COP28: Small Developing Nations Left in the Shadows of Fossil Fuel Giants

Sir Ronald Sanders Portrait
Sir Ronald Sanders. (The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States.   He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto.  The views expressed are entirely his own)
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By Sir Ronald Sanders

COP28 in Dubai, presided over by a major oil-producing nation, has ended with a compromise that, depending on one’s perspective, either represents a milestone or underscores the persistent inadequacies in confronting the climate crisis.

From the standpoint of small developing countries, grappling with the existing damaging impact and the continuing threats of climate change and global warming, very little cheer emanated from COP28. This includes the areas of  the Loss and Damage Fund and climate financing, on which pledges have been made. But that record has been played so many times, it has worn thin.

Insufficient Momentum

While COP28 marked an important agreement explicitly calling for a shift away from fossil fuels, the compromise reached still grants energy-exporting giants like Saudi Arabia substantial leeway to continue drilling. The lack of legally binding rules to curb fossil fuel production raises serious concerns about the acceleration of global warming, posing an increased threat to vulnerable nations, particularly small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and Central American states. These countries are among the greatest victims of the impacts of climate change.

The Harsh Reality of 2023

Despite commitments to triple the installation and use renewable energy technology by 2030 and cease carbon emissions by 2050, this year, 2023, has already witnessed record-breaking temperatures globally. The slight progress made for small states at COP28 falls significantly short of the necessary measures needed to counteract the escalating impacts of climate change. According to the latest Global Carbon Budget Report, global fossil carbon dioxide emissions this year are set to hit a record high of 36.8 billion tonnes, an increase of 1.1% relative to 2022 levels and 1.4% above pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

Colombia: a bright spot

It is noteworthy that Colombia became the first Latin American country as well as the largest fossil fuel producer to endorse the Fossil Fuel non-Proliferation Treaty,  The push for a Treaty is spearheaded by a bloc of 10 nation-states from Latin America, the Pacific, the Caribbean. Colombia has led the way, and every encouragement should be given to its government’s responsible leadership.

Legacy of Dubai and Concerns for Azerbaijan

While providing a platform for developing countries to voice their concerns, COP28 should not be prematurely celebrated as a significant advancement. There is a growing apprehension that if fossil fuel interests were prioritized in Dubai, the trend might continue in Azerbaijan, the host of COP29. This concern is accentuated by the fact that Dubai, as one of the world’s ten largest oil producers, hosted an unprecedented number of oil and gas lobbyists – at least 2,456, according to recent reports. Those lobbyists would certainly have outnumbered all the delegates from every small state that attended the gathering in Dubai, showing the severe disadvantage in which small states are trapped.

Of course, the lobbyists would also have far more incentivising methods to secure support for their positions than small countries that can only appeal to reason and conscience.

Loopholes in the COP28 Agreement

The compromise at COP28 lacked specific commitments to finance energy transitions in poorer nations. According to the World Bank, a multi-donor trust fund has been announced, mobilizing an initial US$250 million to help developing nations cut CO2 and methane emissions generated by the oil and gas industry. However, contributions from major oil companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil were notably absent.

Loss and Damage Fund

The final text on the Loss and Damage Fund is critiqued is woefully inadequate, despite the string efforts of small states both to get the Fund made operational, and to secure adequate financing.

Pledges for the fund exceeded US$700 million, including $300-400 million from the European Union (EU) collectively, $100 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), $50 million from the UK, $17.5 million from the US, and $10 million from Japan. However, pledges are not delivery, and the record shows a history of pledges not being fulfilled. Further, we still do not know the number of countries that would qualify to benefit from the Fund and what conditions would be applied,

Of great concern is that, at least for a 4-year period, the fund will be administered by the World Bank whose reputation for applying onerous conditions with lengthy periods of assessment does not instil faith that benefits would flow with the urgency they should,

It should be noted that contributions to the Fund represent less than 0.2% of the economic and non-economic losses developing countries face every year from global warming. Therefore, while it is something; it is distressingly insufficient.

Climate Financing

With respect to climate financing, the failure to meet the $100 billion per year climate finance target and the lack of progress in doubling adaptation finance by 2025 reveal the shortcomings of affluent nations in meeting their commitments. Consequently, developing countries have developed grave mistrust of the rich nations. That mistrust should not be cause for giving up; rather, it is the reason for continuing to speak up and to expose the need and urgency for the plight of the vulnerable not to fall off the table of global consideration until it is too late for any saving actions to be implemented.


In evaluating the outcome of COP28, some progress was made, but much more needs to be done. Small states, particularly, must remain vigilant against potential dominance by fossil fuel interests in future conferences.

The urgency for meaningful, binding actions to address the existential threat of climate change faced by vulnerable nations is underscored by the escalating temperatures; destructive extreme weather events that wreck livelihoods and national economies; and the persistent shortcomings of the current global response.

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States of America  and the Organization of American States. The views expressed are his own. Comments and previous commentaries at:

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