COP28 climate talks in Dubai ended with a historic agreement that committed the world to a transition away from all fossil fuels for the first time.
The chairman of this year’s UN-sponsored summit, Sultan Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates, negotiated an agreement that was strong enough for the US and the European Union on the need to drastically curb the use of fossil fuels while keeping Saudi Arabia and other oil producers on board.
The final agreement requires countries to rapidly shift their energy systems away from fossil fuels in a fair and orderly manner, qualifications that helped convince the skeptics. Under the agreement, countries are also called upon to contribute to a global transition effort, rather than being directly forced to make that change alone.
The so-called “UAE Consensus” concludes the hottest year ever recordedwhich caused droughts and devastating forest fires.
“Together we have faced realities and sent the world in the right direction“said Al Jaber, who is also chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. He brought down the gavel to confirm the deal on Wednesday, a day later than planned. Delegates greeted him with applause and cheers.
Although the result does not reach the “phase out” fossil fuel specificity that most countries wanted, does break new ground: no previous COP text has mentioned moving away from oil and gasthe fuels that have underpinned the global economy for decades.
How quickly this becomes a reality will not be decided by the diplomatic haggling that achieved today’s agreement, but by investors, consumers and national governments. After the promise of rphase out coal in Glasgow two years agoconsumption has continued to rise and the world remains highly unlikely to limit warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C.
Still, Dubai’s decision is an important indicator in the global direction of travel toward a low-carbon energy system. The text also includes agreements to triple the deployment of renewable energy and double the rate of efficiency increase by the end of the decade. A separate agreement from COP28, reached at the start of the summit, turns operations into hotly contested fund to address climate change loss and damage.
“An agreement is only as good as its implementation. We are what we do, not what we say”said Al Jaber. “We must take the necessary steps to turn this agreement into tangible actions.”
COP28 language promoting a decrease in the use of fossil fuels will send a signal to investors about the future of energy markets, said Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy, leaving the latest plenary meeting at Dubai Expo City.
“Tomorrow we will move forward with implementing this,” Morgan said. “Every investor should now understand that future investments that are profitable and in the long term are renewable energies, and that investing in fossil fuels is a stranded asset.”
The last-minute agreement is a diplomatic victory for thes United Arab Emirates and Al Jaber, whose role at Adnoc made him a controversial choice to chair this year’s talks. There have been setbacks (accusations that he used his role to lobby for oil deals and a discussion about the science of climate change), but in the end he will argue that he delivered.
Al Jaber used his presidency to firmly bring the oil and gas industry into the COP process and there was more representatives of fossil fuel companies than at any previous summit, drawing criticism from climate activists.
Forged a pact among more than 50 companies to reduce emissions from their own operations. He said nothing about oil and gas production levels, but promised to reduce methane pollution (80 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide) to near zero by the end of the decade could have a material impact on emissions.
That did not stop Saudi Arabia from leading a rearguard action against any attempt to include a fossil fuel phase-out in the text. While COP28 was in full swingBloomberg News asked the kingdom’s energy minister if he would like to see a gradual reduction of the text.
“Of course not“, answered.
Subsequently, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries sent a letter to its membersasking them to lobby against any text that targets fossil fuels instead of emissions.
Although the final language was softened to reflect their concernseventually the coalition of oil producers became too isolated to resist.
“The much criticized presidency of the United Arab Emirates has achieved it“said Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford. “Everyone seemed ready to cancel COP28 just 24 hours ago, you have to admit.”
Is not sufficient
But for small island nations already feeling the worst impacts of rising sea levels, the text only took “incremental measures to phase out fossil fuels. To applause in plenary, Anne Rasmussen, Samoa’s chief negotiator, warned that the fossil fuel phase-out clause focuses exclusively on energy systems, rather than the broader economy.
He also complained that the text’s focus on carbon capture and storage is a step backwards and could be a license for countries to continue burning hydrocarbons. TThere is also a line on transition fuels which many will see as supporting the long-term use of natural gas.
“We have reached the conclusion that the necessary course correction has not yet been achieved,” he stated.