, communicating that the climate crisis is a health crisis through a creative demonstration.

Side Events

 

During COP28, IFMSA actively engaged in a diverse range of events and initiatives, addressing crucial themes such as text negotiations and briefings, as well as youth empowerment, education, and the intersection of climate change and health. The delegation also contributed to sessions on reaching underserved populations, bridging gaps and responding to the impact of climate change on child and adolescent health, as well as the implementation of research agendas. The delegation collaborated on initiatives and advocacy initiatives, as well as capacity building sessions related to fossil fuel phase-out. The engagement extended to bilateral meetings, intergovernmental panels, and discussions on integrating health into climate change responses. Additionally, IFMSA actively participated in events focused on water, food, agriculture, and empowering youth for climate action. The multifaceted involvement of IFMSA in COP28 reflects a comprehensive commitment to addressing climate challenges from various angles and fostering meaningful global collaboration and in the engagement of youth.

Youth Climate Champion (YCC) Negotiations

The UAE Presidency drafted a text to institutionalise youth engagement for all future COP Presidencies. This would include having a youth on the Presidency team acting to support all youth attending a COP. In order to ensure the text upholds the principles of meaningful youth engagement, IFMSA actively participated in multiple meetings and discussions with YOUNGO (the official children and youth constituency of the UNFCCC) surrounding the potential changes in the text to strengthen youth engagement in the UNFCCC. Through two rounds of lengthy negotiation with the UAE Presidency and the UNFCCC Secretariat, two more YCC text drafts were released. During these negotiations, IFMSA, along with individuals and youth organisations in YOUNGO, provided critical input in order to  ensure that the final draft of the YCC will create inclusive platforms and promote the meaningful engagement of youth at future COPs.

The name of the YCC was subsequently changed to Presidency Youth Climate Champion, and the resolution was adopted in the closing plenary, along with a budget allocation of 2.29 Million Euros allocated for the same.

 

Outcomes of COP28

Here are some significant outcomes of COP28.

COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health

 

In a historic moment at COP28, leaders from 123 countries have signed a groundbreaking declaration emphasizing the urgent need to address the severe health implications of climate change. Recognizing the critical role of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, the declaration commits to immediate action, advocating for rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, combatting inequalities, and scaling up investments in climate and health. Notably, this commitment incorporates health considerations into climate policy processes and vice versa, fostering collaboration through initiatives like the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH). The 123-country strong alliance signals a united global front in addressing the intersection of climate change and health, setting the stage for collective progress reviews at future global gatherings and reflecting a shared dedication to creating a healthier and more sustainable future for all.

Fossil Fuel Phase-Out

This COP marked the first official acknowledgment that fossil fuels are the root cause of climate change. It is noteworthy that fossil fuels were initially addressed in an international climate agreement in 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow, but despite this recognition, the agreement still lacked ambition. The majority of countries sought a robust statement advocating the phased reduction or, at the very least, a decrease in the reliance on fossil fuels. However, the consensus resulted in a statement calling for a “transition 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 choice of language, emphasizing a “transition away” rather than a complete “phase-out,” fell short of the strength many desired. Nevertheless, it represents a small victory in the ongoing efforts to address climate change.

Loss and Damage Fund

The term “loss and damage” pertains to financial assistance allocated to developing countries that have endured significant climate change-induced disasters. At COP27 in 2022, an agreement was reached, and recent declarations indicate a commitment of US$700 million to the fund. This financial support aims to aid developing nations already grappling with the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and biodiversity loss. The accord for this fund was reached on the inaugural day of the summit, marking the culmination of decades of advocacy by the global south.

Renewable energy and transitional fuels

A pledge to triple renewable energy capacity and double the global rate of energy efficiency by 2030 has been endorsed by 118 countries. The pledge text acknowledges the role of “transitional fuels” in preserving energy security in the interim. Nevertheless, the absence of a specified timeline for the utilization of these transitional fuels is notable.

Decarbonisation Charter for Oil and Gas

More than 50 national and international oil companies, collectively accounting for approximately 40% of global production, have formally endorsed a decarbonisation charter. This initiative outlines three primary objectives: firstly, to attain net-zero emissions within the direct operations of each company (excluding the utilization of their products) by or before 2050; secondly, to achieve near-zero methane leakage from oil and gas production by 2030; and thirdly, to accomplish the cessation of routine flaring (the burning of excess gas) by 2030.

Global stocktake

The Global Stocktake, concluded at COP28, represents the inaugural assessment within the global climate regime, evaluating the collective efforts of the international community in reducing greenhouse gas emissions since the inception of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Unfortunately, the key outcome from this stocktake reiterated a concerning reality—the world is significantly lagging behind in meeting the objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement. Notably, the agreed-upon 1.5°C warming limit is at risk, emphasizing the urgency for enhanced and accelerated climate actions on a global scale.

Looking forward to COP29

The 29th session of the Conference of the Parties is expected to be held between the 11th and 24th of November of 2024, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Along with this, the sixth Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 6) will also convene, with the aim to complete the first enhanced transparency framework and the new collective quantified goal on finance, among other matters. Notably in January 2024, the COP29 Presidency Youth Climate Champion was appointed.

Resources:

https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/cop28-uae-declaration-on-climate-and-health
https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop28-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-dubai/
https://news.un.org/en/events/cop28
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/11/cop28-summary-key-talking-points/
https://news.sky.com/story/cop28-live-updates-nations-strike-landmark-deal-to-transition-away-from-fossil-fuels-13029276
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/dec/07/cop28-first-half-un-climate-conference-dubai

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