Landmark fossil fuel agreement and other key takeaways from the COP28 climate conference

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(NEW YORK) — The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference came to a close on Wednesday after going into overtime as participating countries negotiated the language included in the final agreement.

While there was controversy going into the climate summit over the host country and its selection for conference president-designate, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, over their economic interests in the fossil fuel industry, some experts believe the strides made at COP28 will bring the world closer to meeting climate goals.

 

These are the biggest takeaways from COP28:

Fossil fuels included in the agreement for the first time

Nearly 200 nations have agreed to transition away from fossil fuels, the largest source of greenhouses gases that cause global temperature rise, in a landmark consensus touted to drastically accelerate climate action.

When the gavel hit the soundblock to officially call the end of COP28, it signified the concurrence of 198 countries to accomplish the ambitious goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target set out in the Paris Agreement.

The landmark text, named “The UAE Consensus,” calls on parties to transition away from fossil fuels to reach net zero and includes a new specific target to triple renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030. It includes the first-ever iteration Global Stocktake, a process for countries and stakeholders to see where they are collectively making progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Global Stocktake signals that fossil fuels need to be replaced with clean energy and to reach global net zero by 2050. It also calls for countries to triple renewable energy by 2030 and to double energy efficiency, recognizing that the cost for renewable energy is falling quickly.

The decision to include fossil fuels in the agreement was long overdue and marks the beginning of the end of the era in which the world relies on the extraction of fossil fuels for energy, Ani Dasgupta, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement.

“Fossil fuels finally faced a reckoning at the UN climate negotiations after three decades of dodging the spotlight,” Dasgupta said.

The voluntary agreement also encourages nations to submit economy-wide Nationally Determined Contributions and builds momentum towards a new architecture for climate finance.

To keep global climate goals within reach, the world needs to achieve $4.3 trillion in annual climate-related finance flows by 2030, Dasgupta said. “Despite immense pressure from oil and gas interests, high ambition countries courageously stood their ground and sealed the fate of fossil fuels,” she said.

Rich countries implored to do their share

One of the biggest topics going into COP28 was the necessity for the richest countries in the world, which have historically produced the most greenhouse gas emissions, to fund developing countries to help transition their energy sectors and decarbonize at a large scale.

The UAE Consensus placed into effect the Loss and Damage Fund for countries coping with extreme climate impacts, as well as a global framework for adaption aimed at helping countries build climate resilience.

The text makes clear that the transition to clean energy will require rich countries to lead in both action and the provision of finance.

The Loss and Damage Fund must be resourced “quickly and robustly” so that climate-vulnerable low and middle-income countries and get the support they need for coping with extreme impacts of climate change caused primarily by wealthy countries, said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“As the world puts these collective goals into action, richer nations like the United States have a responsibility to take the lead in quickly moving away from fossil fuels and providing scaled-up climate finance for developing countries,” Cleetus said. “Without that, we will not be able to succeed in phasing out fossil fuels—which remains essential —nor will we deliver justice for people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.”

Far more funds is necessary than what has been raised so far, and the next year will be a critical test in raising those funds, experts said.

“The shift from fossil fuels must be fair and fast — and no one can be left behind,” Dasgupta said.

In addition, the agreement urges the biggest fossil fuel producers and exporters in the world, including the U.S., to quickly taper down new or expanded fossil fuel production and end fossil fuel subsidies, Cleetus said.

The UAE Consensus is “a necessary complement” to U.S. policies, like the Inflation Reduction Act, aimed at accelerating clean energy momentum domestically, Cleetus said.

Was COP28 a success?

While the 2023 climate summit was a success in many ways, it also missed the mark on several factors that could speed up climate action even further, experts said.

The UAE Consensus represents a critical step forward in addressing fossil fuels but “falls significantly short” in its considerations of finance and equity provisions needed to ensure a transition to clean energy, Cleetus said.

In addition, it will be important going forward to ensure that the fossil fuel industry, which lobbied heavily at the conference, does not get in the way with “their usual tactics” of obstruction, delay and greenwashing, Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

“Not all went well in Dubai,” said Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It’s the hottest year on record and an industry hellbent on making things worse packed the halls with an army of lobbyists.”

U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry described the COP28 deal a “sea change” moment in his closing press conference on Wednesday, emphasizing that while compromises had to be made, it’s hugely significant that even countries that rely economically on fossil fuels signed onto the agreement to transition away from them in the energy sector.

“This is a sea change moment,” Kerry said. “But it doesn’t mean you’ve solved everything overnight. We have to keep pushing.”

During the closing plenary on Wednesday morning, Al Jaber characterized the conference as productive.

“We have a traveled a long road together in a short amount of time,” the president-designate of COP28 said during his remarks. “Over the last two weeks, we have worked very hard to secure a better future for our people and our planet. We should be proud of our historic achievement.”

 

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