COP28 ends with the ‘beginning of the end’ for fossil fuel use, marking a turning point in global climate policy

The conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) today marked a pivotal moment in environmental history, with an agreement indicating the start of a decline in the fossil fuel era. This agreement emphasises a rapid, just, and equitable shift towards sustainable energy, highlighted by significant emissions reductions and increased financial support.

The COP28 agreement marks a significant shift in global climate policy, setting the stage for a future dominated by renewable energy, but also highlights the ongoing challenges in financing and equitably managing this transition.

In his closing remarks, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell noted, “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end”. He urged governments and businesses to translate these commitments promptly into tangible, real-economy results.

Avinash Persaud, the Special Climate Envoy to Prime Minister Mottley of Barbados, hailed the conference as historic. “When the dust settles and dawn breaks, this will be seen as one of the most historic COPs. We have operationalised a loss and damage fund, recapitalised the Green Climate Fund and orchestrated an international climate finance system that prepares for new levies alongside emboldened development banks and new private sector flows. Today, we have committed to triple renewable investments and have a just transition from fossil fuels,” he stated.

Senior Climate Advisor at Christian Aid, Joab Okanda, highlighted the impending end of the fossil fuel era but also pointed out a significant shortfall in climate finance, especially for developing nations transitioning to clean energy.

Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, emphasised the significance of explicitly mentioning ‘fossil fuels’ in a COP outcome for the first time. “We are finally naming the elephant in the room,” he said, adding that although the move was a “strong signal”, we still have to question “unproven and expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage”.

Adow stressed the importance of finance, “where the whole energy transition plan will stand or fall,” for the sake of helping vulnerable people in some of the poorest countries to adapt to the impacts of climate breakdown.

A long and winding road to consensus

The agreement came after tough and lengthy negotiations that lasted until the early morning on the last two days of COP28. Participating countries engaged in intensive diplomacy to resolve differing views on the approach to fossil fuel use in the agreement’s text.

Negotiations at the conference have a significant impact on the message sent to investors and global markets about the ambitions of governments worldwide to end or maintain the use of fossil fuels in the future.

The draft agreement released on Monday, December 11, created controversy because it did not call for an “end to use” of fossil fuels. This drew criticism from more than 100 countries, including the United States, the European Union, and small island states that supported the phase-out. However, the oil producer group OPEC and its allies strongly rejected this concept.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the COP28 summit, the United Arab Emirates’ COP28 Director-General Majid Al Suwaidi stated that despite the pressure and dissent, it is trying to achieve a “historic” outcome that includes addressing fossil fuels. However, this is contingent on agreement from participating countries.

In recent developments, the negotiations are faced with a critical and critical phase, with diplomacy between countries to reach a compromise agreement. John Kerry, the United States Special Envoy on Climate Change, expressed confidence that the language on fossil fuels in the agreement’s text was getting stronger.

Sources say that the United Arab Emirates COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber is under pressure from Saudi Arabia, an OPEC member and UAE ally, not to mention fossil fuels in the deal.

Meanwhile, OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais urged his members to reject any deal that leads to an end to fossil fuels. Nonetheless, some countries such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Norway, and the United States still consider the draft agreement to be too weak. (Hartatik/nsh)

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