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Countries Reach ‘Historic’ COP28 Deal to Transition from Fossil Fuels

In a landmark moment at the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, nearly 200 countries came together to agree on a historic deal that, for the first time, called on all nations to transition away from fossil fuels. The two-week-long negotiations, at times contentious, concluded with the agreement swiftly given through by COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber. The deal, while receiving applause from many, faced criticism for not explicitly committing to phasing out or even reducing fossil fuels. Instead, it emphasizes a global transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly, and equitable manner” to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The COP28 agreement responds to a global stocktake revealing that countries were falling short of the goals outlined in the landmark Paris climate agreement. The deal aims to address the commitment to limit global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, especially crucial in the context of the hottest year on record.

Key Points of the COP28 Deal

  1. Enhanced 1.5°C Goal: The agreement reinforces the 1.5°C goal and acknowledges the need for 43% emissions cuts by 2030 and 60% by 2035 relative to 2019 levels. This implies a substantial increase in targets and policies when countries submit new commitments in 2025.
  2. Renewable Energy and Efficiency Targets: Countries have backed a call for global renewable energy to be tripled and the rate of energy efficiency improvements to double by 2030, signaling a significant shift toward sustainable energy sources.
  3. Peaking of Emissions: The agreement drops the language stating that global emissions should peak by 2025. Despite objections from some countries, including China, evidence suggests that emissions may be on track to peak by then.
  4. Fossil Fuel Language: The deal incorporates language seen by some as favorable to fossil fuel interests, including references to “transitional fuels” (interpreted as natural gas) and “carbon capture and utilization and storage.”
  5. Climate Adaptation and Finance: Little progress was made on climate adaptation and finance, with acknowledgment that trillions of dollars in support will be needed. However, a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable nations repair climate breakdown damage was operationalized.
  6. Loopholes and Criticisms: Despite the historic nature of the agreement, criticisms arose from various quarters, with concerns about loopholes and the inclusion of language seemingly appeasing fossil fuel interests.

Global Responses and Reactions

The strained nature of the agreement reflects the consensus process of the UN climate conference. Developed countries, along with the most vulnerable, pushed for a phase-out of coal, oil, and gas. While the European Union claimed “supermajority” support for the idea, disagreements persisted over the application of the phase-out, particularly regarding “unabated” fossil fuels.

Reactions from global south countries and climate justice advocates highlighted the perceived shortcomings of the deal in terms of emissions reductions and financial support for vulnerable nations. The Alliance of Small Island States expressed dissatisfaction with the process, noting that while there were positive elements, the text included a “litany of loopholes.”

Future Objectives 

As COP28 concludes, attention turns to the individual countries responsible for delivering on the agreement through national policies and investments. The COP28 deal sets the stage for the global community to accelerate climate action and transition away from fossil fuels. While hailed as historic, the agreement faces challenges in interpretation and implementation, with concerns about potential vulnerabilities to fossil fuel-vested interests.

The global community will reconvene at COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan, next November, providing an opportunity to assess progress and address lingering issues. As the world grapples with the urgent need to combat climate change, the COP28 deal stands as a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to secure a sustainable and equitable future for all.