SustainabilityJanuary 25, 2024

Reflections on COP28: Aligning actions with aspirations

Find out why Chief Sustainability Officer Philippine de T’Serclaes left COP28 feeling hopeful, cautious and optimistic.
Avatar Philippine de T'Serclaes

I was fortunate enough to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, in December. Heading into the conference, I wrote about having mixed feelings over concerns that the world isn’t close to meeting urgent climate targets. But I left with a sense of cautious optimism,  buoyed by the level of engagement, spirit of collaboration and closing commitment to transition away from the fossil fuel era.

Having had a few weeks to reflect, I’d like to share a few of the positive milestones I believe were achieved at COP28.

  1. Transition away from fossil fuels. The biggest headline coming out of COP28 was the conference’s decisive closing agreement among nearly 200 parties toward transitioning away from fossil fuels. Described as the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era by UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, I am convinced that the agreement signals a significant step toward a more sustainable future.
  2. New coalition to tackle fossil fuel subsidies. Led by the Netherlands, this international coalition aims to phase out direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies. This agreement among a dozen nations is a great sign of a commitment to truly tackling subsidies and moving away from coal as an energy source.
  3. Methane legislation. Progress in methane legislation emerged as a commendable achievement. Building upon the Global Methane Pledge signed at COP26, this progress reflects a dedicated approach to mitigating the impact of potent greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Renewables and energy efficiency.  Nearly every country in the world has also agreed to tripling renewable energy and doubling the rate of energy efficiency by 2030.

Other impressions from COP28

Beyond the official agreements, another hopeful sign coming out of COP28 was the number of people in attendance and the high level of engagement among participants.

A tangible sense of having reached a tipping point permeated the panels, discussions and ongoing collaborations. This was certainly the case during the Climate and Innovation panel I joined, along with McCormick & Company CSO Michael Okoroafor, LinkedIn VP of Global Public Policy and Economy Graph and Company Manager for Ireland Sue Duke and GreenBiz Group Chairman and Co-Founder Joel Makower, who served as moderator.

It’s true that COP agreements are nonbinding, so it can feel like talk without action. However, during my observations at COP28, it felt as though issues that have been previously discussed but not acted upon were getting the attention they deserve.

One issue that stood out was skills development, especially among young people. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to close the green skills gap in order for the green economy to continue to scale. I saw many promising initiatives focusing on developing appropriate green skills in the workforce. 

The focus on skills development felt like a powerful validation of Dassault Systèmes’ activities in this area. For example, 3DEXPERIENCE EDU is our platform dedicated to upskilling and reskilling people for a sustainable future. One role of the platform is to provide students, academic institutions and training organizations the tools they need to prepare for design and engineering jobs of the future; another is to support businesses with their industry-focused design and engineering learning needs.

It was also energizing to learn about novel new initiatives in familiar domains. One noteworthy example was Bloomberg Philanthropies officially launching the Industrial Transition Accelerator. This initiative aims to decarbonize heavy-emitting sectors, including transportation and energy, by uniting policy, finance and technical expertise to scale projects and reduce emissions.

Scenes from COP28 - COP28 reflections - Dassault Systemes blog
Scenes from COP28.

Reasons for hope, caution and optimism post-COP28

It’s natural to look at the conclusion of an event like COP28 and feel as though we should be doing more, faster. But we can instead choose to look on the positive side, in the spirit of continuous innovation. The slow pace of change might be frustrating, but it provides an opportunity for deliberate and thoughtful progress.

Similarly, criticisms – particularly regarding the profit agenda of high-emitting sectors – shed light on areas for enhancement. Addressing concerns about political engagement, let’s collectively strive for a more robust commitment to the task at hand, ensuring that our actions align with our aspirations.

Rather than solely deeming the outcomes of COP28 as “not good enough,” let’s seize the chance for more meaningful action. On the commercial front, acknowledging historical systemic issues, such as fair distribution of subsidies and investments, will pave the way for a level playing field that empowers those driving innovative solutions.

After considering the reasons to be optimistic as well as the areas for concern, I believe more strongly than ever that virtual universes will be a key enabler to meet sustainability challenges. However, virtual twin technology is an underutilized lever in operationalizing sustainability and the circular economy.

For example, in a whitepaper jointly developed by Accenture and Dassault Systèmes, we quantified impact of virtual twin technology in five key industries and found that for those five use cases alone “can deliver combined incremental benefits of USD $1.3 trillion of economic value and 7.5 Gt CO2e emissions reductions between now and 2030.”  Our goal now is to help facilitate the delivery of this differentiating technology to our clients to help them in their transitions.

As we progress over the coming year with agreements in place and a clear agenda for COP29, Dassault Systèmes will continue to unleash sustainable innovation through the value of the virtual twin. This transformative approach has the potential to contribute significantly to the way we all live and work. I look forward to delving deeper into this topic right here after the New Year.


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