COP28 Agreement to Move Away From Fossil Fuels

Image by Dawn McDonald.

In what many see as a first-of-its-kind deal signaling the eventual end of the oil age, representatives from nearly 200 countries agreed on Wednesday to begin reducing global consumption of fossil fuels to avert the worst impact of climate change.

In a demonstration of global solidarity, negotiators joined together at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, agreeing on the world’s first “global stocktake” to ratchet up climate action before the end of the decade – with the overarching aim to keep the global temperature limit of 1.5°C within reach, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell in his address. “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

This landmark agreement is a key component of the inaugural “global stocktake,” an initiative designed to enhance the implementation of the Paris Agreement’s objectives.

According to an analysis by CarbonBrief, the global stocktake emerged as the pivotal outcome of COP28, encapsulating all negotiated elements and serving as a framework for countries to advance their climate action plans, scheduled for submission by 2025.

This stocktake acknowledges the scientific consensus that to maintain global warming within 1.5°C, it is imperative to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 relative to 2019 levels. However, it also recognizes that current efforts are falling short of meeting the objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Central to the stocktake’s directives is a call for nations to collectively work toward a signifcant increase in renewable energy capacity and a doubling of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. The agenda further emphasizes reducing widespread coal power, eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and implementing other strategies to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems. The hope is that this transition will be managed in a manner that is just, orderly, and equitable, with developed nations continuing to lead these efforts.

However, the agreement has been met with mixed reactions. Several nations expressed their disappointment due to the lack of a decisive strategy for completely phasing out fossil fuels within the next few years. Additionally, there are concerns regarding certain ambiguities in the agreement that may allow the continued use of coal, oil, and gas.

An important achievement at the outset was the establishment of a fund to address the losses and damages associated with climate change. Despite this, there was a noted absence of new financial commitments to aid developing countries in transitioning away from fossil fuels and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, president of COP28 and the head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), commended the historic inclusion of “fossil fuels” in a UN climate change agreement. His appointment to the role of climate talks arbiter sparked significant controversy and faced scrutiny over allegations that the UAE was using COP28 as a platform for securing oil and gas agreements.

Beyond the negotiation table, COP28 marked a significant number of new international pledges. These pledges covered a wide range of issues, including the reduction of emissions in the oil and gas sectors, a threefold increase in renewable energy initiatives, improvements in food systems, and the integration of climate change strategies with biodiversity preservation efforts.

Unfortunately, while many member states voted for a transition away from fossil fuels, they disappointed millions of climate activists around the world by failing to commit to a phasing out entirely of fossil fuels. This is a serious setback in expectations and COP28 has proven that at the end of the day, the big oil corporations and oil-producing countries are the decisionmakers and maintain an iron grip on the industry.

India, China, and the U.S. continue to stand out as the world’s greatest polluters and African nations are still bearing much of the brunt of climate change as natural disasters wreak havoc on the continent. Recent commitments to help third-world countries in the global south are good, but not sufficient and more needs to be done.

While COP28 has brought significant change and remarkable progress, there is more room for improvement. Hopefully, the next 12 months will see a renewed effort on the part of environmental organizations to raise awareness and press the big industry players to finally commit to phasing out fossil fuels.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.