COP28: global agreement reached to "transition away" from fossil fuels

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A new deal has been agreed at COP 28, the UN climate summit in Dubai after days of negotiations.

Negotiators worked until the early hours of this morning before publishing the final agreement and its call on all countries to "transition away" from fossil fuels. However, critics say there are still loopholes in the text for carbon capture, gas as a transition fuel and fossil subsidies.

With COP28 chief Sultan al-Jaber announcing the approval of the draft agreement at 7am this morning, 13 December, commentary from environmental organisations, commentators and campaigners is still gathering.

COP 28 Chair, Sultan al-Jaber, a businessman and politician from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Photograph: COP28 UAE

Some have criticised the language as weak and that ambitions do not go far enough to keep the goal alive to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. But generally, the consensus is that the text is improved in some ways.

“The beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era”: Round up of key reactions

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global leader of climate & energy at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who also served as president of COP20 in Peru in 2014, pronounced that the Earth is “down but not out”. He said the “transition away” from fossil fuels fell short of the “full phase-out of coal, oil, and gas” that many countries had hoped for.

“Nevertheless, a decision to transition away from fossil fuels is a significant moment. After three decades of UN climate negotiations, countries have at last shifted the focus to the polluting fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. This outcome signals the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era.”

Professor Chris Hilson, director of the Centre for Climate and Justice at Reading university, commented: "Language matters. So a transition away from fossil fuels is not a phasing out. But actions speak louder than words. What is really important now is that governments around the world take immediate policy action to implement a transition away from coal, oil and gas. That involves practical things like ruling out new fossil fuel developments, redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to renewables, improving EV infrastructure, insulating homes and much else besides. To paraphrase Marx, the point is not only to talk about the world but to change it."

Scenes from the two-week long event in Dubai. Photograph:COP28 UAE, the website which covers net zero and sustainability, notes in its coverage of the final deal that it “calls on parties, in a nationally determined manner” to transition away from fossil fuels. “'Calling upon' is not particularly strong language in UN terms. It indicates a voluntary but encouraged commitment. Most items on the menu have no timeframe, except trebling renewable capacity globally by 2030 and doubling the annual average rate of energy efficiency improvements this decade, too.”

The report added: “The notable change is a requirement for accelerated action this decade.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary General, never one to mince his words, took aim at the countries which have dragged their heels during the summit’s negotiations. He tweeted today: “To those who opposed a clear reference to phase out of fossil fuels during the #COP28 Climate Conference, I want to say: Whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

198 countries were present at this year's COP28. Photograph:COP28 UAE

The 2023 United Nations Conference of the Parties, more commonly known as COP28, the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference, took place from 30 November until 12 December in Dubai.

It was chaired by Sultan al-Jaber, a businessman and politician from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The controversial figure – the company he chairs, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, is to increase its production of oil by 42 per cent more by 2030 – said in his closing remarks: “We have delivered a robust action plan to keep 1.5C (2.7F) [of global heating above preindustrial levels] in reach.”

“It is a plan that is led by the science. It is an enhanced, balanced, but… make no mistake… historic package to accelerate climate action. It is…the UAE Consensus.”

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