Countries agree to deal at COP28 climate summit

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during the Transforming Food Systems in the Face of Climate Change event on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit at Dubai Expo on December 1, 2023.

Ludovic Marin | Afp | Getty Images

Government ministers representing nearly 200 countries on Wednesday agreed to a deal that calls for a transition away from fossil fuels, after a previous proposal was met with heated and widespread backlash.

“With an unprecedented reference to transitioning away from all fossil fuels, The UAE Consensus is delivering a paradigm shift that has the potential to redefine our economies,” the summit’s UAE presidency said on social media. Dubai has been hosting the conference for the past two weeks against a backdrop of controversy, geopolitical conflicts and increasing extreme weather events.

“We delivered world first after world first,” the UAE summit presidency said in a further social media update. “A global goal to triple renewables and double energy efficiency. Declarations on agriculture, food and health. More oil and gas companies stepping up for the first time on methane and emissions. And we have language on fossil fuels in our final agreement.”

The latest proposal published by the UAE earlier on Wednesday called for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

The deal text also urged for “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power” and for “tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.”

Critically, the proposal did not mandate an absolute phase-out of hydrocarbons.

COP28 summit ends with deal to transition away from fossil fuels

A “phase-out” commitment would likely have required a shift away from fossil fuels until their use is eliminated, while a “phase down” agreement would have indicated a reduction in their use — but not an absolute end.

Many believed the COP28 summit could only be considered a success if it resulted in a deal to “phase out” all fossil fuels. On Monday, one young climate activist burst onto the stage to call for action on this issue. Licypriya Kangujam, 12, interrupted a presidency event while holding a sign that read: “End fossil fuel. Save our planet and our future.”

The burning of coal, oil and gas is the largest contributor to climate change, accounting for more than three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Indian environmental activist Licypriya Kangujam holds up a sign that reads: “End Fossil Fuel. Save Our Planet And Our Future” after running onto the stage during a High-Level Event on day eleven of the UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference as negotiations go into their final phase on December 11, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Wednesday announcement comes after a previous draft text published in the final throes of the talks triggered widespread criticism for failing to include language on ending the use of fossil fuels, as negotiations laid bare deep divisions among policymakers over the future of hydrocarbons.

The draft deal of Monday suggested a range of options for countries to accelerate climate action but, crucially, it omitted language regarding a “phase-out” or “phase down” of fossil fuels.

Alok Sharma, the U.K.’s COP26 president, on Tuesday said that only a deal including “very clear” language on the phase-out of fossil fuels and a credible plan to deliver that would be good enough to keep alive the prospect of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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The 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold is the aspirational global temperature limit set in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. Its importance is widely recognized because so-called tipping points become more likely beyond this level.

“If we don’t reach agreement on that language, I think the consequences are going to be grave,” Sharma told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”

“We have seen that 2023 is going to be the hottest year on record, we see climatic events coming thick and fast around the world. And I think the question that world leaders have to ask themselves is, if they are not willing to act now, then when?”

“This is the moment,” he continued. “This is the time in history where we have to step forward, be ambitious, come up with a deal which includes the phase-out of fossil fuels because ultimately the future of our generation, indeed, [of] future generations, absolutely depends upon it.”

How did the talks unfold?

COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber sparked a backlash earlier this month after he claimed there is “no science” behind calls for a phase-out of fossil fuels. His remarks followed reporting by the BBC ahead of the summit that suggested UAE officials were seeking to cash in on their host status to push for oil and gas deals.

A COP28 spokesperson described the documents referred to in the BBC article as “inaccurate.” Separately, Al-Jaber said last week that his team “very much believe and respect the science” and added that he’d been surprised by the “constant and repeated attempts to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency.”

Al-Jaber was seen as a contentious choice to lead COP28 discussions in Dubai given that he also works as the head of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.

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In an unprecedented start to proceedings on Nov. 30, delegates at COP28 sealed the details of a landmark deal to help the world’s most vulnerable countries pay for the impacts of climate disasters.

The operationalization of the so-called loss and damage fund prompted a standing ovation from delegates in the audience. The historic agreement was hailed as a welcome breakthrough and one that helped to clear the way for policymakers to negotiate on other major issues.

Thereafter, a flurry of announcements sought to help decarbonize the energy sector, with nearly 120 governments pledging to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. Other initiatives launched at the conference included sizable blocs committing to expand nuclear power and slash methane emissions.

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