Consumers International reacts to COP28: More ambition needed to support consumers and meet net zero goals

Last month, Consumers International was on the ground at COP28 in Dubai, emphasising the importance of putting people at the heart of climate action, and outlining the steps needed to help consumers change their lifestyles to meet climate goals. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 means unlocking fundamental changes to how we heat, cool and power our homes, the products we buy, the food we consume, how we get around, and how we spend and save. Our latest research shows that the vast majority of consumers support this transition (94%) and hold governments responsible for putting it into action (80%). We desperately need joined-up and strategic changes to unlock sustainable consumption as well as production. 

The final COP28 text agreed in Dubai leaves more questions than answers on how to ensure a fast, fair and accountable transition that is based on consumer rights, empowerment and access. There were signs of progress in the agreement to triple renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030, and the commitment by over 150 countries to integrate food systems into national and global climate action. But much more is needed - in commitment and action.

Now that the dust has settled, our team has responded to the outcome of COP28. Our Energy and Food Systems Leads say that while there were small steps in the right direction, there was a disappointing lack of ambition to deliver on climate goals and support consumers along the way.

Consumers need support to adapt to a fossil-free world

Oliver Bealby-Wright, Lead, Consumers in the Energy Transition

The agreement in the final COP28 text to 'double down, triple up' - tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency by the end of the decade - represents a step change in the world's journey to a clean, secure, and just energy future. It is the first time all nations have committed to scaling the fastest and most cost-effective solutions for decarbonisation. We now have a consistent, timebound, and quantified global goal that can bring greater clarity and accountability to energy transition efforts. Institutions at all levels now need to respond to this all-party backed global goal and unleash a wave of investments. 

It is essential that ordinary people are not left behind in this shift. By their very nature, renewables offer the chance for secure, local and affordable energy production - not least because people can produce them at home. During COP28, we released a joint letter with 25 of our Members calling for action to ensure consumers get a fair deal in the transition. Empowering consumers to install clean energy solutions like solar panels, batteries and smart meters will unlock 55% of emission reductions required by 2050. In the year ahead, we need to see the money pledged in Dubai flowing to support the people driving this transition.

The lack of agreement at COP28 on the phase-out of fossil fuels is a failure of leadership that puts the health, safety, and livelihoods of billions of people around the world at risk. As many consumers struggle with the cost of living, they will be questioning why their leaders have not more forcibly agreed to stop using fossil fuels when renewables are currently generating the cheapest electricity in history. The impetus is now on business and government to help end the fossil fuel era through a rapid and inclusive expansion of consumer renewables.

COP28 was a missed opportunity to scale up ambition on food systems transformation

Charlie Worthington, Lead, Food Systems

Food is responsible for over one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, yet has too often been an afterthought on the climate agenda, or else addressed only in regard to agricultural production, neglecting the vital importance of transforming food distribution and consumption too. There were hopes that COP28 would be a watershed moment for food systems, but the outcome fell short in delivering the transformative action that is so urgently needed. 

The launch of the 'Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action received signatures from 159 countries, pledging to integrate food into national climate plans. This declaration was accompanied by a Non-State Actor Call to Actionwhich Consumers International signed and contributed to, urging governments to take a holistic, people-centred approach to food systems transformation. 

Yet this momentum did not carry through to the negotiations in Dubai. Food systems were mentioned only briefly, as countries failed to reach agreement on the actions needed. One important sticking point was around governments' responsibility to facilitate demand-side change, by making nutritious and sustainable diets more available, accessible, and affordable. Only five countries' Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, currently make any mention of healthy and sustainable food consumption. Rectifying this must be a top priority for the consumer movement in 2024. 

COP28 was a missed opportunity to scale up ambition globally - the focus must now be on supporting countries to raise the bar at national level. This means ensuring that production, distribution, and consumption are addressed in a co-ordinated way, that people’s rights and needs are a key basis for decision-making, and that barriers are broken down between energy and food systems, between climate and biodiversity, between human and planetary health. 

The year ahead

We know that 94% of global consumers support the green transition, but there are still many barriers for consumers, which only government and business can remove. 

Consumers International is committed to driving this forward together with partners – and the consumer solutions are there as we found out in our Global Congress. We are inviting business, government, and civil society to join us in helping to build a fast, fair and accountable consumer transition, seizing key moments like the World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, COP29 in Azerbaijan, the final Plastics Treaty negotiations, and the COP16 Convention on Biodiversity in Turkey. 

Email to join us.