COP28: First Global Agreement to Transition Away from Fossil Fuels
December 13, 2023
The COP28 agreement is a milestone in the phase-out of fossil fuels, yet it won’t ensure we meet the 1.5°C target in the timeframe we’d hoped for.
The COP28 climate summit in Dubai marked a significant moment in the history of climate negotiations, showcasing the intricate balance between ambition and realpolitik in global climate policy. The summit, dubbed by some as the ‘Conference of the Petrostates,’ was steeped in controversy and contention, especially around the pivotal issue of fossil fuels.
A draft of the central agreement, while making an unprecedented mention of transitioning away from fossil fuels, fell short of the explicit “phase out” that over 100 countries had hoped for. Instead, it offered various options for governments to reduce climate pollution as they see fit, including transitioning away from fossil fuels, tripling renewable energy capacity, and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. This approach was perceived by many as a step forward, signaling the end of the fossil-fuel-driven economy, but it was also criticized for its loopholes and lack of firm commitments.
Critics pointed out that the draft included references to carbon capture and storage technologies and other so-called transition fuels, raising concerns about continued reliance on fossil fuels. These criticisms underscored the draft’s failure to provide an unambiguous path toward the rapid transition needed to combat climate change.
Despite these shortcomings, the draft’s inclusion of language around fossil fuels was considered a historic moment. For the first time in the history of COP summits, the primary driver of climate change – fossil fuels – was explicitly addressed in the agreement. This recognition, albeit diluted, was a nod to the urgent need for a global transition to renewable energy sources.
However, the summit’s final agreement drew mixed reactions. Johan Rockström, Co-Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, saw the agreement as a pivotal landmark, acknowledging the “beginning of the end” of the fossil-fuel-driven world economy. Yet, he also highlighted the agreement’s vagueness on the fossil fuel transition, lacking hard and accountable boundaries for 2030, 2040, and 2050.
The summit was particularly notable for the heightened presence and influence of the fossil fuel industry, with COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber also leading the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. This dual role raised concerns about conflicts of interest and the influence of oil interests on the summit’s outcomes.
Developing nations emphasized the need for significant financial support from developed countries to facilitate the transition from fossil fuels. Acknowledging the widening gap in adaptation finance and the call for developed countries to double their collective provision of climate finance by 2025 were steps in addressing these concerns.
COP28 was a complex event that balanced progress and setbacks. While it marked a historic moment in recognizing the need to transition away from fossil fuels, the final agreement was criticized for needing more firm commitments and specific targets. The summit highlighted the ongoing struggle to align global climate policy with the urgent need for decisive action against climate change. As the world moves forward, the lessons from COP28 will undoubtedly shape future climate negotiations and measures.